Star Trek Beyond…(sigh…)

(I’d suggest you go get a really big cup of coffee, 32 oz. size should do, because we’re going to be here for a while!  I also must apologize for the length of this review; it kind of goes on and on, just like the movie.  Not “War and Peace” long, but long.  But, if I’m going to do it, it must be nothing less than complete, regardless of the pain we all feel.)

Sigh….Here we go…

It’s hard to believe that it has been 3 short years since Star Trek Into Darkness came out.  I still wake up with the cold sweats over that one.  Check out my post if you need a refresher on that piece of work.  Star Trek Beyond, the latest installment of the franchise takes us beyond alright. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure where we ended up; other than with another installment to the franchise, and a whole lot of head shaking.  

I was a bit confused as I watched the movie.  I kept thinking that I was watching the Star Trek Comedy Hour, starring Montgomery Scotty and featuring Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy and his faithful straight-man, Mr. Spock.  I like Simon Pegg (Scotty) and some of the movies he’s done, but he’s not the first person I would think of if you said you want a new Star Trek script.  While the original Star Trek always had its lighter moments, it didn’t provide them at the cost of the dignity of the characters.  Today, Scotty comes off as much as a buffoon as an engineer.  

But, this is the alternate universe created by JJ Abrams and we’ve got to live with it, along with its plot holes, eye-numbing special effects and absurdities. (But, we don’t have to pay $20 to see it in the cinema!) Tis a shame that there is a dearth of science fiction writers out there, in our universe, that can be called upon to write an intelligent and engaging story.

So, let’s take a walk through Star Trek Beyond. (Of course there are spoilers to follow. I’d suggest that you just read them and forget about watching the movie.  It will save you about two hours of your life that you can do something with, like: promote world peace; perfect cold fusion; plan a trip to Mars; bake a cake or write the script for the next Star Trek movie.)

The movie opens with Kirk brokering a peace treaty between the Fibonan and Teenaxi races.

Comic moment here: although the Teenaxi creatures appear large, menacing and threatening, they are really, teeny, tiny creatures—wait, teeny?…Teenaxi?  That’s funny!  To bad most people will miss it if they don’t have the subtitles on.  But, the real kicker is that Kirk is surprised by their size when they jump down from their lofty heights to attack him.  

It would seem to me if you are brokering a peace treaty between two races, you would know a lot about each race involved, including their physical stature and demeanor.  Must be Kirk missed the briefing about them. (Or, Spock forgot to brief Kirk, because he was curled up in his bed sobbing over his break-up with Uhura – damned human half!)

So we move on to Kirk in the doldrums.  He’s depressed.  (Whaa-whaa-whaa! Life’s a bore on a starship.)  Kirk’s tired of the mysteries of the unknown.  (Hmm, do they have millennials in the 23rd century?)  He has to decide which uniform he’s going to wear every day.  Gee, it’s the same uniform, and he’s got a closet full of them.  They sure do have a lot of room on these starships.  Too bad they don’t have a replicator, like they do for the food they eat, to make their uniforms every day.  

They are way out in deep space and the entire crew’s struggling to cope.  But wait!  There’s the Federation’s newest, most advanced space station, the Yorktown just up ahead.  Looking like a snow-globe in space, says Dr. McCoy.  I couldn’t agree with him more!  I guess they’re not so far out in deep space after all.  Good thing, because Jim Kirk wants off the Enterprise and to sit at a desk job as Vice Admiral at this deep-space space station.  That sounds like a job that would provide a wealth of variety and excitement every day!  This guy’s been captain for 3 years and he want’s a Vice Admiral’s position?  That’s ambitious!  

Question:  Would you put Star Fleet’s most advanced space station near a mysterious nebula, impervious to sensors and not check it out first?

Who knows what could be in there.  The Klingons could be hiding in there or maybe even the Romulans, or both, just waiting for the Federation to build a space station nearby.

And speaking of the station: Wow!  What a special effect!  Wow!  What a waste of space!  You have this huge sphere that you have to fill with air and you construct all the living area on rings instead of on a much small sphere with more surface area and a self-contained atmosphere.  Maybe JJ should check out one of his other projects in another galaxy far, far away for optimal space station construction. (Can you say “Death Star”?)  And, I’m not going to get into flying a starship all the way to the center of the station through a narrow spoke connecting these rings.  Hope Sulu’s got a steady hand on the wheel and he’s not texting.

Of course life is going to put a jink in the Captain’s plans of a cushy desk job, because he has the only ship in Star Fleet that has sensors to navigate the nearby nebula that the alien, Kalara just popped out of.  That’s probably because the last time out, under Kirk’s command, the Enterprise got all shot-up and needed to be rebuilt.  

Just a brief comment about the nebula.  Nebulae are vast collections of teeny, tiny gas molecules and dust particles, not unlike the smoke from a cigarette, not spinning and churning mountain-sized hunks of rock that look more like an asteroid field on steroids, which the Enterprise skillfully navigates through, thanks to those dandy new sensors.

Now the action really begins!  You have one Federation starship approaching a planet with a mysterious undulating mass – a vessel of some sort – orbiting it, and they start jamming you.  The good Captain orders shields up and fire at will.
Good job, Kirk!  Now the bad news.
It’s not a ship but thousands and thousands of small ships making up a cloud that appears about twenty times larger than the Enterprise.  Oh, it gets worse: Chekov reports that the phasers have minimal effect and the torpedoes can’t track them.
Oh my goodness!  What will they do?
The intrepid Captain Kirk commands: “Fire everything we got!”

Seriously? Time for reader participation while I bang my head against the nearest wall.

Question 1: Did Captain Kirk not hear what Chekov just said?
A)    Yes, he did, but couldn’t understand Chekov because of his heavy accent.
B)    No, he didn’t, because at that moment he was wishing he had that cushy desk job as Vice Admiral at the Yorktown.
C)    Yes, he did, but he’s the Captain and he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, especially an Ensign.

Question 2: Did Captain Kirk not hear Spock say that they are not equipped for this manner of engagement?
A)    No, he didn’t, because he was still trying figure out what the heck Chekov said.
B)    Yes, he did, but he was trying to decide if it was just Spock’s emotional human-side over-reacting to Chekov’s obvious distress or because he didn’t understand Chekov either.
C)    Yes, he did, but he’s the Captain and he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, especially his half-human science officer.

What you really need to understand is that the Enterprise only has phasers and torpedoes.  In other words: They’re already firing everything they’ve got!  Bad job, Kirk!  If you survive this, you should be court-marshaled for being stupid. (Relax, that’s not going to happen.)

So now this collection of space-born buzz saws shred the good ship Enterprise and before Kirk can utter, warp us out of here, they’ve severed the warp engines, damaged the shields and destroyed the deflector dish.  Countless numbers of the crew are killed and the aliens that have crashed into the ship are running amuck.

I’m glad that when the alien ships breach the hull they, very considerately, hermetically seal the hole they punched in the ship; otherwise, the air in the compromised compartments would be rushing out and the air breathing creatures would suffocate.  A running gun battle ensues with the Federation phasers sounding like pop guns and we quickly discover that they’re all lousy shots.  Apparently, the Feds spend little time at the target range.  

And, when Spock and McCoy leave the bridge, Spock gets a phaser and McCoy gets a tricorder.
I can only assume that if McCoy had a phaser and shot an alien, by the medical oath he took as a doctor, he would have to stop and administer first aid.  It makes sense!  Do not give the doctor a weapon!

Okay, the leader of the bad guys makes his grand appearance.  Krall.  Hmm, he looks familiar.

Krall "Star Trek Beyond" and G'kar, "Babylon 5"

Krall “Star Trek Beyond”                              and                        G’kar, “Babylon 5

 Alternate universe cousins or just a severe lack of imagination?

As the ship heads off on impulse power the crew on the bridge sit calmly at their stations while everyone below is falling, sliding and generally careening all over the place.  Huh?

So the Enterprise tries to make a run for it and Krall orders his minions to severe the saucer from the engineering section by cutting the dorsal structure in two.  The impulse engines quit because they are trying to draw power from the warp core reserve and it is no longer there.  But! There are auxiliary generators that can power the impulse engines.  Great!  But, what’s this?  The impulse engines still think they are connected to the warp core and stop.  And, now they have to separate the saucer from the dorsal section in order for the impulse engines to switch to the auxiliary generators.

What group of inept engineers designed this ship? Moe, Larry and Curly?

Let’s consider this for a moment. We are in the 23rd century and are on one of Star Fleet’s flag ships running the latest and greatest hardware and software.  The impulse engines are for tooling around a solar system and backup if your warp engines—used for long distance, high-speed travel—don’t work.

Question: You are the design manager for the engine system and you have a design decision to make.  Do you:

1)    Make the impulse engines totally independent of the main engines so you can use them at any time? (Pick this one! Pick this one!)
2)    Make the impulse engines dependent on your main engines so that you can’t run your them in an emergency unless you are connected to the mains or completely disconnected from the section of the ship that connects the saucer to engineering? (Don’t pick this one!)
3)    Subcontract the engine controller design to the Klingon/Romulan Microsoft Division Ltd., LLC and let them worry about it? (If you’re JJ Abrams and company, pick this one!)

Am I being too critical here?  I mean, is it beyond reason to think that there is some logic in how a vehicle of this complexity and sophistication would be designed—especially for emergency situations.  They’ve had well over a hundred years of warping about the galaxy, and when they couldn’t warp, they impulsed.  One would think these systems would be totally independent for optimal reliability.

But, wait!  There’s more…sigh…

We get the comedy team Spock and McCoy ejecting from the Enterprise in an escape pod of some sort and one of the bad guys’ ship spears it, and by some twist of fate(?) poor script writing(?), Spock ejects the alien crew from their ship and he and McCoy end up inside it.  What?

How is it that Spock and McCoy did not fly out of the ship along with the bad guys—especially since they were not strapped into anything?  Understand that the reason the bad guys flew off into cold space is because the atmosphere inside their ship carried them out as it flowed into the vacuum of space when the hatch opened.  So just what are our Federation heroes breathing?  But, it does get better, because Bones McCoy took the required course for doctors, “Piloting Alien Ships – 201” at Star Fleet Academy and he just jumps on the control seat and flies the ship to a safe landing on the planet.  Good job, Bones!

(Curious as to why the aliens weren’t strapped in?  They tool about in their pointy ships and routinely ram other ships at what seems to be a very high velocity, and they aren’t splattered all over the inside of their craft?  Amazing…ly…stupid!)

But…wait…there’s still more…sigh.

Mr. Spock has managed to get himself impaled with a piece of the alien ship. Ouch!  And good thing that McCoy is there, because even without his medical kit, he can save Spock.
How?  You might ask.
Well, space cadet, McCoy also took the elective, “Bashing Alien Weapons With a Rock to Make Them Work-101” back at the Academy, which he obviously aced.  After beating an alien weapon into functional prime, he heats a piece of the alien ship he ripped off with his bare hands until it glows red and then, in one swift motion, rips out the impaling object and slides the glowing spike under Spock’s tunic to cauterize the wound.  What a doctor!  He doesn’t even need to see the wound to cauterize it: just drive the spike home and he’s done!  Even more amazing is the material their uniforms are made out of.  They can tolerate being touched with something that’s about 1000°F and not burst into flames. (I wonder if they wrinkle if you leave them in the dryer too long…)

So, while McCoy and Spock are playing hide the hot stick, Kirk, and what’s left of his crew, leave the doomed saucer of the Enterprise in Kelvin escape pods.
Now, I’ve got to get me one of those, because when you land you end up in this spiffy, neat blue suit with gloves and everything.  The real question is: Does the pod automatically dress you or do you have to strip down to your underwear in some alien forest to put the suit on?  Is it one size fits all?  Does it come in camo?

Scotty escapes by gutting a photon torpedo and launching himself off the Enterprise using what appears to be a 23rd century version of an X-Box controller.
Damn, this guy is good!  Even more amazing is that his torpedo collides and careens off mountain tops and rock spires and doesn’t explode.  I guess he must have removed the detonator, too.  But, one has to ask, what is this thing made of that it can impact rocks at hundreds (thousands?) of miles per hour and not be ripped apart?  Even more interesting is that Scotty is inside this torpedo, which is not made to carry humans, and he’s not pulverized like a bag of haggis by bouncing around the inside every time it hits something.

Here’s an experiment you can do at home: Take a fresh egg in its shell and put it in a storage container with a lid, close the lid nice and snug and now fling it across the room into a wall of your choice.  Slowly open the lid and peek inside.  The yellow goo you see is Montgomery Scotty in a photon torpedo casing after he bounced off his first granite peak.  We won’t even talk about his four-finger grab on the cliffside after he exits the torpedo casing.  What does this guy do, crush coconuts with his bare hands in his spare time?  (Sorry, I said I wasn’t going to talk about this!)

And, the saga continues…sigh…

Kirk, Chekov and Kalara head back to the trashed saucer section, which conveniently crashed nearby to use the ship’s sensors.  This ship is like the old Timex watches: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!  They see the ship and Chekov comments “It looks like there is power.”
No, dear Chekov, those are just flames lapping out of the holes in the hull.  The special effects team forgot to switch from campfires to artificial lights…

Once inside they, of course, fire up the sensors.
What’s interesting is that on the bridge everyone is standing upright on the deck, but when the Captain and Kalara go below deck to get the artifact, they are walking on the corridor wall!  Huh?  The saucer did come to rest at an angle, so all the decks should be at the same angle. I guess it fits in the category of: Hey, it looks good and we don’t have enough money to turn the bridge set on its side. And, nobody will notice.  That’s a rap!

So Kirk and Chekov find themselves trapped on the ship by the bad guys and Kirk decides the only way out is to fire the thrusters.
Yup. Those flame-throwing rockets that made their first appearance in that classic of all classics, Star Trek Into Darkness.
But, they can’t just start them up because even though the fuel is primed, Chekov can’t get it to combust…
Just like when your gas stove won’t light.  Click…Click…Click…Click.

So, guess what, Kirk is going to light it off with a blast from his trusty phaser.
Aren’t there thrusters on the top too? Why don’t they light?  Or, does the ship only thrust in one direction? So many questions.  We get a big explosion (can’t get enough of those!) and satisfying blue flames shooting out of the saucer on one side, which lift it and ultimately flip the saucer over!  Wow!

Not so fast there, buckeroo.  Thrusters are used in space to adjust the motion or attitude (how the object is oriented) of an object by exerting hundreds to thousands of pounds of force on it from one side or the other.  They are not strong enough to lift the vehicle off a planet’s surface.  But, it’s a nice diversion for the audience so they don’t realize that the dynamic duo ran all the way back up to the bridge, shot-out a window (The windows are transparent aluminum on our side of the universe…) and slid down the top of the saucer deck shooting at the aliens all the way down.  What a scene!  Why didn’t they do that before they lit the thrusters?  (Sorry. Stupid question.  Of course it was a perfect opportunity for pyrotechnics—pretty blue flames shooting out of the ship.)

We find that Montgomery Scotty’s new sidekick, Jaylah has taken up residence in a starship, the USS Franklin that was lost a 100 years earlier.
And bless Jaylah’s little heart, she’s been trying for years to repair it to take off to freedom, and she has managed to fix many of the ships systems.  But, she’s never been to Star Fleet!  So where did she get those amazing skills?  Or, is it that everything the Federation makes is just so simple it’s intuitively obvious to any creature that can walk on two feet how to repair and operate it.

And, we all know that if it’s going to fly again, Montgomery Scotty will make it so in a matter of hours…on a ship that is over a hundred years old…and that he has never seen…and that he has no idea what is wrong with it…(spoiler alert to a spoiler alert) and is buried in the side of a mountain.  But, since when has that ever been a problem?

Chekov and Kirk soon join the party and Scotty fires up the transporter and beams Spock and McCoy on board.  Shortly, the young Russian powers up the sensors, like an old pro, to scan for Uhura’s Vulcan necklace.  He must hang around Scotty way too much.

What we ultimately find out is that Krall is the captain of the USS Franklin (he was human back then).  And that he has lived so long by sucking the energy out of other creatures, leaving a dry husk behind.
Hmm, that sounds familiar.  Ever watch the space-vampire movie, “Lifeforce”?

So they’ve got to rescue the remaining crew of the Enterprise from the enemy base and they need a diversion.  Low and behold there is a PX70 on board.
A motorcycle that’s over a 100 years old…I hope they put some stabilizer in the gas tank and those pistons didn’t seize up.  But, wait there’s more!  We see the motorcycle beaming onto the ground at full speed.  One has to ask how the good Captain got the motorcycle up to, say 50 mph—okay lets give him the benefit of the doubt, 30 mph inside the transporter room that’s maybe twenty by twenty feet square?

So we get the typical battle to save the prisoners.  I’m glad that martial arts are a Universal combat technique.  It would be so sad to see one alien use martial arts to beat the snot out of another alien that only learned defense by verbal abuse – ‘Oh,yeah, your mamma wears combat boots!’. The ultimate wow comes when Kirk jumps his PX70 through the air as he’s being beamed up and manages to grab Jaylah’s hand as she’s falling off the top of a building! 

What timing!  What skill!  What the hell?  We’re supposed to believe this?  Evel Knievel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evel_Knievel) would have been proud of him!  There is suspension of disbelief and there is brain dead.

Time to leave the planet.  The USS Franklin is in tip-top shape, thanks to that miracle worker Montgomery Scotty, and with Sulu at the helm, (did everyone at Star Fleet Academy study the operating manual for the USS Franklin??) they power up the impulse engines and fly the ship out of the mountain side it was embedded in…Did I say embedded? Yes, but I meant buried in!

Just how did this ship crash?  Did they back into the mountain after excavating neat little holes for the engines?  Why aren’t the engine nacelles crushed and bent with half the mountain laying on them? Of course they couldn’t pull out with ¼  impulse power.  What were they thinking? 

It specifically states in the USS Franklin operating manual that when pulling out of a mountainside one needs to use ½ impulse power.  Sulu pushes the pedal to ½ impulse power and manages to move the ship over the cliff edge, and now it has to free-fall to reach terminal velocity so the “stabilizers can provide lift”.  HUH?  Stabilizers?  Provide lift?  What?!

You have impulse engines that can propel this ship through space at up to ¼ the speed of light and you have to fall to reach terminal velocity.  And just what the hell do the stabilizers do? This is a spaceship, not an airplane.  I’m surprised that they didn’t set the flaps to 50% and call the tower for wind speed, direction and runway temperature.  To top it off, they need to light those damn thrusters to keep from crashing into the ground. 

Oh, by the way, on your way down please trim off a few of those cliff faces and on your way out, take a few of those tall rock peaks down a bit, please.  Yes, don’t worry, your ship can handle shearing off granite mountain tops.  A little touch up paint and you’re good to go.

Hang on space cadets, we’re in the home stretch!

Is this guy crazy? Krall, that is.  He could have made a fortune selling his mining hardware to the Romulans and Klingons.  I can see it now: “Starship Shredders are Us!”  They’re small, cheap, fast, blow through defensive shields like butter, hell, blow through starships like butter.  You can slice and dice them. And, if you act now, we’ll through in a used PX70 with your order!  But wait, there’s more!  For every 10,000 you buy you get a signed Krall command ship at half price!

Krall and his minions—lots and lots of minions—(Like, where did they all come from?  We find that most of his crew died, so these loyal followers are a mystery.) are headed off to deliver the super weapon of the ancients to the Yorktown space station.
These ancients pop up all over the place, did you ever notice?  And they had the neatest technology.  But if they were so smart why are they all dead?  But, that’s a discussion for another day.
We have Kirk heading out with the Franklin to take on Krall with his pulsed phaser canons and spacial torpedoes.

Question:  If you had a state-of-the-art starship and came up against an enemy that turned your ship into a floating pile of scrap metal, would you think that taking a starship that is a 100 years older is going to do any better?

Captain Kirk thinks so – “Lock and load!”  But, they decide to disorient the bees by beaming Spock and McCoy (the ace alien-ship pilot) into one of the mining ships and (here we go again) as fast as you can say JJ Abrams, they eject the witless crew of the ship into the harsh rigors of deep space—all the while not blowing themselves out of the ship as the cabin air rushes out.  McCoy flies and Spock determines that the mining ships share a cyberpathic link to coordinate their movements.  Yes, cyberpathic, not cyber-pathetic

So after a few elegant exchanges of exquisite technobabble they determine that sending a very high frequency signal, VHF to you and me and Captain Kirk, of 57.7 MegaHertz.  Mind you, this is determined to be a frequency that the alien ships would not anticipate so as to cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the whole swarm of alien ships.  How do they know they won’t anticipate it? Is there a list of unanticipated radio frequencies everyone subscribes to?  They need to broadcast something loud and distracting to drown out their communication’s link.  Let’s see, is that amplitude modulation or frequency modulation, maybe it’s pulse code modulation?  Or maybe its just the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage.  (Would “Feeling’ by Morris Albert have had the same effect?)  Whatever it is, the alien ships start exploding left and right, up and down…

Okay, where have I seen this before? “Mars Attacks!”  This is where some obnoxious Martians invade Earth and we ultimately defeat them by playing Slim Whitman’s Indian Love Call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfTORdsPspw) which causes their heads to explode.

At first I thought that Krall’s ships exploded when the Enterprise broadcast their song, but after watching the movie clip way too many times and consulting other resources, I think what is supposed to be happening is that the ships are colliding and exploding.

Questions:  (Rhetorical, they are.)
A) Why didn’t these flying boxes of TNT explode when the impacted and shredded the Enterprise?
B) Why didn’t they explode when they impacted Spock and McCoy’s escape pod and all the others they captured?
C) Why didn’t Krall’s personal ship get wasted in the melee?
D) Why? Why? Why? Oh, why did I watch this movie??

I think I like the “Mars Attacks” interpretation better.  It’s less stupid.  But equally absurd.  Sigh…

Question: Why does Krall even need the deadly ancient weapon?
Krall has thousands of these ships at his beck and call and they would happily shred the snow-globe Yorktown in a matter of minutes, wreaking havoc and destruction across the station, but instead, he must release the deadly ancient weapon to dissolve everyone on board?

And we find out that he’s pissed that they made him a starship captain when he was a Federation soldier.  He couldn’t kill people anymore; he had to be a diplomat.  The icing on the cake was when he got stranded in the nebula and nobody came to rescue him.  So he turned to the local alien technology to prolong his life which turned him into a G’kar look-a-like.

So where in the world—sorry, universe—did Krall come from?

His real name is Balthazar Edison.
Wait!  With a name like Balthazar, he chooses Krall??  I think he really missed a major public relations opportunity with the name change.  If you want to strike fear in your enemies you want a name that sets them on edge, like Khan; General Zod; Dr. Otto Octavius.  Which one sends a bigger chill down your spine: Krall or Balthazar?  Krall sounds like something you’d name your Chihuahua .  Here, Krall. Common boy…Good Krall…Good dog!…Balthazar’s got an edge to it: this is one bad-ass villain you don’t want to cross.

Meanwhile, back at the station.

The USS Franklin flies through the wall of the Yorktown to get the bad guys.
No hull breaches on the starship, no one even falls out of their seats! What a ship!  But, what about the air on the station?  Is the station careening about the solar system like a party balloon let loose before tying it off as the air rushes out? (No?)
After bouncing off the walls, floor and ceiling of the tunnel they’re in, the Franklin charges up through a small lake and intercepts the three alien ships like a dart board in an English Pub!

Question:  You have this idyllic lake in the middle of your space station and one surmises that this water is basically sitting in a huge bathtub.  The good ship USS Franklin now blasts up through the lake from below to capture the bad guys.  That’s right.  Punches a great big hole in the bottom of the bathtub!  Where does all the water go?  Somebody better get a really big mop.

Krall escapes (Wow, what a surprise!) and prepares to release the ancient weapon in the ventilation system.  But now he looks human.  How’d that happen? This guy’s got a million tricks up his sleeve.

Of course only Montgomery Scotty can disable the ventilation system on board the station to thwart the ancient weapon.
Why? You might ask.  

Because, the resident engineers are too stupid to know how to operate the very life support system on board their deep-space station that keeps them alive—far, far away from Federation support, and Scotty, never having seen this station before, just needs to look at the operational schematics to find a back door.  Back door to what?  If he’s looking for a way to hack the code that operates the ventilation system he’d be better off looking at the source code.  He does admit that he needs Jaylah’s eyes—I’m really hoping that was a figure of speech.

Scotty does his thing. Kirk does his thing and finally the bad guy, Balthazar—sorry, Krall ends up floating in space and dying by his own weapon.  (Why don’t they use the transporter to get Krall?)  Lastly, Kirk, who is following Krall out the airlock, is saved by the excellent piloting skills of McCoy (what a set of hands!) and Spock’s timely catch as the good Captain flies by.

Kirk saves the day and of course they offer him the Vice Admiral’s chair.  But Kirk observes that Vice Admirals don’t fly. (Gee, that’s probably why they call it a desk job.)  Then Kirk comments, “Where’s the fun in that?”
Ah, excuse me.
Two hours ago (our time) he was whining for the desk job, now it’s no fun?  You mean he wants to go back into space?
Ah, excuse me.
You don’t have a starship anymore.  Oh, and your crew was decimated.

Question: The Captain of a certain starship makes a very bad decision—a tremendously bad decision—when facing an enemy he can’t fight, against the repeated recommendations of his bridge crew.  Said Captain has his starship turned into space confetti and loses most of his crew.

This captain should be:
1)    Spaced out of the nearest airlock? (Considering that this is not the first starship he’s trashed.)
2)    Given the Vice Admiral’s chair at the nearest space station?
3)    Traded to the Klingons so he can wreck some of their starships.
4)    Given command of another starship that is just being built with all the latest Federation technology and bling?

So, it only took losing one Federation Starship, the USS Enterprise and wrecking another, the USS Franklin (an antique, I might add.  Wonder what it would have brought on the Antiques Roadshow?) along with untold damage to the space station Yorktown and losing most of his crew to get Jim Kirk out of the doldrums and raring to go back out and finish his five year mission.  What a captain!

And, they give him another starship!

I can’t wait for the next movie…sigh…

“Exoplanet”

“Exoplanet”, the latest wallpaper to be added to the gallery on the website depicts a binary planetary system around a distant star hosting a living ecosystem.  This image has taken forever to produce thanks to some quirks with the Vue-Esprit software that was used to create it.  Hope you enjoy it!

Wallpaper - Exoplanet

Exoplanet

Check out the other Orbital Maneuvers’ wallpapers in the gallery.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Leonard Nimoy – A Man of Many Facets

Leonard Nimoy (1931 - 2015)

Leonard Nimoy (1931 – 2015)

     A human being portraying a fictional character that touched, if not inspired, millions for almost 50 years, Leonard Nimoy and Spock will be indelibly etched into history as one entity. A human actor who secured a role in 1966 as an alien aboard a starship with over 400 humans, Nimoy would eventually meld with this alien character to create the Vulcan, Spock we all know.

     Leonard Nimoy spent years trying to distance himself from the Vulcan after the original series ended, but he eventually learned that Spock was as much a part of himself as he was of the character. And, Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan Science Officer on board the USS Enterprise was in constant turmoil with the emotions he felt and had to repress to be a Vulcan. Nimoy crafted a wonderful character whose internal conflicts could be intimately felt and shared by many of us across our planet Earth.

     Leonard Nimoy, a man of many talents: actor, director, producer, photographer, narrator, poet, musician, creator of Spock, will be missed. For whatever the Cosmos holds for you, live long and prosper and thank you for your inspiration.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Planet Rise – New Wallpaper Added to the Gallery

The current estimate of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy is on the order of tens of billions – we aren’t even considering the moons that might be orbiting these planets and may have water and atmospheres conducive for life.  Planet Rise shows a gas giant rising over an ocean teaming with life on one of its moons. We haven’t found it yet, but I have every confidence that it is out there, somewhere in the vast cosmos.

Planet Rise - A gas giant's moon teams with life.

Planet Rise – A gas giant’s moon teams with life.

Check out the main gallery page for more images.

Till next time,

RC Davison

 

 

The Cost of Cassini at Saturn

On June 30, 2014 NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), celebrated ten years of unprecedented scientific discoveries of the planet Saturn and its moons by the Cassini-Huygens probe.

Saturn by Cassini showing the prominent hexagonal formation at the north pole. 8-18-14 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The probe has returned well over 350,000 images of the ringed system; discovered seven new moons orbiting the planet, successfully landed the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan; over four thousand research papers have been written based on Cassini’s findings; “tasted” the water from Enceladus’ geysers and will continue to send back data until 2017 when it will be intentionally flown into Saturn’s atmosphere.

When we look at all that Cassini has delivered, one can ask – is it worth the $3.27 billion dollars the mission has cost? That’s a whole lot of money!

Titan and Rhea, Saturn’s largest two moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But, when you consider that the mission actually started development in 1990, the cost turns out to be about $130.8 million per year over the last 25 years. Still a lot of money. But, the cost per person in the United States is about $0.42 per person per year (based on an average populate of the US from 1990 to 2014).

The $3.27 billion is the total mission cost to date, but the United State’s contribution was actually $2.6 billion, the balance being supplied by ESA and the Italian space agency, so the per person cost for the US is actually more like 33 cents per person. The per person contribution gets even smaller when you divide the cost by the populations of the ESA supporting countries.

Yes, $3.27 billion is a lot of money, but when you look at it from the perspective of real cost over time it’s not even the cost of a pack of gum per person per year! The flip side of this expense is that the mission development and support employed over 5000 people. That is money that went back into the economy; it put food on the table, paid bills, stimulated local businesses and economies, new technology development, advanced our

Saturn’s amazing rings! Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

understanding of the Solar System and of the Saturnian system immensely. The most important contribution (albeit the hardest to quantify) was to excite and encourage a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and technology.  This one item is so very important in today’s competitive world economy. The return-on-investment is still paying off and will so for many years to come.

As a point of reference, the US Defense Department budget for just 1989 was $389 billion dollars!  For 2014 it is $752 billion.  That works out to $2350 per person today!  $3.27 billion over 25 years doesn’t sound quite so big does it?

Saturn back-lit by the Sun with Mars, Venus and Earth. Image credit: -Caltech/SSI

Take a few moments and check out NASA and ESA’s sites for Cassini and take a look at the amazing images that have been sent back by this enduring probe.  After all, you paid for it!

Check out this video for what to expect for the rest of Cassini’s mission at Saturn.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Star Trek Into Darkness – OMG!

A bit different post this time…More of a rant!  Sorry, it goes on forever!

Having grown up with the original Star Trek, I can only watch the newest assault on the Star Trek franchise from the perspective that it is an alternate universe from the original Star Trek Gene Roddenberry created. Taking such a point of view allows me to watch the new crew of the Enterprise take on the Universe without grimacing [much] at their antics, relative to the well established history and timeline of the original Star Trek.

I found that I could accept the cast and revised crew, and I tried really hard to like what I was seeing on the big screen, but what I was seeing made me feel that the movies were built around the action and special effects and not much more. In this day and age you need more than the visual shock and awe, you need a storyline behind the visuals that ties everything together in a way that doesn’t leave the viewer pondering if what they just saw makes any sense.

Case in point: The first Star Trek movie shows us a youthful Jim Kirk racing headlong toward a precipice in his step-father’s vintage Corvette Stingray. We watch as he jumps out of the car when it is about 40 feet from the edge. We all know that Kirk manages to slide to a stop, but we all also know that this is physically impossible and just ridiculous. So right at the beginning the director insults our intelligence by trying to get us to believe this is even plausible. Why not have Kirk jump out 300 feet before the edge? You still get the car going over, but you also get a scene that is at least plausible. Or better yet, have the officer on the air-cycle pull Kirk out of the car just as it goes over the edge. (I found it interesting that the beginning of the newest movie we find Kirk once again racing toward a precipice, but this time he goes over the edge. I’m still trying to figure out what that symbolizes.)

There’s another bug I have about Sci-Fi series and that’s jumping through time—and they all do it. I have always contended that when a science fiction show starts to use time travel to propagate the storyline, they’ve run out of ideas and are scrambling for something to continue the show. The television series Enterprise used this plot device in it’s pilot episode. It lasted only 4 years, with a mediocre following. The premise for the show was good, the cast could do the job, but the material that was produced for the show was dismal. The first new Star Trek movie used the time traveling ploy and, as far as I’m concerned, turned out a movie that was extremely disappointing.

Star Trek Into Darkness tries to remake the original Wrath of Khan movie, but with the alternate universe twist in full force. That could work if the story wasn’t full of holes and inconsistencies. It seems more and more that movies are built around the neat special effects that are thrown in here and there, regardless if they make any sense or not—let’s do it for the WOW-factor.

If you’re still with me, hang on a few more minutes and I’ll explain. Note: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, be forewarned that there are many spoilers to follow.

  1. Opening scene: Why is the Enterprise underwater?? Were they trying to sneak up on the natives of Nibiru? Did somebody forget that they have transporters on board? While it looks really spectacular coming out of the water, it makes absolutely no sense to do this other than the wow-factor. Plus it ignores the fact that a vessel that is designed to operate in the vacuum of space is not optimized for the pressures placed on it being hundreds of feet under water. A submarine would make a better spaceship than a spaceship would a submarine.
  2. Scotty doesn’t want to fly over the volcano to rescue Spock because it’s too hot? Lava is about 1200°C or 2200°F. The NASA space shuttles routinely handled temperatures of almost 2500°F. Spock was sitting on a block of basalt in the caldera in his spacesuit! I would think that the technology of the 23rd century would be able to handle those temperatures and more for their starships. And, don’t they have shields? Heat is just infrared electromagnetic radiation.
  3. Khan wipes out the Data Archive (Top Secret Section 31) with a ring that explodes when placed in water. Impressive! But, he proceeds to shoot up the conference room with an assault vehicle reminiscent of a Huey Cobra helicopter with a 50 caliber machine gun! Extremely inefficient since he didn’t manage to kill the guy he was after. Why not beam in a bomb? Use a phaser? Hell, with his capabilities he could have walked into the room and killed them all without breaking a sweat! (See number 12 below.)
  4. There is no security force at Star Fleet headquarters to take on this assault vehicle? (They better hope the Klingons don’t hear about that!)
  5. Khan then trans-warp beams to Kronos. (I won’t even get into the trans-warp beaming!) Why Kronos? Why didn’t he just beam to the new starship which was hanging out in orbit around Jupiter and take it over? (See number 12 below.)
  6. Admiral Marcus then gives Kirk a special new photon torpedo to take out Khan—72 of them! At this point we and Kirk don’t know that they are shielded with a body inside in cryogenic suspended animation (Khan’s friends). Hmmm, seems like the Admiral may have wanted to do serious bodily harm to these frozen people. Wouldn’t it be easier to just phaser Khan’s crewmates and be done with them? I’ve got to wonder why would anyone authorized the work to build a torpedo that had a cryogenic life-support system in it? And, of course to make sure you kill Khan you can’t shoot just one torpedo, you’re directed to shoot all 72 of them? That didn’t raise a flag in Kirk’s head?
  7. Scotty quits when the new torpedoes are brought on the ship because they’re shielded and he needs to know what’s inside. But wait, isn’t Scotty the chief engineer? Or did I miss something and his real job is the ship’s cargo master? Doesn’t the ship of this size have a weapons officer, or an armorer that would be looking after these weapons?
  8. Scotty resigns, so Kirk (Did Kirk even finish going through Star Fleet Academy?) assigns Chekov, the navigator, who’s been shadowing Mr. Scott, to head up engineering? (He gets to wear a “red shirt”! Oh no!) Didn’t Scotty have a subordinate that helped him in engineering who would be the next logical chief engineer as opposed to a navigator just out of Star Fleet?
  9. Uhura and Spock on an away-team? Okay, that’s fine…but wait! Really? You want two romantically engaged, personnel, who are obviously having a lover’s spat to attend an away-team on this critical mission? And, they then argue on the way down to the planet, pulling Kirk (the Captain) into their quarrel? Is this Star Trek or an episode of The Office? It’s a humorous moment, but if you think about it, it’s just all wrong! It’s like the writers/director can’t decide if they want this to be a comedy or an action movie.
  10. Shouldn’t Spock stay on the ship in command in case the Captain gets in trouble? (Really, the Captain should have his butt parked in the chair and the first officer should be leading the away-team.) Nope! You give command to your helmsmen! Go Sulu!
  11. Then they want to disassociate themselves from Star Fleet by wearing civilian clothes and flying a civilian ship…Ah, excuse me…what about that federation starship (Enterprise) that is floating derelict in Klingon space? I would think that might be a red flag to the Klingons that these people are probably not your average family out for a Sunday drive.
  12. Then of course the Klingons are so inept or Khan is so superior that he takes out the compliment of 3 Klingon Birds of Prey, plus destroys two of their ships. Gee, no one on any of the Klingon ships thought to just blast him to smithereens using their ship’s weapons?
  13. Back to the photon torpedoes: Of course, the chief medical officer on the ship is the logical choice to accompany the science/weapons officer in opening a mysterious photon torpedo to see what’s inside? I guess there is no one in sickbay that needs his attention…Oh, that’s right! They needed someone with the steadiest hands on the ship…How many surgeries will be done in the 23rd century with a handheld scalpel?
  14. Back to our solar system: Scotty just flies up to the top secret space base in orbit around Jupiter where they are building the newest star ship – USS Vengeance? Nobody is watching the radar screen? No identity challenges? No security? (I hope the Klingons don’t hear about this!)
  15. Okay, the Vengeance beats the tar out of the Enterprise, which manages to jump into warp, thanks to Chekov’s amazing engineering efforts. The Vengeance knocks the Enterprise out of warp and they end up 137,000 km from Earth (85,000 miles from Earth). Note that the Moon is 235,000 miles from Earth on average, so they are really close to the planet. Doesn’t Earth have any defense systems monitoring local space? Star Fleet headquarters is in San Francisco and they have no defensive systems that pick up these two ships and go and investigate? Where’s NORAD—or its 23rd century equivalent?? You’ve got the Enterprise still getting beat up by a ship that’s twice as big—that’s almost 2000 feet long! No one on Earth notices this? There are no radio transmissions from Enterprise? A call for help? Standard telemetry that tells Star Fleet—“Hi honey we’re home?” (I hope the Klingons don’t hear about this!)
  16. Well, lets talk about the Vengeance. (The impression is that Khan was involved in designing it. Pretty good for someone who technology background is 200 years old!) Why is it so huge if you don’t need a large crew to a man it? It was designed to be run by a minimal crew and built for combat, then it would make sense that it would be as small as possible—just crew, engines and weapons. It seems to be another case of applying the WOW-Factor!
  17. I just loved the flame-throwing thrusters (very retro!) on a starship that uses antimatter for warp drive and has anti-gravity devices on board. The gurneys in the hospital had no wheels, apparently using an anti-gravity system! I’m just glad that someone filled the fuel tanks for the Enterprise before they left space dock.
  18. And Scotty, bless his heart, has stowed away on the Vengeance and survives running the entire length of the empty engine room to open the hatch for Kirk and Khan. But, unfortunately, Scotty is caught in his attempt to help them. Luckily, though, the person who catches him had to be the most stupid security officer in Star Fleet!
  19. Excuse me! Detonating 72 photon torpedoes, inside the engine room of the Vengeance does not obliterate the starship? Of course not. You have to keep Khan alive…
  20. The Enterprise is in free-fall to Earth and there is no gravity on the ship because the power is out and gravity systems are failing. Then why isn’t everyone floating?
  21. The Kirk/Spock switch at the end from the original Wrath of Khan ending is almost comical, as is the resurrection of Kirk. If you didn’t watch the original Wrath of Khan then the demise of Kirk would have been a much more serious scene.
  22. The Federation, again defenseless does nothing as the Vengeance crashes into San Francisco…
  23. They can’t beam up Khan and Spock as they are fighting on the vehicle flying through the city, because they keep moving and they can’t get a lock on them. But, in the first movie Chekov beamed Kirk and Sulu up while they were in free fall to the planet Vulcan. And, they can beam someone down to the vehicle that’s moving?
  24. And lastly, (Finally!) there are no security people on the Enterprise to beam down and tell Spock not to kill Khan, as well as provide a little help, so they have to beam their communications officer down?
  25. Whoops! One more: Of course, let’s just refreeze Khan and his crew for a new movie somewhere down the road!

There’s more, but I’ve taken enough of your valuable time. I’m sure that everyone involved in the production of Star Trek Into Darkness worked hard to produce the final product and I commend them on their efforts. But, if you are going to spend $200 million to make a movie, how much more does it cost to get a script that gives the audience a cohesive, plausible storyline, with plausible characters, action and effects? Probably nothing. There are many excellent writers out there who have written intelligent stories, filled with action, intrigue and adventure that would be happy to provide the script for the next Star Trek movie.

Till next time,

RC Davison

Planet Found in the Alpha Centauri System – Could Pandora Be Discovered Soon?

Artist's illustration of the Alpha Centauri System. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Reminiscent of the movie AVATAR, a planet has been discovered in the nearest star system to our Sun, Alpha Centauri. This is a trinary system consisting of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, B, and C. Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun but slightly larger while its companion, Alpha Centauri B is slightly smaller and cooler. Alpha Centauri C is a red dwarf star also known as Proxima Centauri and is the closest star to our solar system at a distance of 4.22 lightyears. Alpha Centauri A and B orbit each other at a distance of about 23 AU (Astronomical Unit: 93 million miles/150 million kilometers) or about the distance between the Sun and Uranus.

This newly discovered planet is no Polyphemus, the gas giant in the movie that the moon Pandora orbited. The planetary system was in orbit around the star Alpha Centauri A. This planet (designated Alpha Centauri B b) is in orbit about Alpha Centauri B and has an orbital period or year of 3.236 days. It’s mass (minimum mass) is 1.13 times that of Earth and it orbits its star at a distance of about six million kilometers, 3.6 million miles.

The simple facts about this planet belies the huge effort that was put forth to push the envelope of the technology and analysis techniques to find the planet.  This information was gleaned out of data collected from over of four years of observations using the HARPS spectrograph at the ESO LaSilla Observatory (See Finding Exoplanets – Part 2: It’s All About the Mass for more information on the HARPS instrument.) The team of astronomers, lead by Xavier Dumusque (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), lead author of the paper were able to improve on the sensitivity of the HARPS instrument by taking into account:

  • The radial motion of the Alpha Centauri star system relative to Earth
  • The stellar oscillation modes for Alpha Centauri B, akin to seismic vibrations
  • The granulation of the star’s surface (the convective zones of rising hot plasma and sinking cooler plasma on the surface, which contribute noise to the measured radial-velocity of the star)

    Image of the granulation of the Sun's surface. Image courtesy of ESA

  • The rotational contribution of the star (as the star rotates, the side moving toward us will be blue shifted while the side rotating away from us will be red shifted)
  • Spots on the surface that are brighter or darker than the mean
  • Magnetic cycle activity
  • Light from Alpha Centauri A contaminating the spectrum of the B star
  • Instrument noise.

After extensive data reduction and analysis, the team determined that the star was wobbling at a velocity of 51 cm/sec (20 inches/sec) due to the planet’s motion. This is about 1.8 km/hr or 1.1 mile per hour!

Although the planet discovered is too close to its parent star to be habitable, at least with life as we know it, the analysis techniques developed to pull the presence of the planet out of the noise can be used to identify planets with a minimum mass of 4 times Earth’s mass in the habitable zone of a star. This opens up a new category of planets that can be searched for.  Note that this is the first planet found in the Alpha Centauri, it may not be the last. It may only be a matter of time before a planet (or moon) like Pandora from AVATAR is found in a star system in the Milky Way.

Till next time,

RC Davison

References:
Planet Found in Nearest Star System to Earth: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1241/
Paper: http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1241/eso1241a.pdf

On Japan and Other Thoughts

I am still trying to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster that has afflicted Japan on the 11thof March. My thoughts are with all of those that are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and put them all back together again. It is at these times that all the trappings of modern society are worthless. One’s main concern is for family, friends, food and shelter.

     In an effort to help support the relief effort in Japan, I will donate all proceeds from sales of Orbital Maneuvers from now (March 26, 2011) until the summer solstice on June 21st .  The more books sold, the more I’ll be able to contribute.

I’m going to rant here. Be forewarned!

When I watched the images coming out of Japan after the disaster, I could not shake the feeling that we should be more prepared. We, us, everyone on this planet. World wide for 2011 we will spend over two trillion dollars on defense. Defense of our sovereign lands from those who wish to attack us.

We are missing the big picture here. What we can do to each other pales in comparison to what Mother Nature can throw at us. Look at what just happened in Japan. What about hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf coast. The earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004 and the earthquake in China in 2008. The list goes on. But, these are small events compared to some of the major events that have occurred in the past, from super-volcanoes erupting to asteroid impacts.

Maybe we should start thinking more along the line of joining forces. After all, it is 2011, the 21st century. Should we not be civilized by this point? We’ve had over 10,000 years of development and yet we are constantly focused on beating each other into submission. Be it for religious, political, ideological or territorial reasons.

I know I’m being too idealistic here, but we should stop pointing missiles and guns at each other and divert those funds to developing the technology that will allow us to survive these inevitable natural disasters. We’ve got a handle on how to build earthquake resistant buildings, but they are not earthquake-proof. More importantly, our infrastructure is very vulnerable to many types of natural disasters.

We know this stuff happens. It has happened in the past and will again in the future. Two trillion dollars will go a long way to developing technology to study the planet we live on and understand what triggers these events. If we can’t stop them, at least we should be able to predict them reliably, and design our homes, businesses, cities and nations to withstand their onslaught.

Orbital Maneuvers is about multiple asteroid impacts on the United States. This is not beyond the realm of probability. It was scary researching this for the book, because it does not take a very big object to create global devastation. And, if not global, local devastation, which still can have global consequences. A small asteroid hitting the ocean is going to create tsunamis that could make the one that just hit Japan look like ripples on a pond.

So, we have a choice. We can keep preying on each other, burning money and resources to build offensive and defensive systems, and ignore the fact that there is a force out there more powerful than anything we have in our arsenals, or we can realize that this is the only place we have to live, and if we are going to survive, we have to join forces in building a common defense for everyone.

All the weapons, gadgets, toys and technology won’t mean a thing if Mother Nature reaches out and slaps you down. Just ask the people in Japan…

Till next time,

RC Davison