Dammit Jim, The Enterprise Isn’t Supposed to Go Underwater

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water3To boldly go where no man has gone before is one thing. But to go to a place which man has been familiar with for most of his many millennia, one had better be ready to explain themselves when the facts start giving way to a more exciting story element. Star Trek Into Darkness, I’m looking at you, only I can’t see you because you’re underwater.

In the Into Darkness trailer, and opening nine minutes of the film according to Beaks from AintItCool, the USS Enterprise is seen underwater, apparently because the crew “can’t surface for fear of violating the Prime Directive,” which seems like a perfectly plausible thing to do, as one would try to avoid any bigtime violations by any means necessary. Even by taking a shit on physics? Apparently so, according to electrical engineer and Badass Digest contributer Ray Wagner, who professes the near impossibility of such a thing happening.

Before the instigator side of you comes out and calls everyone a party pooper for ragging on what could end up being an insignificant factor, this is a franchise deeply embedded into the science community, inspired by those who were inspired by it and so on. It’s like calling yourself a magician when all you do is stage hypnosis, or something much more masculine. It all lies in the expectations, and when one crack in the hull is found, it doesn’t tend to be alone.

Ranting aside, here is Ray Wagner’s take on the underwater Enterprise, among other things…

I’ll go on the record as saying that I wasn’t a fan of the Enterprise being assembled on Earth and then flown up to orbit in 2009’s “Star Trek”. Matt Jefferies’ original design was a true spaceship, and all the design elements were focused around a ship harnessing powerful and dangerous forces to travel between stars. It was anything but aerodynamic, and if the parts were built on Earth, they probably should’ve been assembled on orbit. Those Trek ships that are capable of atmospheric flight tend to look like it – take the Klingon Bird-of-Prey, with its wings, and (though I hate to mention it) Voyager, with its more flattened-out, lifting body-like profile. Anything else (including the Enterprise in TOS) tends to, at most, only dip the occasional toe into a planet’s atmosphere in an emergency.(1)

Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman have the keys to the kingdom, though, so I’m willing to let them play the artistic license card and roll with it. But this whole Enterprise-under-water business has gone too far! Like most spacecraft, the Enterprise is designed to keep between one and several atmospheres of pressure in, while the ship itself is exposed to the vacuum of space. This is a very different job than keeping out the pressure from tons of sea water over your head. (2) It just strains credibility to the breaking point to ask us to believe that those poor Starfleet engineers were told to take flying under water into account in their ship designs. How often can that even need to happen during your average mission? Spoiler alert: like, never. Or hardly ever. You just wouldn’t build that sort of thing into your space ship’s requirements. I suppose you could technobabble your way out of any criticism like this with structural integrity fields and blah, blah, blah, but come on – that’s the sort of thing that eventually killed the TNG-era run of Trek. If we’re already at that point two movies into the reboot, we’re in real trouble.

(1) There was actually a nod to the saucer section being capable of landing in the re-design for TMP, with four landing gear hatches included on the underside of the model, but this was never exploited in the TOS-era movies. And, of all the parts of the Enterprise, this is really the only one that makes any sense in an atmosphere.

(2) For every 33 feet you descend in the sea, the pressure over your head increases by 1 atmosphere. So, if something as big as the Enterprise is really hiding under water like all those extended trailer descriptions indicate, it’s probably going to want to go deep to be stealthy. And it won’t take much depth to generate some crazy pressures!

We shall see how it all goes in May when the film gets its release, though something tells me all of the movie will come out as pre-blockbuster previews and every single minute seen will be theorized about and expounded upon until five minutes into its actual release as talks about a third Abrams’ Star Trek begin in full.


  1. Stephen Hill says:

    Any technology capable of ‘inertial dampening’ is going to have no problem whatsoever with a variety of environments. If we’re taking the naval allusions as they are, a planet’s atmosphere is a great ‘dry-dock’ for a space-faring vessel. It’s out of it’s element, sure. Doesn’t really matter, though, if you can control gravity, a little water pressure isn’t going to be a big deal.

    • JT says:

      Gravity and air pressure are different things. Also, what about aerodynamics? Intertial dampeners don’t just suspend those. Like he said in the above quotes, over-use of technobabble is what killed Star Trek in the first place.

      • Stephen Hill says:

        So…you don’t like shields that can withstand photon torpedoes? If you can control gravity, you can make as aerodynamic a shield as you want, and not worry about the leading edges of the pylons. Shields and warping spacetime are totally TOS Trek. I would think he’d be more concerned with why the shields don’t also make the ship invisible; a Klingon with a laser pointer could blind the crew through those windows!

  2. Carnell says:

    Looking at it
    from a Sci Fi perspective, structural integrity fields for faster than light
    travel should be able to handle ocean pressures. Just my perspective.

  3. chazroot says:

    Never let it be said that Jar Jar Abrams and the AWESOM-O 4000 Bad Robot team have no talent. They have consistently proven that you can indeed polish a turd.

  4. Deggsy says:

    I’m of the belief that Abrams’ Trek Universe is under the command of a Q who spent far too much time disguised as a mindless Hollywood executive.

    • BebopHitchhiker says:

      A mindless Hollywood executive whose expense account leans heavily toward high octane beverages and recreational pharmaceuticals.

  5. stoney says:

    Wouldnt the shields protect the ship from a certain amount of water pressure? problem solved lol

  6. JJ just keeps twisting the knife he has in all of our collective Trekker backs. His alternate universe series is “fun” to watch but it will never inspire like the old. In fact, it feel like Paramount is just whoring out the names, places and uniforms to someone making bad sic-fi. With his talent and creativity he could have just created a whole new sic-fi universe with out using the Trek name and it would probably have done just as well if not better.

  7. Jim Yager says:

    Ok, first off, GET A LIFE! Now that thats out of the way, the original Enterprise went into the atmosphere of Earth in at least one episode, and, several liquid atmospheres, so what is the difference between that and water? If the enterprise can fend of evil aliens, fly through black holes and slingshot around the sun to enter time travel, then, going under water should be no big deal at all. :}

    • The fact you don’t know what the difference is the issue.

    • The one episode that the Enterprise went into the atmosphere, the psi at that altitude (an altitude that an F-104 Starfighter can safely operate) would be around 7psi. Low enough that if you didn’t have supplemental oxygen you’d die in a few minutes. I can only think of two episodes that a ship went into water. The first was an animated episode, and they used a aquashuttle, and the second was an episode of Voyager, and they used the Delta Flyer. G-forces from slingshoting is not comparable to water pressure at 25 atmospheres.

  8. Ron Foskett says:

    It could just be that the Enterprise is where it isn’t supposed be. But just to have a bit of fun… “To boldly under tow where no one has under towed before”

  9. He’s assuming the Enterprise functions like a modern day spacecraft. Carnell is right. All starships have a structural integrity field (NOT talking about the shields or inertial dampeners) that’s basically just a force field that holds the hull and structure of the ship together in times of stress from warp travel, stellar forces, etc. Voyager’s maximum hull stress is somewhere higher than 45 TERADYNES of force. With a functioning warp core, there’s no way the Enterprises can’t handle the force exerted from being submerged like that.

    • First, there’s no “pressure” in space. Voyager was designed with atmospheric flight in mind. Enterprise wasn’t. Inertial Dampeners protect the crew from the g-forces. Structural Integrity Fields protect the ship from g-forces. Shields protect from impact. None of the three “systems” would protect a ship from the pressures under water. The ship would have to be designed with that in mind. Since Voyager was designed to land on a planet, it would be able to take pressures the Enterprise can’t since it wasn’t designed for that. You can look at it this way. Voyager is like an Ohio class submarine, sleek, and Enterprise is like it’s namesake, the Aircraft Carrier. Which one do you want to drive under water?

  10. I’m all for it if it keeps the series fun and fresh. A spaceship under water only asks the question why it would be designed to be capable… it is not completely beyond reason that it could. I will stop watching if it becomes stale, boring or no longer credible. This is not that point in time.

  11. Al Pa says:

    i dont know…. i like what i heard about them being in the midst of a mission goin horribly when their leaving the planet etc… thats sorta cool…. would be interesting if they had a reason like a blown out warp capaciter an enemy ships above so they dove to the planet to hide and repair while the others are doing the mission etc
    just a idea randomly that owuld stitch a bit mroe reason to risking that ridiculous plan ;P buuut i supose it will proly be entertaining actualy im not sure if thiers a need to be upset or not… i was wierded out by it coming out of water but at the same time if they had the abiltie to show water like they do now days for a film they woulda had the enterprise emerge from water in the original series during a battle or osmething besides whatever… its alternate time line at this point anything just bout goes til they fix the timeline so its correect 😕

  12. Kyle Kiernan says:

    Since when is Trek supposed to be technically accurate?
    That went away with the very first whoosh of the very first opening sequence long before most here were born.
    So much so the “whoosh” has become a cliche synonymous with Trek.
    If we want to quibble “accurate” we can start by throwing out anti-matter engines, warp drive, transporters, phasers, photon torpoedoes, deflector shields, dilithium crystals, cascades of sparks, and getting thrown out of our chairs when the enemy shoots us, but we do get to keep Chief Engineers with heavy accents and drinking problems.
    Abrams rubbed our noses in it in the first minutes of the first movie. Crewman gets sucked into space and is heard screaming until she gets outside then quiet as 2001.
    From here you can hear Abrams smirking “Yeah I know how to make “technically accurate” and that’s the last you’re going to see of that so sit back and buckle up.”

    • Antimatter engines are in the stages of development by the way. They already know how to create antimatter with the hadron collider. They just have to figure out how to contain it which they are developing. Also, antimatter occurs naturally in thunder storm. Lets not forget impulse engines wich are also in the stages of development. We know them as nuclear impulse engines today. To think that antimatter engines, photon torpedoes, and transporters are beyond the realm Of posibillity is crazy. Just look at the communicator or talking computers. We’ve already achieved both of those.

      • Kyle Kiernan says:

        folks have been trying to turn ST into the harbinger of the future for most of half a century. Its not about being technically accurate. Its about adventure and dreams and possibly green alien chicks in skimpy outfits. And JJ has pumped some red (and green) blood back into the dessicated corpse and made it exciting again. I was even able to (mostly) overlook the grotesque logistical distortions of space and time and just sit back and have fun. name of the game.

  13. Rodney McKay says:

    I know it’s a completely different universe, but Atlantis had the ability to go underwater because it held back the water with its shields. Stargate tended to be mostly based in science as well, much of it inspired by Trek, so why couldn’t the Enterprise do the same thing? A rigid structure to keep internal pressures from blowing the ship wide open in space, and a shield to protect from outside pressures whether they be phasers and explosions, or the constant pressure of water.

    And let’s not forget the crew of the Enterprise transported whales on a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, contained in tanks made of transparent aluminum, the formula for which Scotty traded to some plastics suppliers with complete disregard for the continuum. Don’t worry, I’m sure the formula was lost in the Eugenics Wars of the 1990’s. So double dumbass on all of you who are expecting perfect scientific accuracy that was not always present the TOS.

    • They didn’t manufacture transparent aluminum, bonehead, they used 6″ thick plexiglass. The formula for transparent aluminum was to pay for the plexiglass.

      • Mr_Katanga says:

        Humpbacked? People??

      • Rodney McKay says:

        Okay, well they still affected the past by giving them the formula. Whether they actually used it for the whales on a ship they are taking back to the future would obviously have little to no bearing on the past.

    • In “Star Trek IV: The Search for Greenpeace”, the wales should’ve drowned. Even if they reduced the gravity in the cargo bay, the displacement from the wales wouldn’t have left enough room for air.

      • pervlibertarian says:

        The whales would not have drowned in the limited time-frame available for getting the whales to future San Francisco.

  14. Jute says:

    this is also assuming besides the tech level(your assuming it would function like modern day things) the alloys alone likely could withstand the pressure, and they where not exploring the Mariana’s trench etc. and you see TNG&DS9 ships go into gas giants to where the pressure almost crushes them, that those pressures are far greater than would be a few hundred feet below.

  15. LL Bean says:

    So…let me get this right…faster than light travel is ok, transporters are ok, and anti-matter propulsion that leads to the bending of space-time is ok, but the ship being able to withstand a few G’s under water is not? The entire tech of Trek is contrived bs anyway, why not let them make the ship a sub as well? If it can withstand the pounding of interstellar travel and the probably mind-bending stresses of its own warp fields, why can’t the ship hold up under a few thousand feet of water? This is the future right?

    I say let them violate physics all they want, it is fiction afterall, loosely based on science.

  16. I think Abrams is doing a kick@$$ job of showing what 23rd century Star Trek technology is REALLY capable of. Having the Enterprise take a dip in the ocean would be about as difficult as you or I walking through a patch of thick fog. I seem to remember the Enterprise, in the previous movie, pull itself out of an ARTIFICIAL BLACK HOLE with only the power of it’s impulse fusion engines and the energy leftover from the warp plasma in the nacelles by riding the shockwave of a MATTER/ANTIMATTER EXPLOSION 100000 times more powerful than a photon torpedo. Give the poor ship a little credit.

  17. Really? says:

    This article is the best cure for insomnia I’ve ever seen. How can people get so het up over something like this? It’s a movie – get lives, people!

  18. Verne Munroe says:

    Some of you seem to not realize exactly the magnitude of the size of these ships… They are HUGE. Look up the specs on the Enterprise NCC-1701-D or E…

    Another thing is, Federation Starships are under no stress due to movement at Warp Speed. Three words, Static Warp Bubble. It is the field around the ship that holds a pocket of space-time, this is what allows them faster than light travel (Physics states solid matter can not exceed light speed after all). Therefor, Structural Integrity Fields would likely only be designed with keeping atmosphere inside the ship in mind. To me, it doesn’t make sense for the Enterprise to be able to submerge, considering it’s enormity… MAYBE if they raised their shields to maximum and used thrusters, but then they’d be in a giant air bubble, which of course would be buoyant, thus requiring more energy to operate, in an environment which is not the normal operating environment.

    I say that while it might be possible to submerge the Enterprise, I see no tactical advantage, as it would be hindered by expending extra energy operating in an environment it wasn’t designed for, which takes power from other systems (like weapons, for example). If I were the Captain of the Enterprise, the last place I would want to take my ship is under water. Now that I think of it, who says photon torpedoes would even work right under water? And wouldn’t phaser energy dissipate upon impacting the water? The way I see it, you’d be a sitting duck.

    This stupid Enterprise underwater thing is just ridiculous. It’s just another horrible thing J. J. Abrams has done to the Star Trek Franchise. I wish that they would fire that guy, and bring in someone who will do the franchise some justice, rather than try to rewrite all of Star Trek to what he thinks it should be, science or logic be damned.


  19. Kyle Kiernan says:

    You know why it can work?
    Because the sudden reveal and dramatic music cue when that behemoth comes rushing out of the water to turn the tide of battle is ab-so-lute-ly bitchin. The awesome field generated by that level of bitchin will keep that ship together no problem.
    I can only hope the Yamato surfaces right next to it and after the hyper-violent battle with much phasering and wave-motioning they have hot violent space battleship sex.
    If I’m lucky.

  20. Ian Matheson says:

    I consider myself a hard-science trekker who deplores the particle-of-the-week episodes but I’m confident that a society with technology advanced enough to bend space-time could manage to make a ship handle a few atmospheres of external pressure, even if you rarely need it.

  21. MikeTen says:

    It doesn’t bother me too much that the JJprise is under water, what bothers me is why hide the ship underwater at all when in the last movie they used the transporters to beam Kirk and Spock to Nero’s ship orbiting Earth from Titan, Saturn’s moon more than halfway across our solar system from Earth.
    If they could do that in the last movie, the ship should be able to either stay in a high orbit or far enough out in space that the primitive aliens on this planet would not see the ship with their eyes or possibly a telescope.

  22. gospyro says:

    I’d have to go back an watch old episodes again of Enterprise and Voyager, but in one or both of those they flew their ships deep into gas giants, and spit out plenty of techno-babble about just how far down they could go before being crushed. And in Voyager, they traveled in to a ‘Liquid Universe’… and we were quelled once again by the techno-babble. Of course I’m more then a little biased…. I don’t like Abrams as a Director in general, and I hate what he did with the first movie.

    But regardless of the techno-babble and ‘integrity shields’… the pressures underwater, as stated above, would build up VERY VERY fast… probably faster then my suspension of disbelief would be able to keep up (… that is if I even bother to see this next film… Abrams didn’t give me much reason to after the first one)

  23. Mark Varry says:

    Im reminded of the Futurama episode where the Galaxy Express ship visits Atlanta at bottom of Ocean. The conversation is not verbatim, As they are pulled underwater Leela says “How many pounds of pressure will the ship stand?” Professor Farnsworth responds “Its a spaceship designed to operate in a vacuum so I’d say between 0 and 1”.

  24. Marvin says:

    Is it possible it’s a shuttle craft?

  25. The structural integrity fields would be mostly worthless under water.
    They’re designed to compensate for torque, not pressure. They can help to lessen
    impact damage from collisions or combat, but those are localized
    incidents. The ships shields would be a little better, but not much. Shields are designed to protect the whole ship, but can’t take the constant pressure. They dissipate the weapon impacts by absorbing the energy and dispersing it with a mechanism, similar to a condensing coil in an air conditioner, but much more complicated. The Enterprise, to stay hidden under water, would at least be 200 feet under water (6 atmospheres, 90 psi) to avoid collisions with surface craft and to be obscured from sight by visual inspection (depending on water clarity). That’s just where the top of the saucer and warp nacelles. Divers need to add helium to their tanks to keep from getting oxygen poisoning at that depth. The pressure at the bottom of the engineering hull would be 625 feet deeper (per ILM). That’s 25 atmospheres, 375 psi, and none of that takes into effect the pressure of the current or the pressure of the ship moving under water. If the Enterprise was shaped more like a submarine or a dolphin, it could possibly work, but no guarantees. Being 625 feet tall, that would bring pressure differences that haven’t been thought of so far by ship designers. I can accept poetic license and creative writing to get the story out, but J.J. has taken too many liberties with his version of the franchise. With the exception of character names, alien species, The Federation and The Enterprise, J.J. has thrown everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that came before the last movie in the trash. If you have to destroy that much history to create a story, why not start from scratch with something new instead. Only three movies have been more upsetting. “Clear and Present Danger”, “The Sum of All Fears”, and “Starship Troopers”. May Phillip Noyce, Phil Alden Robinson, Paul Verhoeven, and J.J. Abrams all smoke a turd in purgatory for the injustice you have done.

  26. Enterprise NX-01 made a trip underwater, IIRC, and was clearly established as part of the continuity in the first Abrams film. I tend to shrug my shoulders and credit the mysterious structural integrity fields for such things.

  27. I’m no engineer, but we’ve seen instances of starships (NX01, USS Raman – TNG) flying through gas giants before. The atmospheric pressure of a gas giant even at modest depths would likely be substantially higher than a hundred feet under the ocean.

    Probably not something done willy nilly, but hardly the most dangerous/stupid thing we’ve seen done with a starship.

  28. Willy-Nilly says:

    Seems like I saw a senario where the Enterprise got stuck in a rock and the interior was intact, some sort of vibratory, harmonics thing. Hell by the time we build Enterprises all things may be possible!

  29. SAW says:

    Um…. guys… guys… guys… I see an “NCC” but I don’t see a 1701… Who says it’s the Enterprise that’s gone under? Every scene I’ve got a look at, we can’t make out EXACTLY what ship it IS – could be another of the same class, no?

  30. Rob Barbieri says:

    At first I had the same thoughts. Then I kept seeing all these posts and articles about physics. But isn’t it today’s technology being applied to something that takes place in the future? I’m sure scientists laughed at some of the silly gadgets from the original Star Trek, too. A great deal of the “technobabble” is based on ideas–ideas that might someday not be such a joke to you.

  31. the fact that the ship flies faster than the speed of light, has a shield that protects it from weapons… I think taking a bath is well with in it’s abilities

  32. Dammit, Jim, the Enterprise is a starship, not a submarine.

  33. mike says:

    it’s just a movie! 🙂