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