The future of space exploration is definitely in question these days. NASA is having its budget sliced down to the bone. Privately funded spaceflight is promising, but still has many hurdles yet to surmount. In spite of a state of affairs that could easily generate cynicism in many a space devotee, there’s at least one group who is meeting the challenge by dreaming big…some might say ridiculously so. The folks behind the aptly named BuildTheEnterprise.org, you see, want to build an honest-to-gosh, real-life version of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and they want to do it over the next 20 years.
Now, some of the more skeptical amongst us might point out some of the obvious obstacles to a working Enterprise: the lack of warp-drive technology, for instance, or most of the other technologies that allowed the Enterprise to boldly go where no one yadda yadda yadda. The BTE folks seem aware of that, and are instead proposing the Enterprise’s iconic design as a starting point, then equipping the theoretical vessel with existing, or at least hypothetically possible, tech. We might not have warp drive, for instance, but we might conceivably be able to build ion propulsion engines powered by nuclear reactors. We might not be able to create artificial gravity as snazzy as Star Trek, but we already know how to simulate gravity through rotation. They even have a first mission in mind for the Enterprise: finally putting some humans on Mars.
It’s all a bit pie-in-the-sky, of course, but it’s a fascinating thought experiment if nothing else. We will probably never see warp drive in our lifetimes, if at all (unless the Singularity has a few surprises for us), but there are space-exploration technologies just waiting to be developed further, lacking only the passion and funding to make it happen. BuildTheEnterprise still has a steep climb ahead of it when it comes to the funding, but you have to admire their passion. And hey, to paraphrase Doc Brown, if you’re going to build a space craft, why not do it with some style?