As I write this, it is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek being on television. So why is it that I still cannot beam myself to … wherever, maybe to visit one of my kids or grandkids?
In that epic series, Gene Roddenberry gave us everything we needed to accomplish the task. James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) demonstrated the process each week – often more than once in a show.
This production gave us the chamber sometimes used, and even the command to make it work: “Beam me up, Scotty.” (In today’s spirit of full disclosure, Captain Kirk never said those exact words in the original series. But the spirit was there. He actually said, “Beam me up,” and “Scotty, beam us up.” And who can forget Captain Kirk giving the command, “Beam them out of there, Scotty.”)
But all of that aside, Roddenberry gave us the blueprint – and more – to develop a transporter, a beam machine, if you wish, that could move people from one place to another, more or less instantaneously. Having worked in research for many years, I can tell you that the most valuable part of the process is the idea. Those are golden.
In the case of Star Trek, we – that is, the scientific community – have been given not only the idea, but plans. Well, at least part of them. And most researchers will tell you that they don’t want to be given every last detail. If that were the case, what would they have to research? If all the work has been done and given to them, what are they supposed to do – just write up the experiment?
Fifty years. And the scientific community has not been able to reproduce, or create, the beam machine clearly outlined in 1966. And these episodes are still available. If today’s scientist needs to be refreshed, pull up as many episodes as needed to get the facts down. Of course, the members of today’s science community are too young to remember those wonder years when the Enterprise ruled the universe. Or at least that portion which could be filmed.
So, what’s the story? Are we spending too much time inventing child-proof caps for bottles? Or Velcro? (Actually, Velcro was invented well before Star Trek.) Probably the new generation of scientists will have to discover the idea for themselves. They will take credit and even give it a different name, maybe something like teleporting. Of course, Edward Mitchell, an American author, wrote about matter transmission in 1877. That was before my time, barely. But I remember The Fly, a 1957 story, and 1958 movie, which had a transporter, although it did not always reassemble things perfectly. But it moved them from one place to another. Fast.
Scientists, get busy. Authors have pointed the way. All you have to do is build it. Simple engineering. As the security lines at the airports get longer and longer, there will certainly be a market for a teleporter. We’re ready to say, “Beam me home, Scotty.”
James R. Callan