Scotty’s send-off

The remains of James Doohan have been sent into space (briefly):

UPHAM, N.M.–The cremated remains of actor James Doohan and U.S. Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper soared to suborbital space yesterday aboard a rocket.

It was the first successful launch from Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport being developed in the southern New Mexico desert.

The Canadian-born Doohan was most famous for portraying engineer Scotty on Star Trek. Cooper, one of the original Mercury astronauts, had been in space twice during his lifetime.

Doohan died in July 2005 at age 85. Cooper, who first went into space in 1963, died in 2004 at age 77. Doohan inspired the legendary catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” – even though it was never actually uttered on the popular television show.

Suzan Cooper and Wende Doohan fired the rocket carrying small amounts of their husbands’ ashes and those of about 200 others at 8:56 a.m. local time from the launching grounds near Truth or Consequences, N.M.

During the 15-minute flight, the rocket separated into two parts and returned to Earth on parachutes – coming down at the White Sands Missile Range – with the capsules holding the remains. The maximum height reached was about 116 kilometres. Capsules containing the ashes are retrieved, mounted on plaques and given to relatives.

While nicely symbolic, I think a far more powerful memorial to Doohan was his final turn as Scotty in the TNG episode Relics. In a way, that episode really closed the book on the old Star Trek for me. And whose heart didn’t leap when Scotty walked onto the holodeck and recreated the Enterprise bridge, “no bloody A, B, C, or D!” ? It’s hard not to think that Scotty’s words to Picard on that recreated bridge of legend weren’t as much coming from Doohan himself.

Star Trek Online – temptation

UPDATE – the sale is over. Star Trek Online is now priced at $39 (still $10 off retail).

Excalibur class starship - looks familiar
It’s bad enough that I got hooked on World of Warcraft. Now I see Amazon is selling the new Star Trek: Online MMO for a ridiculous 45% off – $28instead of $50.

Man, though, it looks cool. I haven’t seen a decent space combat sim since the X-Wing days. And they are integrating it into the timeline of the original series/movies and the reboot. The Klingons are at war with the Feds again, the Romulans are creeping around, there’s the Borg and even Species 8472. No mention of Section 31, though, unfortunately…

star-trekkin’ across the universe

Sometimes there’s a visible gulf between geekdom and academia, despite the stereotype of these two realms being congruent. I am reminded of this gulf by this odd story about a paper by William Edelstein, a senior and distinguished physicist (in my own field of MRI research), who has calculated the lethality of interstellar travel:

Interstellar space is an empty place. For every cubic centimetre, there are fewer than two hydrogen atoms, on average, compared with 30 billion billion atoms of air here on Earth. But according to William Edelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, that sparse interstellar gas should worry the crew of a spaceship travelling close to the speed of light even more than the Borg decloaking off the starboard bow.

Special relativity describes how space and time are distorted for observers travelling at different speeds. For the crew of a spacecraft ramping up to light speed, interstellar space would appear highly compressed, thereby increasing the number of hydrogen atoms hitting the craft.

Worse is that the atoms’ kinetic energy also increases. For a crew to make the 50,000-light-year journey to the centre of the Milky Way within 10 years, they would have to travel at 99.999998 per cent the speed of light. At these speeds, hydrogen atoms would seem to reach a staggering 7 teraelectron volts – the same energy that protons will eventually reach in the Large Hadron Collider when it runs at full throttle. “For the crew, it would be like standing in front of the LHC beam,” says Edelstein.

The spacecraft’s hull would provide little protection. Edelstein calculates that a 10-centimetre-thick layer of aluminium would absorb less than 1 per cent of the energy. Because hydrogen atoms have a proton for a nucleus, this leaves the crew exposed to dangerous ionising radiation that breaks chemical bonds and damages DNA. “Hydrogen atoms are unavoidable space mines,” says Edelstein.

The fatal dose of radiation for a human is 6 sieverts. Edelstein’s calculations show that the crew would receive a radiation dose of more than 10,000 sieverts within a second. Intense radiation would also weaken the structure of the spacecraft and damage its electronic instruments.

All well and good and I have no reason to doubt Dr. Edelstein’s calculations (we medical physics types do have a professional interest in radiation dose and shielding, after all). But clearly Dr. Edelstein is not a fan of Star Trek, because even the most newbie of Trekkies knows about the Navigational Deflector Array. In addition, Starfleet vessels also have Bussard Collectors on the warp nacelles, which are the sci-fi-ified version of the Bussard ramjet.

My point is, physics geeks and sci fi geeks clearly aren’t as overlapping sets as I had assumed. But where a medical physicist might see errant hydrogen atoms as dose, a different kind of physicist might see them as fuel. In a way we scientists do bring our own biases to the table…

the infinite Khan

This is amazing.

People always discount William Shatner as an over-actor, but this mesmerizing loop of his most famous syllable really highlights the incredible range of nonverbal emotion he is managing to convey with just a clenching of his jaw and a tic of his eye. This is only a few minutes long but apparently the full version is 15 minutes. This needs to be made into a screensaver or something.

Somehow I think Chris Pine has a long way to go before he can deliver something similar. It should be noted that even in the alternate timeline of the movie, Khan is out there, waiting to be discovered.

UPDATE – ah, Youtube! Here’s the complete Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in ten minutes.

UPDATE 2 – and who can resist Wrath of Khan as a literal space opera, courtesy of Robot Chicken?