Does Science Drive the Success of 'Star Trek'?

Star Trek: Axanar screenshot
Screenshot from the fan-made film "Star Trek: Axanar." Watch "Prelude to Axanar" on YouTube. (Image credit: Axanar Productions/YouTube)

With several "Star Trek" fan projects getting funded by independent crowdsourcing platforms lately, it's clear the franchise still has a lot of support after nearly five decades since "Star Trek: The Original Series" first aired.

The fan film "Star Trek: Axanar" nearly doubled its goal earlier this year and raised $526,260 for four "episodes" of a feature-length movie. "For the Love of Spock," a documentary film about Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy, raised more than $660,000 in an effort to find as much original footage as possible from Nimoy's many projects. And "Star Trek: Renegades" was released on YouTube, getting more than half a million views since August.

PHOTOS: How Close Is This Star Trek Tech?

Spin-off books have raised substantial amounts of money, such as "Ladies of Kirk" (more than $11,000) and the comic book "Chief O'Brien at Work," soaring well past $50,000. It seems there is a lot of interest in the cosmos for Star Trek.

What's more, modern technology is reaching a crossroads where many of the fantastical gadgets from the franchise are beginning to see light of day. [How 'Star Trek' Technology Works (Infographic)]

We have virtual reality lenses similar to holodecks, for example, and tablets that Captain Jean Luc Picard could have used on the Enterprise's deck. 3-D printing is becoming an industry that could be likened to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" "replicator." Also, physics is currently tackling some of the underlying quantum mechanisms that could allow the warp drive and transporter to become a reality in the future.

ANALYSIS: Star Trek Continues to Inspire

But how much of Star Trek's success comes from the science?

According to a physicist that has written guides to Star Trek's science, not very much. It's the story that determines the science, not the other way around.

"People are fascinated by the possibilities that Star Trek offers for the future," said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University who is best known by Star Trek fans as the author of "The Physics of Star Trek" (1995). "What it does is seduces people into getting interested in some of the topics."

There was some knowledge of science embedded in the show, however. Mike Okuda (a graphic designer on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") included some information on quantum mechanics when working on the transporter, for example, Krauss said. But science advisors for the show mostly focus on making sure the technical dialogue in the show sounds believable -- even when talking about fanciful warp drives.

ANALYSIS: Star Trek Boldly Led Us Into the Future

One reason for Star Trek's renaissance could be the talk in the last couple of years of bringing people to Mars, Krauss added, whether it be a one-way trip on Mars One, or a fictional trip in Andy Weir's "The Martian."

But Krauss believes that step is far from reality, at least for now. "Space is expensive and dangerous and there is no way around it," he said.

This article was provided by Discovery News.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: