Ever since the original USS Enterprise first zoomed across television screens at warp speed in 1966, Gene Roddenberry’s space fantasy, Star Trek, has captivated people’s imaginations. Space epics like Star Trek make it easy to dream that one day NASA will find a way to send astronauts beyond our solar system to distant planets. I hate to be a spoiler, but imagination is where such journeys must begin and end.
Distance is a huge problem. The nearest star to our star (the Sun) is 25 trillion miles away. Even if that star were orbited by a planet, it would take NASA’s fastest spacecraft 112,000 years to get there. That’s a bit long, even if we took turns driving and resting. Radiation exposure for a fraction of that time would be deadly.
Traveling at speeds approaching the velocity of light wouldn’t help. The faster an object travels through space, the greater the damage from collisions with particles (such as protons, neutrons, electrons, even photons) and space debris. Meteorites the size of dust particles have punched holes as big as silver dollars in the Hubble Space Telescope’s solar panels. If the relatively slow-moving telescope had been traveling a thousand times faster, the damage would have been a million times worse (because the effect increases by the square of the speed).
Even an expedition lasting just a few thousand years would necessarily extend through multiple generations. This scenario presents its own set of difficulties. Whether or not the original voyagers volunteered for the mission, their children would inherit it. Waning dedication to the goal or shifting priorities could easily lead to revolt and jeopardize the entire trip.
Meanwhile, extinction represents a greater likelihood. Six billion people living on a large planet can survive epidemics, genetic damage, environmental disasters, and wars for a time. But a relatively few individuals (even up to a few thousand) on board a space ship, or cluster of space ships, would be wiped out by any such catastrophes—not to mention by the psychological wear and tear. Biosphere experiments reveal that when small populations remain isolated, confined, and vulnerable, they suffer rapid psychological collapse.
Movies, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment can take our imagination beyond the boundaries of the physical world. But despite the appeal of boldly going “where no man has gone before,” Star Trek’s unattainable modes of transportation remind us that escape from the results of humanity’s sinful nature on this planet is impossible. Rather, pinning our hopes on Jesus Christ and his eternal plans takes us into a realm well-worth exploring.
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