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Transporter (Star Trek)

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Title: Transporter (Star Trek)  
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Transporter (Star Trek)

Transporter platform aboard U.S.S. Enterprise-D.
Plot element from the Star Trek franchise
First appearance Star Trek: The Original Series
Created by Gene Roddenberry
Genre Science fiction
In-story information
Type Teleportation device
Function Allows near instantaneous transport between two fixed points

A transporter is a fictional teleportation machine used in the Star Trek universe. Transporters convert a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then "beam" it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization). The term transporter accident is a catch-all term for when a person or object does not rematerialize correctly.

According to The Making of Star Trek, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original plan did not include transporters, instead calling for characters to land the starship itself. However, this would have required unfeasible and unaffordable sets and model filming, as well as episode running time spent while landing, taking off, etc. The shuttlecraft was the next idea, but when filming began, the full-sized shooting model was not ready. Transporters were devised as a less expensive alternative, achieved by a simple fade-out/fade-in of the subject. Transporters first appear in the original pilot episode "The Cage". The transporter special effect, before being done using computer animation, was created by turning a slow-motion camera upside down and photographing some backlit shiny grains of aluminium powder that were dropped between the camera and a black background.[1]

Gene Roddenberry in 1964 had not seen The Fly upon his first draft of "The Cage", but it was brought to his attention, and this is how the transporter was considered. The later Doctor Who series 'The Seeds of Death' in 1969 also had teleport device called "T-Mat" for a Teleport Matter transfer.

According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the three touch-sensitive light-up bars on the Enterprise-D's transporter console were an homage to the three sliders used on the duotronic transporter console on the original Enterprise in The Original Series.

In August 2008, physicist Michio Kaku predicted in Discovery Channel Magazine that a teleportation device similar to those in Star Trek would be invented within 100 years.[2]


  • Depiction 1
    • History 1.1
    • Capabilities and limitations 1.2
      • Transporter accidents 1.2.1
      • Technological and Scientific Restrictions 1.2.2
  • In popular culture 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6



According to dialogue in the Jonathan Archer once said that he wouldn't even put his dog through it.) Instead, they generally prefer using shuttlepods or other means of transportation unless no other means of transportation are possible or feasible. The capability is rare; in "The Andorian Incident", the Andorians, whose technology is far superior to Starfleet's in many regards, are explicitly stated not to possess the technology, and in "Chosen Realm", a group of alien religious extremists who hijack the ship is unaware of it to the point that when Archer, choosing himself when their leader insists on sacrificing a crew member, takes the captain at his word when told that the device disintegrates matter rather than teleporting it. The crew aboard the 23rd century USS Enterprise frequently use the transporter. By the 24th century, transporter travel was reliable and "the safest way to travel" according to dialogue in the Star Trek: The Next Generation ("TNG") episode "Realm of Fear".

According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Homefront", Starfleet Academy cadets receive transporter rations, and the Sisko family once used a transporter to move furniture into a new home.

Despite its frequent use, characters such as Leonard McCoy and Katherine Pulaski are reluctant to use the transporter, as the characters express in the Next Generation episodes "Encounter at Farpoint" and "Unnatural Selection", respectively. Additionally, Reginald Barclay expresses his outright fear of transporting in "Realm of Fear".

Capabilities and limitations

The television series and films do not go into great detail about transporter technology. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual claims that the devices transport objects in real time, accurate to the quantum level. The episode "Realm of Fear" specifies the length of a transport under unusual circumstances would last "... four or five seconds; about twice the normal time". This calculates the length of a typical transport as between 2 and 2.5 seconds and possibly less. Heisenberg compensators remove uncertainty from the subatomic measurements, making transporter travel feasible. Further technology involved in transportation include a computer pattern buffer to enable a degree of leeway in the process. When asked "How does the Heisenberg compensator work?" by Time magazine, Star Trek technical adviser Michael Okuda responded: "It works very well, thank you."[3]

According to The Original Series ("TOS") writers' guide, the effective range of a transporter is 40,000 kilometers, although thick layers of rock can reduce this range (TNG: "Legacy"). The TOS episode "Obsession" however, appears to indicate that the transporters' maximum range, during that time period in Star Trek history, is actually around 30,000 kilometers. Transporter operations have been disrupted or prevented by dense metals (TNG: "Contagion"), solar flares (TNG: "Symbiosis"), and other forms of radiation, including electromagnetic (TNG: "The Enemy"; TNG: "Power Play") and nucleonic (TNG: "Schisms"), and affected by ion storms (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror"). Transporting, in progress, has also been stopped by telekinetic powers (TNG: "Skin of Evil") and by brute strength (TNG: "The Hunted"). The TNG episode "Bloodlines" features a dangerous and experimental "subspace transporter" capable of interstellar distances and the Dominion had the ability to transport over great distances (DS9: "Covenant"). The 40,000-kilometer limit is also referenced in ENT: "Daedalus".

Starfleet transporters from the TNG era onward include a device that can detect and disable an active weapon (TNG: "The Most Toys"), and a bio-filter to remove contagious microbes or viruses from an individual in transport (TNG: "Shades of Gray"). The transporter can also serve a tactical purpose, such as beaming a photon grenade or photon torpedo to detonate at remote locations (TNG: "Legacy", VOY: "Dark Frontier"), or to outright destroy objects (TNG: "Captain's Holiday"). The TOS episode "A Taste of Armageddon" mentions Vendikar materializing fusion bombs over targets of enemy planet Eminiar VII in the course of theoretical computer warfare.

Whenever a person or object is transported, the machine creates a memory file of the pattern. This has been used at least once in every Star Trek series to revert people adversely affected by a transport to their original state.

Various episodes of Deep Space Nine ("DS9") and Voyager ("VOY") have introduced two anti-transporter devices: transport inhibitors and transporter scramblers. Inhibitors prevent a transporter beam from "locking on" to whatever the device is attached. Scramblers distort the pattern that is in transit, literally scrambling the atoms upon rematerialization, resulting in the destruction of inanimate objects and killing living beings by rematerializing them as masses of random tissue; this was gruesomely demonstrated in the DS9 episode "The Darkness and the Light".

Transporter operations can also be curtailed when either the point of origin and/or the intended target site is moving at warp velocities. In the TNG episode, "The Emissary" and "The Best of Both Worlds"), it was confirmed that the transporter would work at warp only if the sending and receiving sites were moving at equal velocities.

In his book, The Physics of Star Trek, after explaining the difference between transporting information and transporting the actual atoms, Krauss notes that "The Star Trek writers seem never to have got it exactly clear what they want the transporter to do. Does the transporter send the atoms and the bits, or just the bits?" He notes that according to the canon definition of the transporter the former seems to be the case, but that that definition is inconsistent with a number of applications, particularly incidents, involving the transporter, which appear to involve only a transport of information, for example the way in which it splits Kirk into two version in the episode "The Enemy Within" or the way in which Riker is similarly split in the episode "Second Chances". Krauss elaborates that: "If the transporter carries both the matter stream and the information signal, this splitting phenomenon is impossible. The number of atoms you end up with has to be the same as the number you began with. There is no possible way to replicate people in this manner. On the other hand, if only the information were beamed up, one could imagine combining it with atoms that might be stored aboard a starship and making as many copies as you wanted of an individual."[4]

Transporter accidents

Aside from external influences causing disruptions in the normal operations of transporters, the technology itself has been known to fail on occasion, causing serious injury or usually death to those being transported. This was demonstrated in Star Trek: The Motion Picture when a malfunction in the transporter sensor circuits resulted in insufficient signal being present at the Enterprise end to successfully rematerialize the two subjects, and Starfleet was unable to pull them back to where they had dematerialized from. The transporter system attempted to rematerialize what little signal was available, and despite the efforts of Kirk and Scotty, the system failed and both subjects vanished from the transporter pad. Kirk, visibly shaken by what he had witnessed asked, "Starfleet, do you have them?", to which the response was made "Enterprise, what we got back didn't live long, fortunately".

By the time of Chief O'Brien states that each individual transporter pad has four redundant scanners whereby in the event a scanner fails the other three will take over, and that he has never lost anyone having been a transporter operator for over twenty years.

In the Voyager episode "Tuvix", a transporter accident combines both the physical and behavioral aspects of Lt. Tuvok and Neelix into a single being.

Technological and Scientific Restrictions

While several characters have asserted that transporters cannot transport through a ship's shields or planetary defense shields, there are instances of this "rule" being broken through a technobabble solution (TNG: "The Wounded", DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations") or disregarded by the show's writers (VOY: "Caretaker").

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Vice Admiral James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Saavik carry on a conversation during rematerialization. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Dr. Gillian Taylor jumps into Kirk's transporter beam during dematerialization, and rematerializes without any apparent ill effects. This is probably due to the "annular confinement beam", a component of the transporter mentioned in the various television episodes which serves to keep patterns separate from one another. In the same movie, Mr. Spock is beamed into a cloaked ship while walking.

According to the TNG Technical Manual, the transporter cannot move Obsession" Kirk and a fellow crewman bean down to the surface of a planet with an antimatter 'bomb'. The TAS episode "One of Our Planets Is Missing" has the Enterprise beaming a chunk of antimatter into a stasis box.

Transporter chamber and control console aboard USS Voyager

In the original series, beaming to and from the transporter chamber was a necessity. This is explained in the TOS episode, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, where such site-to-site transports would probably use twice as much energy as would be required for transport to or from the transporter room itself, since the subject would have to be beamed to the transporter, stored, then shunted to their destination. In addition, the six circles on the platform are generally used as targets for the subjects to stand on, but they do not appear to represent any limitation of the hardware to six or fewer people. People have been transported carrying others, in a coffin style transport, as well as animals, hay, and various inanimate objects.

Although never seen, dialogue in Deep Space Nine indicates the existence of portable transporters, though the Next Generation episode "Timescape" features emergency transporter armbands (although these may have served only to activate a remote transporter). To confuse things more, Star Trek: Nemesis featured the prototype "emergency transport unit". Tom Paris uses a portable transporter in the VOY episode "Non Sequitur". However, in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Khan Noonien Singh uses a portable transporter to beam from a helicopter to the Klingon home world.

For special effects reasons, in TOS, people generally appear immobilized during transport, with the exception of Kirk in the episode "That Which Survives". However, by TNG, characters can move within the confines of the transporter beam while being transported, although this is rarely shown. Persons being transported are at least sometimes able to perceive the functioning of the transporter while they are in transit. In the TOS episode, "The Doomsday Machine", the Enterprise transporter malfunctions while transporting Scotty from the disabled USS Constellation to the Enterprise due to a power drain, and Scotty's pattern is nearly lost in transit. As soon as he successfully materializes, Scotty asks the transporter operator with concern, "What's the matter with that thing?" and orders the transporter to be taken off-line for emergency repair. This incident does not necessarily suggest that such malfunctions would have had strong effects on the person being transported, however, for Scotty's expertise might have allowed him to perceive and diagnose subtle effects during transit that most people would not.

Some species do not use transporter technology for a variety of reasons. In the first appearance of Trill in the TNG episode "The Host", Trill were unable to be transported, once joined with a symbiont. It seems that was due to the symbiont being detected and removed by the transporter technology as an infestation in the host. Odan, the Trill host in this episode, is reluctant to say why he will not travel this way, and it only becomes apparent that he is carrying a symbiont when he is later injured. All the crew of the Enterprise react as if they have had no contact with this species before. It later becomes apparent that joined Trill have been working in the Federation for some time.

When Trill became a regularly used race in later series, the inability to use transporter technology was dropped. No explanation of the change is ever given in any series where they appear, but according to an article on, Trill are actually more than one host race.

In popular culture

The famous catchphrase "Beam me up, Scotty" refers to the transporter device, which was often operated by chief engineer Montgomery Scott during the original series. The phrase was never uttered by anyone in the original series, although the lines "Scotty, beam us up" and "Beam me up" were spoken by Captain Kirk in that series. "Scotty, beam me up" was spoken by Admiral Kirk in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. On the special edition DVD of Star Trek IV, the text commentary provided by Michael and Denise Okuda (co-authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia and The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future) indicates that this was the closest anyone came to using that catchphrase in an official Star Trek production.

See also


  1. ^ Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, Inside Star Trek the real story, 1996, ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  2. ^ Gary Sledge, Discovery Channel Magazine Issue 3, ISSN 1793572-5.
  3. ^ "Reconfigure the Modulators!". Time Magazine. November 28, 1994. 
  4. ^ Lawrence M. Krauss (1995), The Physics of Star Trek, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0465002047, pp. 67-68



External links

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