52 – The Prime Directive

The Mythcreant Podcast

Sarah Gould joins Oren and Mike in discussing The Prime Directive, the most sacred law of Starfleet. They debate whether The Prime Directive is wise or moral. Oren questions the practicality of hiding all alien life, Mike describes ethics in anthropology, and Sarah vents about the ridiculousness of letting a culture die instead of interfering with it. All three of them ask, “what if there was a war?”

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

The Prime Directive

First Contact (TNG episode)

SETI Program

Angel One (TNG)

False Profits (Voyager)

Who Watches the Watchers (TNG)

Pen Pals (TNG)

Symbiosis (TNG – drugs are bad!)

Homeward (TNG)

The Void (Voyager)

The Kazon

Species 8472

The Corbomite Maneuver (TOS)

Dear Doctor (ENT)

Prototype (Voyager)

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  1. Fay Onyx

    I’m going to lay down some science on the topic of whether a society with current earth technology could spot a ship like the enterprise in our solar system.

    The big question is whether the crew can stop the ship from emitting electromagnetic radiation (this includes radio waves, visible light, x-ray, etc). If the ship was capable of going dark and not omitting any electromagnetic radiation, then (with some good navigation) we would probably not be able to spot them.

    There are areas of our own outer solar system we haven’t fully mapped. This is because our equipment detects electromagnetic radiation and in our solar system the sun emits and everything else reflects. Those things that are farther out in the solar system aren’t reflecting enough for us to locate them without a lot of work. Mapping this area of our solar system is an ongoing scientific project and this area include planetoids and other objects that could be spaceship sized or bigger.

    The other ways that science has spotted objects that don’t emit electromagnetic radiation (such as our current hunt for planets or black holes) is to look at how the gravity of the object affects nearby objects and to notice the very slight dimming of something (planet sized) passing in front of a star. These methods require us to be doing detailed ongoing observations of the specific star in question. We do not have the capacity to do these observations for all stars simultaneously.

    Statistical chance would be on the ship’s side as they approach, but avoiding passing in between our planet’s dark side and stars would be ideal. Alternatively, the ship could approach at an angle where they are behind something like our moon that already blocks a portion of our sky and which would block it from reflecting light, then a ship could approach without our knowing.

    Even if they were spotted briefly, it would likely be a very fleeting moment that didn’t repeat and science is all about repeatability. It would go into the weird readings that only happened once file that we already have.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s been a while, so I don’t exactly remember what the context is for this comment, but that all checks out with my understanding of how we detect things in space.

      Though by the same token, I believe not emitting electromagnetic radiation is a pretty difficult accomplishment. Certainly the ships in Star Trek don’t seem to have managed it, unless they’re equipped with a cloaking device.

      • Fay Onyx

        The context was could a society on the edge of warp technology spot a starship near their planet? Because their technologies were imaginary the conversation fell back to the question of could we with our current earth technology spot a starship near our planet?

        With the way that warp engines aren’t real it’s hard to know if they’d emit EM radiation, and I admit this is a sticking point, but the rest of the ship could be made to emit very little EM radiation, and it is likely that a shuttle or small ship using thrusters or impulse power would be very easy to make stealthy.

        They don’t show these things (partially because ships we can clearly see make for better tv fight scenes), but it would have made sense to have constructed their ships so that they can go EM dark for those situations when they need to approach a pre-warp society:
        1) No windows or have some way to block them when the ship goes dark
        2) All external lights can be turned off
        3) Thick hull and insulation that can block most IR from escaping (they should already have this for energy efficiency)
        4) Radio frequency and microwave frequency blocking layers inside hull if the hull wouldn’t already block them
        5) Most higher energy radiation harms humans (UV, xrays, etc) and either would not be produced inside the ship, or if it is generated it would already be in a shielded location to prevent harm to the crew.

        There are kinds of high radiation that aren’t as harmful to humans because they go right through us and would go right through the hull of the ship, but these are very hard to detect and so would not give the ship away.

      • Fay Onyx

        Also, I hope my comments don’t come off as assuming you don’t know science. I get very passionate about science and it is useful to lay out the science so that it is clear what is being talked about, and any assumptions being made.

        My assertion is that Star Fleet could have the tech to make a non-cloaked stealth ship that does not emit EM radiation (at least for short range missions) but the writers/special effects people choose not to show that for show reasons (some ships even have obvious floodlights on the outside just cuz it looks cool). But this is all super speculative because a lot of tech like warp engines isn’t real.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Nah you’re fine, science is always good.

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