Some of those fictional technologies are already here. Tricorders? The Department of Homeland Security is well on its way toward developing a patient triage tool: a snazzy handheld device one could magically wave over an injured crew member to make an instant medical diagnosis. And Martin Cooper, inventor of the cellphone, has admitted he drew inspiration from the flip-top handheld devices sported by Captain Kirk and his crew to communicate while exploring alien planets.
How about that nifty fantasy-generating Holodeck? Okay, so immersive virtual reality isn't quite there yet, but as the technology improves, and virtual worlds like Second Life become more realistic, we're likely to find ourselves grappling with potential downsides to being able to fulfill our every fantasy. Both Russ and Billingsley said they would have liked to have seen Star Trek writers explore the possibility of a crew member becoming addicted to the Holodeck. (Billingsley: "The real question is, why would anyone leave the Holodeck?") On the plus side, the Holodeck could serve as a kind of therapy, by giving frustrated crew members a safe outlet to vent their spleen over irritating cabin mates:
Thanks to advances in "meta-materials" research, the cloaking devices used by Romulan ships might also be on the horizon. Last year researchers at the University of California at Berkeley used a mixture of ceramic, Teflon and fiber composites to deflect light waves around a three-dimensional object - effectively "cloaking" it from sight.
As for the famous transporter technology - "Beam me up, Scotty!" - quantum teleportation is advancing rapidly. Earlier this year, a team of Chinese scientists broke records when they successfully teleported information between photons over a free space distance of nearly ten miles. Even better, they were "able to maintain the fidelity of the long-distance teleportation at 89 percent." While that's pretty impressive when we're talking about information, it's still a long way from teleporting an entire human being - Captain Kirk wouldn't be so eager to beam down onto a planet if there were a chance 11% of him might not make the trip.
Given all of that, can warp drives, traversable wormholes to other dimensions and parallel universes be far behind? Probably. We're no where near being able to harness the huge amounts of energy that would be required to achieve those perennial features of the Star Trek universe. And as much fun as scientists have had playing with the science in Star Trek, Bormanis emphasized that the science has always been in service of the story, not the other way around. He did his best to inject plausible science into that world - and sometimes he succeeded. But never at the expense of telling a ripping good space yarn.
The actors weren't always as appreciative of the real science Bormanis and his fellow writers injected into the scripts, particularly if it meant having to memorize a lot of difficult technical jargon, which Russ felt could sometimes detract from, say, character development or the emotional resonance of a particular scene.
"Some episodes, of any show, actors are just used to convey information," said Billingsley. Yet both actors admitted that spewing technical jargon was still preferable to the plight of Linda Park, who played linguistics expert Hoshi Sato on Enterprise: she often had to memorize her lines phonetically, since they were supposedly written in "alien" languages.
Billingsley's character, Dr. Phlox, was one such alien, a Denobulan by birth, and the actor admitted that he wished the writers for Enterprise had managed to explore that fictional culture a bit more deeply during the series' all-too-short run. (Billingsley now has a recurring role on HBO's steamy series True Blood, and has the contract with his first "nudity clause" posted on his wall; he bemoaned the fact that to date, he has not been asked to disrobe for a scene.) His favorite episode? "Similitude," because "Everyone in the cast was involved, and everyone had an emotional through-line. It did what Star Trek does best, which is to deal with a topical question that has some sociological significance in a way that brings humanist values into play." And at its best, the exploration of those topical questions also incorporated fascinating science.