Why it was Inappropriate for NASA to name a Space Shuttle "Enterprise."
Since last week's piece on how the Shuttles got their names, I've taken some flack (Mostly through Email) about whether or not it was inappropriate for NASA to name a shuttle after the Starship Enterprise. Most of this has revolved around two points: 1) It wasn't a real shuttle anyway, just a glider, so who cares? and 2) Trek has inspired people to become scientists and astronauts and blah blah blah blah. Here's my take on both of those:
Firstly, the shuttle "Enterprise" was intended to fly. It was a fully functional shuttle, apart from the engines and the OMS. The idea was to eventually turn it into a *real* shuttle, and it would be the fifth one in the fleet. That never happened for a variety of reasons.
Secondly: I'm not a huge fan of Trek, but I don't hate it. I think TOS is a nice introduction to SF, but it's not the be-all end-all like a LOT of people tend to think it is. (And brother, a loooooooot of people honestly think it is.) Subsequent shows were far less good (I'm not saying 'bad,' Trek has never been bad, but let's just say the average was far lower more recently), and less interested in Science Fiction and more interested in just keeping the franchise profitable.
And while I don't doubt that the show *did* inspire some people to go into science and stuff, I suspect that many of them would have done so anyway. I mean, we've all heard of people who went into medicine because of Dr. Kildaire or House or MASH or whatever, *but* there are scores of millions who watched the same shows who *didn't* go into medicine, so the average is pretty low. Far lower than a high school physics introductory course, I'd suspect. Likewise, a lot of people became Submariners because of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was a patently stupid show. So if the Navy decided to name a five billion dollar sub "Seaview," would you be righteously outraged as a taxpayer? I would be, and I *LIKE* the show. And, as I say, most of these people were *already* interested in the sciences and subs and medicine and whatnot. I don't doubt that the shows might have been the trigger event that made 'em say "Hey, I can do this!" And, hey, that's great, but let's not overstate stuff here. And let's not forget the thousands of people who watched Trek, decided to become an Astronaut, then turned out to be really bad at math and science and stuff, and became NASCAR drivers instead. For everyone who actually was inspired and followed through, and succeeded, and gave credit afterwards, there must be tens of thousands who were likewise inspired and washed out, right? Logically? Many are called, but few are chosen? And most of those called by Trek are *only* interested in Trek.
You wanna' name a space shuttle after something that inspires people? Name 'em after teachers, not some goofy TV show from 50 years ago. Nor, for that matter, should you name stuff after a goofy TV show from 15 years ago (B5) even though I *liked* that show. (And it *did* have some real science in it, but appears to have inspired no one, or at least it didn't inspire anyone as evangelisticaly preachy about it as the Trekies. And, yes, I know I suggested B5 names, but I was joking.)
Added to which: there's no actual *real* science in Trek, and in fact there's lots of *bad* Science in Trek. I recently interviewed the guy who runs/writes the Atomic Rockets site, which is all about being a *real* science resource for aspiring SF writers. (Here: http://www.republibot.com/content/interview-winchell-chung-atomic-rockets ) He said that basically he thought Trek is actually hurting the sciences because it routinely throws off completely impossible crap, and treats science as magic that can instantly solve any problem. (This is increasingly a problem in TV SF, Sigh.)
Anyway: Let's assume that Trek *did* inspire people. Isn't that a bit embarrassing in and of itself? Your average American on the street can't name *five* astronauts. Most can't name three, but 90% can name all the major characters from at least two Trek shows. Ignore the real in favor of the fake? Well, it's very Philip K. Dick, so I'm amused by it, but I don't think it should be encouraged.
Note that none of this has anything to do with Trek as *entertainment,* nor the value thereof, it's more a commentary of the cult of Trek that has sprung up around it and insists on attributing all that is good and pure to it as a way of justifying its existence and their own obsessions. It's disingenuous.
I maintain that it's an embarrassment and entirely inappropriate to name government spacecraft after pop culture icons. You're free to disagree, of course, but your feelings on the matter are sick and wrong.