January 20, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Regardless of what millions of fans believe, Star Trek is, in fact, fiction. But is there, in fiction, fact? That’s the issue examined in The Science of Star Trek, an episode of the science documentary series The New Explorers. How do the futuristic fantasies of warp speed, the holodeck, the communicator, and the phaser stack up against actual scientific realities? The answer: pretty well.

”We found that almost every concept on the show has an underpinning of scientific theory or fact,” says Explorers host Bill Kurtis. ”That makes the plots believable and gives the show a real integrity. I don’t think the whole Trekkie movement would have grown without that.”

For example, Kurtis points out how today’s small, lightweight cellular phones closely resemble the original Trek‘s classic flip-top communicators, and how current cutting-edge laser research could conceivably lead to the creation of a phaserlike weapon. (Now, setting a phaser on stun, that’s the tricky part.) ”We were surprised to find out how difficult it is for the Trek writers to stay ahead of science fact,” Kurtis says. ”Technology is progressing so rapidly that they have to keep inventing new ideas and fly off into hyperspace to stay one step ahead.”

Of course, some Trek concepts turn out to be little more than technobabble. We’re not likely to see a transporter (and the Heisenberg compensators that make it work) or a Data (and the positronic brain that makes him work) any time soon. But no matter-after all, all science and no fiction would make Trek…Nova.

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