A whole generation grew up watching the adventures of the starship Enterprise and her exploits on Star Trek: The Next Generation. They dreamed of slipping into that Lycra leisurewear uniform and voyaging to the farthest reaches of space and time. To boldly going where no man, er, no one has gone before. Sadly, those nerdy ’90s kids, so full of dreams and dunkaroos, had no idea they were living in utter denial, because, for all the fabulous adventures, scientific breakthroughs and interspecies sex crewmembers got to take part in, there were some serious downsides.
So, why would working on the Federation’s flagship be an unending nightmare, you ask? Just trust us, if you get a job on this ship, you’re not going to live long or prosper.
The Transporter probably kills you over and over again
Nothing is more iconic about the Enterprise than her handy transporter system. Who needs a shuttlecraft when you can just beam down to a planet’s surface, and beam right back up when the red shirts start dying? But here’s one thing that might change your mind about this handy invention. According to a video by CPG Grey, to use it, you need to die. Yes, the transporter may very well be a "suicide box," giving you a quick light show and then an eternity of nothingness.
See, transporters work by breaking down each and every one of your atoms, and then reassembling them on the other side. That’s how the replicator on the ship works, too. It has instructions about how an Earl Grey tea is put together and places atoms in the right order to create it. Well, the original, whether it was the Earl Grey tea scanned back at the replicator factory, or you, isn’t transported anywhere. Instead, a copy is made, using that detailed map of atoms. The original, well, they’re dead, while a copy goes on living their life, none the wiser.
So, next time someone offers to beam you up, maybe you should just take the stairs.
There’s one bathroom
Over six series and 13 movies, Star Trek has shown us the far reaches of space and the complexity of the human condition. There’s really only one thing that Star Trek has yet to explore: the toilet. While we’ve seen just about every inch of the Enterprise, from its turbo lifts to its Jefferies tubes, the one thing we never got to see was Picard reviewing his tricorder on the can. And there may be a very good reason for that.
According to Commander Riker himself, who led a tour of the ship as part of the "Star Trek Interactive Technical Manual," there’s only one bathroom, and it’s right off of Engineering. If that’s true, it’s a wonder there wasn’t a line of crewmembers snaking around the entire ship, waiting for a potty break before that big battle with the Borg. Sure, there are other possibilities. We know if we had access to a transporter, we’d probably just beam our waste into space, and cut out the middleman.
Still, when it comes to the technology of Star Trek, it can be hard to get a straight answer about almost anything. Another technical manual, "Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion," places a bathroom right on the bridge, across from the Conference Room, which makes a lot more sense. It also creates a fun game for eagle-eyed viewers, who want to spot who’s dropping trou during a Romulan attack. Just don’t try imagining how Riker, with his unorthodox sitting style, uses it. It will break your mind.
As shocking as it may be, being trapped in a tin can and flung into space for years at a time, with no possibility of escape, may not be good for the soul. According to Seeker.com, our current methods of space travel offer a lot of insight into what the crew of the Enterprise may be going through. Let’s just say it isn’t surprising that they have a counselor onboard, even if she seems more concerned with eating chocolate than helping people deal with all the space madness.
According to NASA’s 2009 Human Research Program report, missions in remote places, like Antarctica and underwater, create the risk of "increased human performance errors due to sleep loss, fatigue, work overload, and circadian desynchronization. And, increased errors due to poor team cohesion and performance, inadequate selection/team composition, inadequate training, and poor psychosocial adaptation."
In addition, bickering on the Russian Mir space station forced a team of cosmonauts to end their mission early. NASA is even looking into technology that can read facial and voice movements to diagnose stress ahead of time, so their astronauts don’t wig out in space. That’s all a way of saying that maybe a sexy weekend on Risa once every five years isn’t enough to combat the stress of living in a metal box, surrounded by unending darkness and death in every direction.
You stink all the time
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and its Next Generation sequel, was a man of great vision. He knew how the future would look, feel, and sound like. He knew we’d solve war and disease and do away with money in favor of a new, utopian way of life. He also knew that everyone would be wearing spandex, according to Next Generation costume designer Bob Blackman. That clingy fabric popular with cyclists and strippers would apparently become the preferred fabric of the 24th century.
There was just one problem. It stinks. According to Blackman, "Spandex retains odor, so there is a certain part where if you’re wearing them for a long period of time, you can’t really clean all the smell out, and it becomes a little bit annoying. And it also retains the odor of the dry cleaning fluid. It is, on a day-to-day basis, unpleasant."
So you can just imagine what life must have been like on the Enterprise, after a long day loading dilithium into the warp core. You know you stink, and that the smell isn’t going anywhere. Your only hope is that everyone else smells just as bad as you do. And this uniform is the only outfit you own, so you’re either going to stink during your big night out at Ten Forward, or you’re going to be naked. And, this ain’t a Betazoid wedding, so you’re probably going to need some clothes.
Your family’s around, so they’re probably going to watch you die
Unlike its predecessor, the Next Generation Enterprise was full of families, working and living. There were schools and field trips and enough little scamps running around to freak out Captain Picard for a lifetime (or two if you count "The Inner Light"). But just because this version of the Enterprise was more cruise ship than war vessel didn’t mean they weren’t constantly warping right into trouble. And while we saw all the high adventure and deadly results from the perspective of the bridge, there were thousands of men, women, and children just trying to get through their stupid day without blowing up.
Can you imagine how weird it must have been to suddenly, without warning, start de-evolving into monkeys, or get possessed by ghosts, or lose your memory, and have no one around to explain what the heck was happening? No Data to crunch the numbers, or Worf to attack the problem. Just you, your botanist husband, and your two kids, hiding in the bathroom of your quarters (with no toilet), hoping that someone can explain why space worms were taking over all your friends.
Look, if you’ve served on the Enterprise for any length of time, chances are you’ve had to explain to your kids that Daddy’s a Borg now, and probably not coming home, because unlike Captain Picard, they decided he wasn’t worth saving. Yes, you get to explore the far reaches of space, but you also have to be driven slowly insane by a catatonic Betazoid while you’re just trying to replicate your family some damn dinner.
You live where you work
For sci-fi fans, there’s no ship more glamorous to serve on than the Enterprise. Beyond exploring strange new worlds, and seeking out new life and new civilizations, you get to work with a crew that doubles as your second family. Conflicts seems to be a thing from the past, leaving these officers as best friends. But, that right there may be a bit of a problem, because on the Enterprise, you have to live where you work, and never interact with anyone who isn’t a coworker.
Imagine serving a long day at the conn, only to be forced to have dinner right next to your commanding officer, who’s loudly complaining about how you steered the ship right through a darn wormhole. Imagine Commander Riker whipping out his trombone at every birthday party you go to, and you having to pretend like you want to hear it, because he’s your superior officer, and you’re still hoping to get a transfer to that sex studies lab on Risa. Imagine wanting to just have a few minutes to yourself, and instead having to answer unending questions from Data about what it is that makes you human.
To live on the Enterprise is to never, truly, have any time off. To never have a real break that won’t be interrupted by a sudden Ferengi attack or awkward encounter with the Captain on the turbo lift, dressed up like a leather daddy for some weird break on the Holodeck. Where do you go? What do you do when you just want to get away from it all? Let’s hope you have plenty of contraband Romulan ale stashed away somewhere, because you’re going to need a stiff drink after telling Riker for the hundredth time that his beard totally hides the weight gain.
Holodecks could glitch and kill you at anytime
So, we know about all the sex going on in those holodecks. Can you imagine how the digital characters would react if they suddenly gained consciousness and decided to stop being sex slaves? Well, you don’t have to imagine, because it happened. A lot.
In the episode "The Big Goodbye," safety features got shut off, and a crewmember took a bullet to the gut. But that’s child’s play compared to another type of malfunction, that happened over and over and over again. Whether it’s the sultry Minuet or Sherlock Holmes’s greatest villain, Moriarty, there were numerous characters that started out as a series of 1s and 0s and ended up as fully cognizant self-aware beings. Even Det. Mcnary, a regular old hologram from Picard’s Dixon Hill program, asked Picard, "When you’re gone, will this world still exist? Will my wife and kids still be waiting for me at home?"
These beings have full backstories, memories of children and their own childhoods, and yet they just disappear when Riker is done doing whatever he does to them. And so, it isn’t just crewmembers who get shot and killed when something goes wrong, but program after program that’s slaughtered so the next crewmember can come in and pretend he’s Robin Hood for the afternoon.
If you aren’t a member of the Bridge crew, you don’t amount to much of anything
We’re all protagonists of our own stories, right? You are the lead of your life, and everyone else is just a peripheral player. But, if you serve on the Enterprise, you’re an extra at best. Things don’t happen to you, not directly. They happen to Data or Worf or Tasha Yar. You, for all your hard work and years of experience, get to keep your mouth shut and press the buttons. You don’t matter.
Quick, name an ensign who isn’t Ro or Wesley. Or a transporter technician who isn’t Miles O’Brien. Did you know that Teri Hatcher played one? No, you didn’t, because she didn’t matter, and neither did her character. If you don’t have at least three circles in your collar, you are expendable, and everyone knows it. You don’t get to make decisions. Most of the time, you don’t even get a name.
You may be a living, breathing person, full of complex emotions and a detailed backstory that saw you orphaned when your parents were killed by Klingons on the Narendra III outpost, but when it comes to the Enterprise, you’re just a warm body in a red jumper. Frankly, it’s enough to drive a guy insane. Even Will Riker found this out, when he was duplicated in a transporter accident and found himself serving under, um, himself (don’t ask). Within a couple of years, he was wearing a fake beard and acting as a space terrorist, which is all just a way of saying, learn the darn ensign’s names, people!
Wesley’s your superior
Shut up, Wesley! If you served on the Enterprise, there’s surely nothing more you’d want to say to the precocious boy genius who seemingly hopped right over you in the pecking order, without any training or experience. You went to Starfleet Academy, graduating top of your class. You served on a scientific research vessel, and proved yourself to be the most capable, hardworking, and thorough member of the crew, earning a transfer to the Enterprise. And yet, whenever the ship hit the fan and the action started, you were swapped out for some 16-year-old, who looked like he should be hunting for dead bodies with his friends in the woods, and not flying the premiere vessel in all of space.
How can someone with no experience, and an inability to even grow a beard, be allowed to handle the most meaningful assignment on the ship? But who are you going to complain to? The command crew who allowed it? The ship’s counselor, who is up on the bridge all the time and never says anything? Your captain, who you’re pretty sure is trying to bone the kid’s mother?
Even if you somehow overlook all the problems on the Enterprise, Wesley Crusher is a one-man lesson that even in a utopian future, in which all conflict has been abolished, and everyone is seemingly best friends, life isn’t fair.
If the replicator breaks down, your food supply is in big trouble
The replicator seems likes the greatest invention in the history of science fiction—a device that can conjure up any type of food, and any specific recipe you can imagine, in seconds. And yet, even this brilliant device has a serious drawback. What if it breaks? Because there isn’t any other food on the Enterprise. None. We learned this from Star Trek: Voyager and their need to use "replicator rations" and start growing their own supply of food just to survive after getting lost in space.
The replicator uses energy and transforms it into substance, but if you want to just go into the cupboard and make a PB&J, you’re out of luck. There’s no room to store the amount of food the crew would need for their ongoing mission. And so, if the machine breaks, everyone would starve to death rather quickly.
Imagine a day without food and water. Or two. Or a week. Who would survive? Who would start eating Data’s pet cat Spot, or each other? Sure, we all want a machine that can make us an unending supply of Carvel ice cream cake at the drop of a hat, but if the tradeoff is starving to death in the icy vacuum of space, maybe there should be some sort of backup plan.
Chances are your boss is pure evil
Sure, Captain Picard seems like a thoughtful, stable guy (well, outside of Rambo Picard in Star Trek: First Contact, that is), but what is going on with those admirals? Is it just us, or is Starfleet Command, like, completely corrupt?
For some reason, every time someone who outranks Picard shows up, they’re infested by a parasitic worm, or cutting deals with the Romulans, or secretly aging backward.
Look, we get that the Federation is a benevolent organization, meant to spread peace and love throughout the galaxy, but rules can be broken, and peace only goes so far when the guy in charge of the operation is more interested in conspiring with the Klingons than following the Prime Directive.
We’re not saying Starfleet is an evil empire, per se, we just noticed a few bad Kaferian apples. Like Admiral Satie, Admiral Pressman, Admiral Marcus, Admiral Dougherty, Admiral Cartwright, Admiral Leyton, Admiral Jameson. Oh, and Admirals Savar, Arron, and Quinn. But that’s it. They’ve still got Admiral Kirk, who was pretty okay. Crappy eyesight, and he hated the job, but he wasn’t pure evil.
The Computer knows all your secrets
Shhhhh. The Computer is listening.
Look, there’s a lot of long, lonely nights on the Enterprise, and without alcohol, fresh air, or friends who aren’t coworkers, chances are you’re getting up to something you shouldn’t in the privacy of your own quarters. Except, there isn’t any privacy at all. David Batchelor, an engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, broke down the obvious problem with computers like the one shown on Star Trek for The New York Times last year:
"Something is always listening in to hear that command to invoke the functions of the device, which means it’s listening in all the time. So where’s the protection of your privacy?"
What’s it hearing? What late night hookups has it peeped in on? What xenophobic conversations about how gross Nausicaans are has it heard? What did they spy you sniffing, that you should probably not be sniffing?
And who has access to those files? If someone had a recording device in your bedroom every minute of every day, you might adjust your behavior just a touch. So, do these crew members know they’re always being spied on, or are they doing the gross things we all do behind closed doors, risking Commander Riker making a creepy movie night out of the footage?
Your Klingon security chief is useless
Proud warrior. Honorable Klingon. Worthless security chief. At first glance, there’s no one on the Enterprise more intimidating than the mighty Lt. Commander Worf, but dig a little deeper, and you start to wonder if the protection of the ship’s crew might be a bit out of his league.
For one, no one ever listens to him. Seriously. When the ship hits the fan, Picard is more likely to let Wesley pipe up than do what his security chief suggests. It seems like there are three reactions to a suggestion from Mr. Worf: annoyed eye roll, firm no, or utter bafflement at his stupidity.
And Kahless forbid it come down to fisticuffs, because for all of Worf’s holodeck training, the boy gets his butt whopped more than a submissive at an S&M club. It seems like every time a pissed-off alien, raucous robot, or possessed old man faces off against the son of Mogh, Worf is the one splayed out on the ground, wondering what the heck just happened.
Look, we’re not saying the guy is useless, but he offered more to Counselor Troi’s sex life than he ever did to the ship’s command. We’d feel sorry for him, except he’s in charge of, y’know, keeping everyone alive. So maybe serving under him is not the best assignment in the fleet.
Your entire timeline has been wiped out of existence
Bad news, Ensign. You don’t exist. Your family doesn’t exist. The entirety of all reality has been destroyed, all in the name of an Old Spock cameo in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 blockbuster Star Trek. It would be a tough pill to swallow for any crew member on the Enterprise—except that pills don’t exist anymore, and neither does the crew member.
And this isn’t the first time travel shenanigans have wiped away all known reality. Actually, it happens all the time. Meddling in the past is a staple of Star Trek. Whether the gang is saving whales or hunting Borgs, traveling back in time is just another Tuesday for this elite crew.
But if we know one thing about bouncing around the space time continuum, it’s you can’t just come back to the same future you left. That’s not how it works. Just ask Doc Brown. So, don’t get too attached to your reality. Or to existing, because if you’re stationed on the NCC-1701-D, chances are your last moments were being swallowed by a giant lens flare and then an eternity of nothingness. Or, at best, overheated Internet fan fiction.
You are boring
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, had a very specific edict for the characters on the shows. There should be no conflict among crew members. The future was perfect, and so were all of the people who lived in it. That meant no money. No rough edges. No individual goals. No tension. Suffice it to say, the writers were not thrilled.
In a medium like drama, which is defined by conflict, this left some of the characters feeling rather neutered, no matter how fully functional Data claimed to be. A life without conflict is a boring life indeed. If you just sort of blindly got along with everyone all the time, you’d probably start resembling a medicated mental patient more than a living, breathing human being.
So, if this was such a big headache for the writers, imagine being one of these characters, who either had no discerning characteristics to offer anyone, or did and had to bury them deep down to fit in with the rest of the pod people.
A utopian future sounds fine and good until you realize that the minute you crack a lame joke, or bitch about your boss, or act human in any way at all, you’ll be the outcast, while still trapped in a tin can for years at a time, hurtling through space. At that point, it’s probably best to just be boring already. Not to worry, though. If you get too bored, there’s always creepy sex on the holodeck.