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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Origin of the word "starship"

This topic came up when a certain egotistical, Indian ex-colleague of mine brought up the word in the context of the 70's rock band who brought us unforgettable hits like "We built this city" and "Nothing's gonna stop us now". I could not resist but incite a debate on the origin of the word with me remarking "deep down, everyone is a Trekkie".

Now, a "starship" is a fictional (which may not be true in the near future) space fairing vehicle capable of tremendous speeds for interstellar travel, an indispensable nomenclature in a plethora of science fiction works.

We all know the most famous one of all, the Starship Enterprise.
In the realm of science fiction, certain quarters claimed it was Jules Verne (1828-1905) and who can forget "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" (1864) which has appeared in many remakes and renditions, "From Earth to the Moon" (1865) and of course, the adventures of Captain Nemo in "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" (1875). Nonetheless, it was quickly dismissed at the closest reference contextually is "extra-terrestrial".

Robert A. Heinlen (1907-1988) was also traced back as one of the first sci-fi authors who may have coined the word in "Starship Troopers" first published in 1959. Heinlen was one of the "Big Three" in science fiction with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.

The honor however goes to Harl Vincent (1893-1968) under the publication name of Harold Vincent Schoepflin, an American mechanical engineer and of course, science fiction author who was published regularly in science fiction "pulp"-quality magazine "Amazing Stories". The year was 1934.
It would have been almost inconceivable, even back in the late 19th and early 20th century to fathom interstellar travel. The closest star system that we know of is Alpha Centauri, located roughly 4.37 light years (4.51 trillion km) and probably visible with unaided eye (if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). It's astounding to know that the light we see originated 4.37 years in the past.

To give some perspective, the Cochrane warp chart will give you an idea of time vs distance against velocity.

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