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Amazing as it may sound, this entry started life as a bored Monday night! There was nothing on TV, so I put Star Trek : The Motion picture into the machine and started watching. After I finished, I realized that the film never gives us a single solid statement as to just what V'Ger looks like or how big it is. The thought was irritating (not a new thought, just an irritating one!), so I started a thread on rec.arts.startrek.tech and startrek.expertforum.ricksternbach to see what the folks there thought.

I'm indebted to all those who contributed their thoughts on that thread, which rapidly went beyond simple size and shape and into V'Gers capabilities, TMP in general, and Trek as a whole. Special thanks go to Admiral Korel, Timo S Saloniemi and especially Mike Dicenso.

Mike and I have both done independent calculations of V'Gers size by calculating the speed which the Enterprise travelled at during its long fly-by and multiplying by how long the trip took. Here are my own figures :

Our first good view of the E's speed comes as they are passing over the bulk of the ship, just before Kirk orders "viewer astern". We see the ship cross what seems to be a hull area with large open chasms in it, with light spilling out of the chasms.

I measured the ship as being 19 pixels long, and the lighter patch it crossed as being 80 pixels; that makes the gap 1,284 metres wide along the E's course line. The ship takes about 3 1/4 seconds to cross the gap.

Speed for this shot = 395 metres per second.

The next shot I tried was the one shortly after we see Decker watching the view screen, and about 20 seconds before the ship passes four big glowing orange spheres. The ship traverses a dark patch of hull surrounded by a lighter area. It's hard to judge distances here, and it doesn't look as square on as before, but my estimate of the ship is 17 pixels. It crosses a patch of hull between two surface features equal to about 84 pixels (1,507 m) in about 3.8 seconds.

Speed for this shot = 396 metres per second.

Finally, I tried the shot just before Kirk orders "hold relative position here". This is a good square on view, but there are very few features to measure the ships speed against. Since V'Ger is stationary relative to the camera I took two pictures and pasted part of one onto the other. The ship measured 16 pixels in this shot, and covered 323 pixels (6,157 metres) in about 16 seconds.

Speed for this shot = 384 metres per second.

So all figures agree to a pretty good accuracy on a speed of 390 m/s.

Now it's a little unclear exactly when they begin to pass over V'Ger or when they complete the trip, but the flyby sequence lasts about 4 min 10 sec. All of which gives V'Ger a total length of (drum roll please)... 97.5 kilometres.

This is the figure I have used on the specs page. I hesitated over whether I should make the number yellow to indicate canon, since it was directly based on the on-screen images. However, while the speed seems pretty solid there are several cuts during the Enterprises fly-by and this makes the timeline uncertain.

As usual with craft which the "real" Daystrom Institute wouldn't be expected to know much about, I've been fairly willing to pepper the rest of the specs with "unknowns" or speculations. The Notes are almost entirely drawn directly from the film; the size of the cloud is mentioned by the Epsilon Nine personnel, the fact that V'Gers cloud is a twelve power energy field is mentioned by Sulu. The reactions of the others to this statement indicate that it is not the twelve power reference that is amazing, but rather that something of this size could measure so much. It seems that the number refers to power per unit area or volume, and this is how the specs page treats it.

V'Gers shape is based in large part on what we see in the film, but Timo tells me that the Reeves-Stevens book "ST Phase II: The Lost Series" has some drawings of V'Ger. While the drawings are not marked as final, Timo assures me that at least one image corresponds nicely to what we saw. He gives the following description :

"...what we see is an elongated, perhaps a bit squidlike design that might be close to that 75 km figure - no scale is given, but the array of (six?) finlike radial protrusions at the bow corresponds to the huge towers seen next to the teeny-weeny 300m Enterprise in the movie. At the very bow is the shutter-like "mouth" that swallowed the starship, and apparently the glowing surface greeblings are mainly located between the radial fins and thus obscured from view."

I haven't gone into this much detail in the specs page, but have used the basic towers at the back, cavern at the front layout seen in the film.

V'Gers history is surmised by the crew largely based on Spocks observations of the inner chamber. This contained images of planets, and apparently whole galaxies. We see no actual images of galaxies in the film; obviously even a 100 km long ship can't hope to accommodate such images at 1:1 scale, but then we do see several planets, and it couldn't accommodate these either. Nor is the image of Ilea stored at 1:1 size. My assumption is that V'Ger stores objects it "digitizes" at whatever size is most convenient for study - considerably larger than the original in the case of something as small as a single person, considerably smaller in the case of a planet. So V'Ger certainly can have images of entire galaxies stored even within itself.

The idea that V'Ger has been destructively digitizing whole galaxies is a difficult one to accept. Especially given some of the other claims - Spock says that it's knowledge "spans our universe", while V'Gers return to Earth indicates that it has fulfilled its program to "learn everything which is learnable". The conclusion would be that V'Ger has in fact digitized everything in the universe! If nothing else, the fact that our own galaxy at least continues to exist shows that this cannot be so.

The logistics of this task are also improbable, to put it mildly. If we are not to assume some form of time travel, V'Gers origins in the late 20th century limit its journey to around 280 years. Assuming the average Galaxy contains around 100 billion stars, even digitizing one single galaxy would mean absorbing nearly a million star systems a day. This is obviously a little hard to credit.

I would suggest, then, that V'Ger only digitized things which particularly interested it - or annoyed it, as the Klingons seem to have done. Presumably it gained its knowledge of the remainder of the universe via some non-destructive form of scanning. The distances covered indicate that V'Ger was capable of impressive speeds - the sort of speeds that the E-D achieved in "Where No One Has Gone Before" are probably in the ballpark, if not the infinite speeds achieved by Tom Paris in "Threshold". My own mental image is of V'Ger using something like these drives to zip around the universe in a matter of seconds then using a more standard form of warp or transwarp to travel through the relatively dense groups of galaxies, scanning them as it passed.

However you imagine it, if the descriptions of V'Ger given in the film are accurate, it must be just about the most incredible piece of hardware in all of science fiction history. Capable of speeds well into the billions of times light speed, scanning over ranges of tens of millions of light years, storing almost incomprehensible amounts of information - truly awesome.
 


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This page is Copyright Graham Kennedy 1998.

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