Face to Face

In our continuing series of Star Trek trivia, we ask:

Why do starships always (or most of the time) meet horizontally and face to face?

You must have noticed that all encounters of vessels in outer space in the Star Trek universe take place where they are all facing each other, and where up is the top of the screen. But there are no directions in outer space. There is no up and no down.

Our Star Trek characters must have used a 3-dimensional map of the galaxy, but such maps were always depicted as 2-dimensional in the TV episodes and the movies. Even the huge Stellar Cartography wraparound display screen, introduced in Star Trek Generations, was a two-dimensional affair.

Dangerous Encounter

Guns at my Ship!

Thus, if the Star Trek Navigation people really wanted to pinpoint a location within the Galaxy, they would first of all have to refer to a rather large 3D map (our Galaxy is a rather large place, after all), whittled down to usable sections for convenience, and then they would have to be very clever in determining the desired 3D coordinates, utilizing at least 3 sets of numbers.

But like other complicated stuff in Star Trek, this was swept under the rug. Maybe that’s why, when asked for a heading by Sulu at the end of Star Trek the Movie, Captain Kirk responded, with an indifferent  wave of his hand, “Out there…that away.”  In other words, whichever direction the ship happened to be pointing.

What difference did direction make? Adventure could always be found toward the second star on the right.

Will they back off?

Staring them down

When starships meet in the vastness of outer space, isn’t it just as likely that one of the ships will be perpendicular to the other, because it came from a direction that was “below” the first ship?

The ship that is pointed upward towards a ship that is horizontal will suffer no falling or disorientation, because the artificial gravity generated in their ship will always make the ship’s floor their center of gravity.

Thus, the odds are overwhelming that ships in outer space will approach each other from completely different angles. In fact, it’s rather a neat trick to have starships meet at all in the vastness of outer space.


A Defiant approach

Still, these encounters are essential to practically every Star Trek storyline, and all starship encounters in Star Trek have them meeting where they face each other horizontally, at least as viewed on the screen.  It is as though they are hovercraft-capable airplanes meeting in earth’s atmosphere, and with normal earth gravity.

So why is this so? Very simple: Because to show starships otherwise oriented in space would be disorienting to the viewer, and thus unacceptable to the producers.