In Star Trek: Into Darkness, there is a scene in which Khan disables the Enterprise' power, forcing it to be caught in Earth's gravity (Ch. 12). During this scene the crew members are seen falling within the ship as it rotates. For example:

While Kirk and Scotty are running to Engineering, they begin to fall as the ship rotates sideways, losing their hold on the guardrail - only to be saved by Chekov. (Star Trek: Into Darkness, 2013, 1:42:30)

My question is: Since the Enterprise is falling toward Earth, shouldn't the ship and her crew be in freefall? And if so, from the ship's frame of reference shouldn't the crew appear to be unaffected by Earth's gravity?

I know that it's only a movie, but the Star Trek franchise has always taken significant care to adhere to scientific fact. They often can explain any seemingly infeasible phenomena with scientific theory assumed to be proven or applied by the 23rd century. I would be slightly disappointed to find that a simple law of physics was overlooked for dramatic effect.

  • 3
    simple law of physics was overlooked for dramatic effect.
    – cde
    Sep 20, 2015 at 21:30
  • @cde What? Movies break the laws of physics! They really must be magic.
    – matt_black
    Sep 20, 2015 at 21:51
  • @matt_black ... I was quoting OP...
    – cde
    Sep 20, 2015 at 22:09
  • @cde I know. I was just having fun.
    – matt_black
    Sep 20, 2015 at 22:10
  • A related question from Physics StackExchange (also inspired by a movie): Does a person inside a falling bus fall to the front of it? Short answer: yes, due to the effects of air resistance on the bus. Feb 17, 2016 at 18:35

2 Answers 2


You need to remember that the Enterprise has artificial gravity. Within the internal logic of the movie power might still be available to that even if it were disabled for some other ship systems.

If I remember rightly, not everything on the ship was discombobulated by Khan's actions. But many systems were disrupted. If you accept this then you don't have to assume that the laws of physics were being violated, though whether it is internally plausible that the gravity is one of the last systems to go of that it could be just a bit disrupted is still open to debate.

  • 1
    Just so I understand, you're saying that the Enterprise' artificial gravity system could just be going out of whack, and changing the gravity's direction on the ship; instead of their tumbling being caused by Earth? Sep 20, 2015 at 21:40
  • @RyanMeyers something like that. It could be malfunctioning to create the forces or it could be too weak to compensate for much larger external shocks.
    – matt_black
    Sep 20, 2015 at 21:42
  • Thanks Matt! I feel much better now. I'd up-vote your answer but I can't yet. Sep 20, 2015 at 21:44

Artificial gravity was out, however I believe the inertial dampers were still active. This can easily explain the effects we saw in the movie. I believe the TNG Technical Manual explains it as a system of forcefields that keep the crew more or less in place when the ship accelerates or decelerates, counteracting those forces and preventing the crew from getting squashed or thrown about more than dramatic requirements allow. Since the tech manual can be considered non-canon, it gives even more leeway to how they could behave. Point is, inertial dampers exist, we know their basic purpose, and there's nothing to say they couldn't explain the movement of the crew within the ship while it was in free fall.

  • The TNG Technical Manual also explains that the artificial gravity doesn't immediately cut out when power is lost - it has a rotating element in each generator that takes time to slow down and cease operating. Of course, nuTrek doesn't pay much attention to the original.
    – T.J.L.
    Dec 3, 2021 at 13:14

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