In Star Trek (2009), Kirk, Sulu (and a third) free fall from space in an attempt to disable the drill. Presumably, the shuttle didn't divert to enter Vulcan's atmosphere, so how did the three avoid being incinerated?

  • 19
    On the count of three, they all pointed to the left and yelled "look over there!" And then they jumped while The Laws of Physics were distracted.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 12:28
  • 1
    Vewy, vewy carefully!
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 14:45

1 Answer 1


Advanced Star Trek space suits and parachutes.

They make a "space-jump". One presumes that since they have a term for it, the suits are engineered specifically for that action.

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But really..falling is not the same as re-entry.

As the Space Shuttle reenters the atmosphere, it is going fast. Super-super fast. In orbit, this is about 7,700 m/s (from NASA). During the entry into the atmosphere, it needs to slow down quite a bit.

It should be noted that our heroes' initial speed would have been effectively very low (essentially zero) and they just fell.

Since they weren't at orbital speeds to start with there was significantly less energy involved so any heat increase would have been significantly lower something easily handled (or waved away) by their suits.

Well, there is clearly a much greater change in energy for Felix compared to a skydiver. However, it is still way less energy per kg than a reentering Space Shuttle. My guess is that he will get a little warm, but not terribly much. Why would I guess this? Well, it is a guess. But think of it this way. Yes, Felix will have to dissipate more energy than a standard skydiver. However, he will be falling for a longer time. This means more thermal contact with the air and a longer time to cool off.

For some detailed calculations (mostly based on Baumgartner's jump) see this

and this

and really on point this

  • 4
    Baumgartner might not be the best analog here - he jumped from 36 km (vs 100 km for the space boundary), far lower than the Enterprise and its shuttle appear to be in the movie. This question at space.SE discusses a dead drop from 400 km (ISS orbit) - the problem is (almost) no atmosphere for the first 300 km means a very high velocity can still be reached in freefall, and you're still going to experience adiabatic compression (and massive heating) when you hit atmosphere. The only answer must be "technology" (shielding in the space suits).
    – HorusKol
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 23:46

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