Why Time In The Star Trek Universe Makes No Freaking Sense

For some inexplicable reason, it appears that the entire Star Trek universe has adopted Earth’s system of time — 24-hour days, seven-day weeks, and 365-day years. But why should a Romulan or Ferengi conceptualize the passage of time based on the rotation of one lone planet in the Terran system? Sure, there are “stardates,” but those are a “complex mathematical formula” that’s notoriously inconsistent and incorporates the season of whatever episode mentions the date. In short, they’re not practical, and they sure don’t explain a number of Trek‘s time-related quirks. Such as …

Bridge And Duty Shifts

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain Of Command,” the Enterprise crew briefly switches from a three-shift rotation (three eight-hour shifts) to a four-shift rotation (four six-hour shifts). Either way, they’re dividing a “day” into 24 hours. Why? If you’re not rotating around the Sun on a ball called Earth, 24 is a fairly random number. Why not make it 20 hours? Or 25? How long is a Vulcan day, anyway? And going back to the impracticality of stardates, the final “point” divides a day into tenths, which is odd for a day with 24 hours, and means you’ll probably need a calculator to figure out what time it is.

CBS Studios“Look at that beautiful morning sky!”

Even more baffling is the concept of a “night shift” on a spaceship. The lights are dimmed for the night shift in “Data’s Day,” and Dr. Crusher has the bridge during the night shift in “Thine Own Self,” but how did they pick which eight-hour segment of time would be “night”? It’s not even night at the same time everywhere on Earth; did they pick an official time zone for the Federation and go with it? Does that zone observe daylight saving time? Assuming that the organization of shifts and light levels is an effort to cater to humans’ circadian rhythms, what happens to crew members who aren’t from Earth? That would mean the Betazoids, the Klingons, and all the other nonhuman crew are left downing Red Bulls and snorting Adderall just to keep up.

CBS StudiosIt would go a long way toward explaining why Worf keeps getting his ass handed to him.

Weeks And Months

Like days, weeks and months only work if you’re on Earth. Imprecise as they are, stardates definitely aren’t based on Earth’s system of seven-day weeks and 30ish-day months, so why do crews still use that calendar?

In “Phantasms,” Troi tells Data that she wants to start counseling him “weekly.” Remembering what day is a Wednesday might not be so bad for Data, but it would get awfully confusing for normal people. In “Thine Own Self,” Troi mentions “last month’s personnel review” to Riker, but again, how long is a month in space? While the system makes little sense for anyone not on Earth or from Earth, it’s difficult to think of time being anything other than a cycle. From a practical standpoint, how would duty schedules work? Stardates are a number system based on 10, so perhaps there’s a 10-day cycle, and crew members get the same numbered days off each week. At any rate, weekends kind of suck in the future.

Birthdays And Aging

OK, so here’s where things get really confusing. There are plenty of birthday celebrations on Trek shows — Worf’s in “Parallels,” Kes’ in “Twisted,” Bashir’s in “Distant Voices,” and many more. But how would you determine someone’s birthday? Would humans celebrate every 365 days because that’s a year on Earth? Presumably, other planets have a wide variety of orbit lengths, so depending on where a crew member is born, their birthday could fall every 30 days … or every 500 days. Plus, days themselves are different lengths on different planets, so with regard to birthday presents, you could get totally lucky or totally shafted, depending on where you were born. And let’s not even think about the poor kids born on space stations that don’t orbit anything. How the hell do they calculate a year?

So assuming your birthday is based partially on the location in the galaxy where you were born, telling someone your birth date would be pretty meaningless. In “New Ground,” Alexander tells his schoolteacher that his birthday is “The 43rd day of Maktag, stardate 43205.” This suggests that people keep up with their home planets’ system of time in addition to the stardate. That’s all fine and good, but there are over 150 planets in the Federation. Do schoolteachers and doctors keep track of every planet’s calendar so they know how old people are? Does traveling at warp speed change how people age?

CBS Studios“That’s a great project, little girl.”
“By my home planet’s orbit, I’m technically 230 years older than you, so show some respect, you snot-nosed punk.”

Speaking of school, organizing children into classes by age seems completely unlikely, since a child could conceivably be two years old on their home planet but the mental equivalent of an eight-year-old on Earth. With years being so incredibly relative, how would lifespans be expressed? Kes and other Ocampa “only live nine years.” Well, that’s kinda sad if a year for them is 365 days, but what if a year is 1,000 days on their planet? It’s still sad, but not as much. Again, in “Half A Life,” Lwaxana Troi falls in love with Timicin, who’s turning 60 and is expected to commit ritual suicide. What if 60 on his planet is like 100 on Earth? Granted, to some degree, it’s all simplified just so people watching the show don’t get a raging headache. But suffice it to say that time in Star Trek would all be way, way more subjective than it seems. And not to mention the teleporting! For one thing, it’s not using the same matter to reassemb-

Kelly is a huge fan of Star Trek: TNG, Voyager, and the first six seasons of DS9. She’s very boring on Twitter, and would love it if you’d consider supporting Cracked.

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