Something I just can't understand why they use shuttles to go to and from earth to the space dock where the Enterprise is docked, when they could just instantly beam themselves there?

I don't see it as a distance problem as they routinely beam people up from planet surfaces like Vulcan when it was imploding.

Any canonical reason as to why they use shuttles?

  • Same question on Movies:SE - Why not teleport instead of taking a transport?
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2016 at 10:11
  • 6
    Perhaps it's worth mentioning that Transporters were a solution to the low budget for FX in TOS; a budget that really limited how many trips-by-shuttle they could shoot per season.
    – user23715
    May 13, 2016 at 15:33
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    Looking for a practical reason "why" something happens in Abrams-trek is a waste of time. It happened because someone thought it would be cool visually. That is the answer to every question about Abrams-trek.
    – user66096
    May 13, 2016 at 22:25
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    The answer is quite simple really. Transporters had not been made to work for moving objects until halfway through the movie. Until then, it was assumed that they could only be used between stationary objects. Since the ship was in orbit, this would not work.
    – user64742
    May 14, 2016 at 18:12
  • Good question. I can't imagine why anyone would settle for any other means of transportation, when you've got the option of being disintegrated and reconstituted somewhere else.
    – user14111
    Jul 2, 2016 at 8:03

5 Answers 5


Per my answer here


This is (sorta) covered in the film's official novelisation. The ship is being supplied with a wide range of consumables at far shorter notice than was expected. Presumably the transporters are otherwise occupied moving cargo that's too heavy (or large) to fit onto the shuttles, leaving the shuttles to physically carry the crew from the surface.

The source of those responsibilities appeared not long after the shuttle cleared the ionosphere: the immense orbiting facility that was Starfleet dock. As the shuttlecraft slowed on approach, Kirk was able to pick out his ship waiting in place. Like worker ants attending a queen, a swarm of small support craft darted silently around her, preparing and supplying her for imminent departure. A small smile creased his face. There were other ships in dock, but like anyone thoroughly smitten, he had eyes only for his beloved.

Out of universe

The scene was almost certainly written as a 'walk-n-talk' so that Spock, Bones and Kirk could have a expository conversation about the mission (and then be interrupted by Carol Marcus) without having to explain why they're all sitting around on the ship having a conversation instead of working with their respective departments, getting ready to set off.

It also serves as a "ship porn" shot, allowing adoring fans to gain a well-lit view of the exterior of the ship from multiple angles. This is something which is common to most trek films and almost certainly drew its inspiration from the infamous drydock scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture


1) Teleporters screwing up is one of the most common trope as there's numerous things, that can go wrong, you'll get teleported during April shower and you could end up in mirror universe.

2) Whole process must be quite costly (and used to be restricted via credits during TND/DS9 era, where it was much more common and used by common citizens... at lest on Earth and other "core" planets) and that cost will be paid separately for each person.

3) BOTH those numbers (chance of teleport disaster and energy requirements) will go up but energy required to transport 1 or 10 people with shuttle will remain more or less same and shouldn't really make it more difficult for pilot unless he's in middle of warzone or natural disaster.

4) It might be a form or relaxation for individuals to chill before important meeting or catch up on intel as well as ST equivalent of recreational driving.

5) Story pacing still plays major role in all of this. Shuttle scenes give you relative peace to hold various discussions, either for character development or exposition, in relative peace and can also provide more "will they make it" kind of drama. TOS introduced teleporters because shuttles were more expensive to shoot and while their budget was pretty big for it's time, you always have to cut corners on TV. So while there is a room for rationalization, it's mostly meta issue as unlimited teleport devices are way too convenient... or actually inconvenient as far as drama and thriller are concerned.

  • 3
    To point 1: transporter malfunction was especially common in TOS, much like holodeck malfunction in TNG, which only strengthens your argument
    – Broklynite
    May 13, 2016 at 10:32
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    Per your second point, the concept of "transporter credits" (referred to in DS9) seems to be less about rationing and more about rewarding student behaviour.
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2016 at 10:32
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    "Original TNG"? That sounds like it would stand for "Original The Next Generation". Do you actually mean the original series? May 13, 2016 at 10:56
  • @Lostinfrance - He clearly meant TOS. Edited accordingly.
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2016 at 11:04

The use of transporters on live human beings is a new-fangled and disconcerting technology.

That it could be done fairly reliably had been established, but not for long enough for human culture to have fully adapted to that fact.

Doctor McCoy, in particular, is notorious for disliking transporters. (at least in the TOS continuity)

  • 2
    That may well be true in Enterprise, but it's not true in TOS or Star Trek (2009). By that point in history, even in the altered timeline, transporter technology was a hundred years old and almost completely reliable.
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2016 at 17:46
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    There is bound to be some people who don't "trust" transporters at all points of time. Like today in real life, there are people who don't trust cell phones, microwave ovens, and people who don't trust modern medicine. May 13, 2016 at 18:37
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    And there are people who can't swim, but very few of them are accepted into the navy. May 13, 2016 at 20:21
  • 1
    @Richard: It's true in TOS that McCoy didn't like using the transporter.
    – GreenMatt
    May 13, 2016 at 21:40
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    @GreenMatt - You're not wrong, but then neither did Pulaski and at that point, using a transporter is supposedly safer than not using one.
    – Valorum
    May 13, 2016 at 22:02

In the original timeline, in The Motion Picture, the transporters were malfunctioning when the Enterprise was launched so Kirk had to shuttle aboard. This then turned into a tradition with the captain inspecting the ship before boarding, and was followed through in every subsequent film or episode to feature a launch.

Presumably they did it in the new timeline as a homage to the original, although without that explanation.


They tend to use transporters whenever possible, but they've used shuttles when they need to send people in different directions from where they are going or need to leave/send people with more extensive instrumentation and/or supplies, and when they don't want to risk the main ship or want to do remote studies. For examples, think Galileo 7 and the scene with Picard and Wesley going to the starbase, and the incident with the space amoeba.

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