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In a very early TNG episode Lonely Among Us they coincidentally discover this anomaly:

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Yar notes that it has "considerable energy and changing patterns" (i.e. dangerous and unpredictable).

They're on a mission to deliver some delegates but Picard chooses to fly very close (later we learn they went more than close but actually flew into that thing) to take some sensor data without any further research of the phenomenon.

While I realise that their primary mission is scientific discovery (that's one of the reasons I like them), this course of action can only be described as insanely suicidal.

The same basic idea was picked up in a later VOY episode, and seems to be a common pattern. Why would any starship captain expose their ship and crew to such irresponsible danger to take some in-a-hurry-measurements instead of postponing a detailed analysis to a later time? Possibly by an explicit research vessel?


Note: To find it again, they could have posted a buoy to track it, even at warp speed. Also, this is more of a general question (they seem to do this all the time) than a question specific to this particular episode (I just happen to have watched it right now).

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    In the case of Voyager it was unlikely that any other Federation star-ships would be returning to that location any time soon. – Xantec Mar 13 '12 at 15:24
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    @Xantec: Good point. This doesn't apply to the Enterprise, though. – bitmask Mar 13 '12 at 15:38
  • Some might say that flying into a hurricane is also "insanely suicidal," but researchers do that too. – Lèse majesté May 3 '14 at 14:17
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    @Lèsemajesté That's a good point, but the analogy isn't quite perfect. Those people flying into a hurricane have seen one before, and developed protocols and procedures based on a vast field of knowledge. This seems more like a young pilot, who has somehow never heard of a hurricane, seeing one and deciding to fly inside. – Nicholas Jan 30 '15 at 1:39
  • @Nicholas True, but I seem to recall there are certain phenomena, known or unknown, that Starfleet captains do avoid. I'm sure they take things like radiation levels and the level of gravity distortion into account and only enter if they're confident there aren't local effects that might overwhelm their shields or produce stresses beyond what the ship can handle. So it's more like a storm chaser making a close pass to a new type of storm/tornado whose mechanics are unknown but are of a reasonably safe intensity for their special built vehicle to explore. – Lèse majesté Jan 30 '15 at 6:11
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Xantec's reasoning may still apply to the Enterprise in this situation. The Federation flagship has a myriad of duties and space, even at warp speed, is unimaginably vast; who is to say that they would get another opportunity to examine this particular phenomenon?

The very fact that the anomaly is described as exhibiting "considerable energy and changing patterns" seems to me an albeit vague, but nevertheless plausible description of possible intelligence and thereby de facto, an unknown lifeform. This type of encounter would be too much of an opportunity for Picard, or most any other Starfleet Captain/explorer to ignore. To gather broad spectrum sensor data from a fly-by would be considered the absolute minimum response.

Also, the show wouldn't have had the same longevity if every spatial anomaly was ignored or avoided because of Health & Safety concerns now would it... 8-)

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    Yes, the out-of-universe explanation is obvious, but I think if you assume that you cannot take measurements from far away, going closer might make sense. Although I don't see what measurements required them to get that close, but that'd be a different question, I guess. – bitmask Mar 13 '12 at 21:20
  • Could be something simple, like the positioning, configuration and limitations of the sensor array... – Lee Blakeborough Mar 13 '12 at 21:48
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In the episode "Lonely Among Us", it's apparent that both Data and Tasha Yar think that the Enterprise has encountered something pretty darn odd;

TASHA : Confirmed, sir. My sensors read nothing solid but considerable energy in...in changing patterns.

DATA : Travelling at warp speed, too. Intriguing. I can find no match with anything in our records, sir.

PICARD : Change course for a close sensor pass. We'll then increase warp speed to reach Parliament on schedule.

Given Starfleet's 300+ year experience with spacial anomalies, finding something that defies analysis, that's moving at warp speed and that doesn't match any known prior encounter certainly merits further study in line with the Enterprise' primary mission (e.g. to [boldly] seek out new life, etc etc).

Picard's plan is to perform a sensor sweep using the full array of the finest sensors in the Federation. You say that his decision is 'insane' but realistically the only alternatives open to him are to leave behind a shuttle, a ship's buoy or to do nothing at all. All of these will result in someone else having to risk their lives in a less well-equipped ship, not to mention that this interesting phenomenon may well have disappeared by the time another ship arrives.

We know from the alternate future created by Q in the episode "Tapestry" that one of the key things that define a Starfleet officer's competence of command is the ability to assess risk against reward. In that episode, Picard's alter-ego has been unwilling to take any risks and has thus been forced to live a life of mediocrity;

Riker (to Picard) : If you want to get ahead [in Starfleet], you have to take chances. Stand out from the crowd. Get noticed.

I'll leave the last word to Picard;

CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD : By refusing to help me, you left me with the same choice I had to begin with, to try or not to try, to take a risk or to play it safe. And your arguments have reminded me how precious the right to choose is.

Because I've never been one to play it safe.

4

Part of the reason that the Enterprise is out there patrolling is to look for "new life, and new civilizations", but they're also there to look for potential threats to the Federation, and to map out hazards to navigation. They're heavily armed and armored so that they can (relatively) safely approach unknown phenomena in space and see whether they're something that needs more looking into.

In all of the Star Trek series, very little of the Alpha quadrant has ever even been visited once by a Federation ship. So anything that's not immediately identifiable deserves at least a quick once-over, and a note in the ship's log.

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