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Let's say that I am a human living in the Star Trek universe, during the time that any Starship Enterprise exists. I want to send Captain Kirk a letter. How would I address it so that it ought get to him?

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    I'm confused. Are you asking from an in-universe perspective, like "if I were a human on Earth in the Star Trek universe, how would I send mail to the Enterprise?"; or are you asking if the Enterprise has a real mailing address (like Santa), or are you asking something else entirely? – Jason Baker Nov 17 '16 at 0:29
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    In the show, and as an in-universe perspective. – Lolologist Nov 17 '16 at 0:39
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    chances are, it'd work like email - but possibly screened by StarFleet spam filters – HorusKol Nov 17 '16 at 0:53
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    I don't see how it would be any different from today - you'd send it to the person's account and the ship would connect the Starfleet mail servers and download all new messages to everyones inbox - exactly like it would work with any offline device/location now. – Jocie Nov 17 '16 at 8:28
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    @Valorum How is that any different to connecting your phone to the Internet after having been offline for 2-3 days? Everything comes in one bulk update. I would guess the Enterprise connects, lets everything sync, and then disconnects once it's done (to save on roaming fees). – Jocie Nov 17 '16 at 11:04
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Given that the location of the USS Enterprise seems to be at least slightly classified (and when they're on fleet maneuvers, very classified), you'd probably need to send your letter in electronic form to Starfleet Headquarters to be forwarded onward the next time the ship makes contact and downloads a message bundle. We see several examples of this in the various Trek shows.

Enterprise

ARCHER: What's the word from home?

TUCKER: The usual, engineering updates. Oh, and Duvall got promoted. They're giving him the Shenandoah.

ARCHER: Duvall got his own command? Thank God we're a hundred light years away.

TUCKER: And I got a letter from Natalie.

ENT: Silent Enemy

TNG

COMM VOICE: Bridge to Captain Picard.

PICARD: Picard here.

COMM VOICE: There's a personal message for you from Earth.

Star Trek: Generations

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    @Lolologist: I believe it’s in San Francisco, and that we see it during, for example, Voyager’s Non Sequitur, and Deep Space Nine’s Homefront. – Paul D. Waite Nov 17 '16 at 1:02
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    Since "letters" in the future are simply emails or video-messages, I'd imagine that each person would have their own dedicated email address. Failing that, you could just send them to Captain Kirk, Starship Enterprise, c/o Starfleet HQ, San Francisco and they'd probably get to him (eventually). – Valorum Nov 17 '16 at 1:02
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    Kirk is pretty famous. I would imagine he has a mail service that deals with his fan-mail. – Valorum Nov 17 '16 at 1:03
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    @PaulD.Waite The movies, notably The Voyage Home, also show that Starfleet Headquarters are in San Francisco. – Thunderforge Nov 17 '16 at 4:26
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    @O.R.Mapper - It could be a bit like bitcoin, where the message propogates outwards to the entire network, then gets deleted when a node detects that the relevant bit (in this case a letter) has reached its destination but what we tend to see are "message packets" where multiple messages including engineering updates, low-level orders, etc are all bundled together. – Valorum Nov 17 '16 at 10:04
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In the instances where someone aboard the Enterprise sent a message to someone else, they did not seem to use anything like an email address. Rather they would simply say to the computer "Prepare a message for Admiral Nechayev at Star Fleet Command" From that, I believe it can be construed that the computer is expected to locate the correct person, or to notify the sender if the recipient cannot be identified. The most likely mechanism would be for the computer to work backwards, starting with "Star Fleet Command" and then either interrogating a database at command to locate Admiral Nechayev, or simply sending the message to command and expecting that further routing would be handled behind the scenes, so to speak. The underlying mechanisms might not be all that different than what we use now, simply made more user friendly and intelligent.

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    I can do the same thing on my phone, today. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 17 '16 at 10:29
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    The answer is irrelevant. This is like saying email addresses do not exist because I Can tell my secretary to send a mail to "joe". Or phone numbers do not exist because of speed dial buttons. The computer will know the person he is talking about including being able to look up addresses. You mix up the act of sending an message (technically) with an advanced voice controlled user interface that hides this fact. The OP obviously is talking about the more technical aspect. – TomTom Nov 17 '16 at 10:49
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    @TomTom my apologies for not providing specific, technical details about an interstellar communications protocol that won't be invented for several centuries, using faster than light transmissions which defy our current understanding of physics. – Byron Jones Nov 17 '16 at 13:46
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    @TomTom I never suggested it was magic. What I'm suggesting is that a natural language processing system would search for "star fleet command" first in its own data cache, then reaching out to other data sources, just like DNS does already, but more advanced. It would then pass the message to the nearest receiving server accepting messages for star fleet command. That system would then locate Admiral Nechayev, wherever she is currently assigned, and route the message there. No magic required, and except for the FTL transmission, something already within the realm of development today. – Byron Jones Nov 17 '16 at 15:25
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    As an email administrator myself, I can assure you that current email systems do absolutely nothing like I described. Currently email systems work by performing a DNS MX record lookup to locate the correct server, and then send it to that server. The server then determines if it accepts for that address. The intelligence I describe in locating people does not currently exist. Your email program might do a smart search of your address book, but that's it. – Byron Jones Mar 27 '18 at 12:59
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There is a full (albeit high level to account for the fiction - subspace etc) breakdown of every part of the in-universe methods and operations of communication between two parties at any range. Covered includes intra-ship comms, the personal communicator, ship to ground, ship to ship, non-starfleet contacts, the subspace communications network in (fictional) detail and of course - the universal translator. Check it out, it's a good read. However, at "more pages than i care to violate copyright laws about" of mostly diagrams and their explanations, a condensed version follows.

To cover the letter writing part: The sender speaks or taps into a device (not just comm badge apparently), message is encrypted to starfleet standards / U.T. analysis, this will usually require an id header eg "Ensign Redshirt to the bridge" or "Computer, open a channel to Ambassador Chooch on Terra Prime". Communications are routed through successive subspace relays to the recipient once the relevant network has id'ed the persons in question from previous face-to-face encounters stored in the system or analysis of intended recipient/location data. Concerning to "5 year mission" aspect: Starships regularly drop temporary subspace relays out the back while travelling to strengthen subspace signal quality in previously unknown areas of the galaxy.

References: Section 8 of the Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual ISBN 1-85283-340-8

  • Welcome to SFF.SE! To improve this answer I would suggest maybe some examples listed in the book you refer to. You don't have to copy entire pages, but can block quote text. Since you are giving proper accreditation there is no worry about copyright violations. – Skooba Nov 17 '16 at 15:51
  • Also, these are priority real-time military communications over subspace, not personal letters. – Valorum Nov 17 '16 at 16:26
  • @Skooba: Challenge accepted. Don't worry Valorum, I got you covered. Just cant direct at you also (limit 1). From Section 8.3 Ship-To-Ground Communications, Subsection "Applications" : – Ensign Redshirt Nov 18 '16 at 12:46
  • Normal Contact with the starship, if externally initiated, is divided into two basic types: Starfleet personnel, especially those directly assigned to the ship, and non-Starfleet agents. Away team members will call directly to the bridge or other active departments during the course of their work. Normal contact from outside agents will be held by Security for presentation to the captain or other senior officers. Emergency transmissions will usually be passed without computer delay for appropriate action. – Ensign Redshirt Nov 18 '16 at 12:50
  • There is an issue with the comments system, FYI. I suspect on my end. Continuing: Standard encryption/decryption plus enhanced security encryption protocols, are handled by FTL processors within the main computers. SF encryption algorithms are rotated / updated on random schedule. Multiple private key portions are retained within the computers, and the public key portions are transmitted to SF issue hardware vulnerable to capture by Threat forces.Calling for secure channel by either ship or remote side will place higher encrpytion levels into standby mode for confirmation by command personnel. – Ensign Redshirt Nov 18 '16 at 12:57
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Starfleet was designed to be similar to our various military organizations over the years, specifically the naval ones. So I would assume that the process is similar to how one currently sends an email to a recipient who is actively deployed. There is a delay and it arrives after passing the proper clearance channels/firewalls/whatever security Starfleet deems necessary.

So you would address a letter to Captain Kirk the same way that you would address one to the captain of one of the Navy's current vessels, whatever that process may be.

  • Out of curiosity, are deployed military today allowed to have, maintain, or use a "personal" email account? If the goal is security and safety, I'd guess not, but I'm curious if that's the case. I don't know if they'd have an analogue to personal email accounts in the Trek era, but I suspect the rules about them would match the rules now. – VBartilucci Mar 27 '18 at 17:58

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