Replicators have been cited as the invention that allowed humans to stop working for a living. This implies that replicators are cheap and even free because they produce food at super-low cost. So low that humans can stop work. However, if replicators are indeed so low-cost, why were they shut down in the Voyager? Cooking replaced replicators in the Voyager. This implies that replicators are more expensive than manual cooking. If so, how can replicators give humans the luxury to stop working?

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    Besdies the energy side - it was also discussed that the mess as an event with cooking would be good for morale. Remember, the Voyager class of ships are not "extended deployment" style, they are relatively short range warships. They lack amenities for the crew (like enough holosuites). Itis well established (DS9, Ciscos Father) that restaurants with human cooking still exist - likely for a similar reason (experience contrary to pulling a mean out of replicator).
    – TomTom
    Mar 13, 2017 at 11:05
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    "Replicators have been cited as the invention that allowed humans to stop working for a living." Citation needed. Mar 13, 2017 at 14:28
  • Just as a general comment, remember that E=mc^2 - replicators would require insane amounts of energy to function. It would take on the order of 2.16 x 10^16 Joules to replicate 8 oz of coffee (without the cup), or on the order of a 5 Mt nuclear explosion. So, if Voyager is having to ration energy use, the first place to start would be replicators.
    – John Bode
    Mar 13, 2017 at 15:42
  • Replicators don't create matter from energy, they convert matter to energy and store it. You still need to put raw materials in. That insane amount of energy comes from storage of matter.
    – Fadecomic
    Mar 13, 2017 at 17:13
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    To give the cook with no useful skills an excuse for being on the ship.
    – jpmc26
    Mar 14, 2017 at 0:15

4 Answers 4


The lack of ready supplies of energy is a constant feature of the first season of Voyager. Limiting the use of secondary systems like the replicators (and their rationing) was a good way of showing this to audiences.

KIM: There's an ancient Chinese curse, Captain. May you live in interesting times. Mealtime is always interesting now that Neelix is in the kitchen.

JANEWAY: We shouldn't judge him too harshly. He is helping us conserve replicator energy.

Voy: The Cloud


NEELIX: You're welcome. After all, if you want the crew to begin to accept natural food alternatives instead of futher depleting our energy reserves, you need to encourage them by your own choices, don't you?

JANEWAY: Fine. Give me your even better than coffee substitute.

Voy: The Cloud

Now, you might ask how much energy these systems actually use. We learn in Dark Frontier that their continued functioning equates to entire light-years of travel for a Starfleet vessel.

ERIN: Magnus.

MAGNUS: We have to keep moving. If we take the replicators offline and run environmental systems at half power, we can go another twenty light years before refuelling.

Voy: Dark Frontier

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    Even in season 5, Chekotay offering that watch to Janeway mentions he's been "saving his replicator rations" - so it would seem it isn't something that went away in the first season.
    – corsiKa
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:18
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    But he also said he replicated it before the crisis.
    – corsiKa
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:25
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    @corsiKa - They were still going on about replicator rations as late as halfway through the final season. Clearly they viewed rationing as sensible, even if they had sufficient energy for extended periods. Who knows what's coming next?
    – Valorum
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:35
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    @Michael: a transporter beam moves matter from place to place, a replicator creates it. The technology may be related, but there's no reason to expect the power consumption to be similar. Mar 13, 2017 at 10:00
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    @Sobrique - The replicator is a matter convertor, turning raw materials into usable materials during the transport process. Clearly that requires a lot of energy, far more so than a simple transporter.
    – Valorum
    Mar 13, 2017 at 10:31

The answers I've seen here are an excellent exploration of the first part of your question, namely, why were the replicators shut down on Voyager.

However, what I'm not seeing are any answers to the second part of your question, namely, if replicators use more energy than cooking, then why did they allow humans to stop working for a living? Wouldn't the increased energy cost imply that replicators themselves were not a good substitute for manual labor?

If I may rephrase the question in modern parlance, it seems that a similar question would be "how did thousand-pound vehicles replace walking and horses and buggies, which are much lighter and therefore energy-cheaper to operate?" The answer to this question is, of course, plentiful gasoline.

I'm no Trek loremaster, but it would seem to me that we would have to posit the existence of some huge, abundant, cheap supply of energy to allow the more-expensive replicators to replace the less-expensive humans. The warp coil seems to be a convenient mechanism to explain precisely how replicators replaced human manufacturing labor, though I have nothing to quote on this.

  • I suspect that one must take into account the possibilities of automated energy production here.
    – Adamant
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:12
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    It does seems likely that the Federation has plenty of energy, given that starships are largely powered by matter/anti-matter reactions, and anti-matter production is grossly inefficient (50% of the output is matter, of which you already have plenty, and getting energy back out yields a majority of energy in the form of neutrinos which aren't likely harvestable)
    – user11521
    Mar 13, 2017 at 2:42
  • Neelix's cooking helps to preserve energy, ergo cooking uses less energy than replicating.
    – Valorum
    Mar 13, 2017 at 17:32
  • "some huge, abundant, cheap supply of energy to allow the more-expensive replicators to replace the less-expensive humans" - They're called stars.
    – Kevin
    Mar 14, 2017 at 5:18
  • Kevin, given that in TNG S6E4 - Relics, the Enterprise encounters a Dyson Sphere which is at least 75 years old, that sounds like a plausible source of energy. I don't think that Sol ever had a Dyson Sphere around it, or perhaps it has one which only captures the out-of-plane sunlight (thus we don't notice it in-universe). Mar 14, 2017 at 16:07

The Enterprise and most Federation ships seem to never be more than a few weeks away from a Federation outpost where it can top up.

Voyager is 70 years at maximum warp away from the Federation and has no established logistic support system - they might be able to trade with Delta Quadrant civilisations - but there's no guarantee they can get the right fuel. Food, on the other hand, seems fairly universal (although of questionable palatability).

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    On top, they were not exactly prepared for this (in which case they likel would have topped up extra tanks with antimatter etc. up to their holding abilities.
    – TomTom
    Mar 13, 2017 at 11:02

The problem was the energy cost. Energy in the federation is abudant. But as the voyager was far from home it had to rely on dwindling sources of energy....which meant replicators became a luxury and thus had to be reduced in usage as their energy cost was enrmous.

  • Every star ship is out in space and far away from home. I do not see the Enterprise having problems with shortage of energy. Besides, if energy is a problem, wouldn't humans need to work to mine for energy?
    – user486818
    Mar 12, 2017 at 11:59
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    I get what you're saying - space is really big - but warp travel has a way of minimizing that detail for most of the Star Trek series. The Enterprise, at any given point in time, is at most a few weeks - maybe a few months - away from a Federation space station where they can refuel, if they need to. This can be done trivially in between episodes. Voyager, at the start of the series, was something like 70 years away from Federation space, travelling in a straight line at maximum warp. There's far, and then there FAR.
    – Steve-O
    Mar 12, 2017 at 14:53
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    @user486818 They DO even. in TOS there was an episode where they had to get dilithium crystals (which are used in their warp cores...aka their primary reactors) from miners. That aside as Steve already said they had no means to reful ascertained what the Enterprise always had as they could just fly home to resuply and refuel what the Voyager could not.
    – Thomas
    Mar 12, 2017 at 14:57
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    @JoeL. not exactly. As dilithium is also needed in order to be able to control the matter / antimatter reaction.
    – Thomas
    Mar 12, 2017 at 15:16
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    @tenCupMaximum: The Warp Core is a matter-antimatter reactor. The important fuel is the Antimatter. The red tips on the warp nacelles are Bussard Ramscoops (used explicitly in TNG and Insurrection), which are supposedly able to collect hydrogen particles from the interstellar medium for the "matter" part of their fuel. Most ships also have a number of fusion reactors that provide enough power for slower-than-light engines and life support, but not enough for warp travel or effective combat.
    – ench
    Mar 13, 2017 at 20:21

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