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Most modern motorized vehicles are capable of both forward and reverse motion. In the Star Trek universe, can an unmodified warp drive also be used to move backwards? I realize that pretty much every ship we've seen has its navigational deflector (that is, the force field generator that pushes space dust and small debris away from the path of the ship) installed at the front of the vessel. But the lack of a navigational deflector only makes it dangerously risky to warp; it doesn't make it impossible. Safety issues aside, is there any technical or engineering reason why warp drives cannot operate in reverse?

If not, have we ever observed a ship warping backwards, perhaps to escape from a dire emergency? Or have we perhaps observed ships with an extra navigational deflector mounted on the rear?

I'm interested primarily in the canonical TNG-era continuity (including the DS9 and Voyager series), with preference given to evidence from the shows and movies themselves, or alternatively to reliable print sources such as the show's Writers'/Directors' Guide and the Technical Manual. If this issue is absolutely never discussed in those sources, then an answer based on other Trek series/movies/continuities/canons would be acceptable.

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    I'm rather puzzled by the multiple unexplained downvotes. Would those who object to the question please explain their reasoning and, if possible, identify how the question could be improved?
    – Psychonaut
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 15:45
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    Upvoted because it evokes this.
    – Darren
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 15:47
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    Faster than light, no left or right
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:40
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    According to the classic song "Star Trekkin'" by The Firm, the crew of the Enterprise are "Boldly going forward, 'cause we can't find reverse" youtube.com/watch?v=FCARADb9asE However, I have my doubts as to its authenticity in canon ;)
    – delinear
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 14:23
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    This really should not have been marked as a duplicate. The correct one time example of reverse warp in Balance of Terror doesn't have an onscreen example anywhere else. The TNG tech manual doesn't mention it but does allude to some degree of subspace field control - which can compensate for the saucer missing for example (the hull normally does a lot of the shaping work) - so given we have seen reverse warp that's how it it would have work given the info available. None of this is in the other question or it's answers. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 20:54

2 Answers 2

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I know you are primarily interested in TNG-era, but in TOS's Balance of Terror, Kirk's Enterprise (NCC-1701) travels at warp in reverse:

(The Romulan ship has become visible)

KIRK: Full astern! Emergency warp speed!

(A red plasma blast is heading towards them)

KIRK: Do we have emergency warp?

SULU: Full power, sir. It's still overtaking us. If we can get one phaser working, sir, one shot might detonate it.

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    does "full astern" in Star Trek mean actually going in reverse in terms of spatial orientation to the bow of the ship? Even in real world, "astern propulsion does not necessarily imply the ship is moving astern (in reverse)": - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astern_propulsion Also - is there indication that the Enterprise in this scene is actually moving at warp when the astern command is given, or just that Sulu is stating, in response to the question, that full warp power is available?
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 17:46
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    If they're at full power, astern, and the plasma is still overtaking them, I'd think that means they're going in reverse.
    – LAK
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 2:38
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I remembered one scene in TOS, in "Balance of Terror", where the Enterprise travels backwards at warp speed, and I hoped to find others.

Using the search function in the site for searching Star Trek transcripts from all shows and movies from TOS up to Star Trek: Enterprise, I found numerous references to "astern", but mostly to describe the position of other vessels relative to the one the protagonists were on.

http://scriptsearch.dxdy.name/1

I found several references to the Enterprise NCC-1701 and the Enterprise NCC-1701A travelling astern, but there is only one case when warp drive is mentioned, the scene I remembered:

In TOS "Balance of terror" the Romulan ship turns off its cloaking device to fire at the Enterprise:

(The Romulan ship has become visible)

KIRK: Full astern! Emergency warp speed!

(A red plasma blast is heading towards them)

KIRK: Do we have emergency warp?

SULU: Full power, sir. It's still overtaking us. If we can get one phaser working, sir, one shot might detonate it.

KIRK: Navigation?

STILES: Estimate it'll overtake us in two minutes, sir.

KIRK: Phasers, Mister Spock?

SPOCK: Impossible, Captain.

KIRK: Feed this to the space recorder and jettison immediately.

RAND: Captain, should I continue log entry?

KIRK: Yeoman. Affirmative. Continue log entries.

RAND: Yes, sir.

SULU: Ten seconds to impact. Captain, It's dissipating, sir.

STILES: It must have a range limit.

(Rand stands as close as humanly possible to Kirk)

SULU: Five, four, three, two, one. Impact!

(Everyone gets thrown about a bit)

http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/9.htm2

So instead of trying to turn the Enterprise away from the Romulan energy bolt Kirk orders full speed astern with emergency warp speed, and Sulu later says they are using full power emergency warp - presumably at least warp factor eight.

So "Balance of Terror" establishes that in the era of TOS at least some Starfleet starships, including the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, can travel backwards at warp speeds up to full emergency warp speed.

It is possible that in the era of TNG Starfleet starships are no longer built with that function, but since they seem to be more advanced than TOS era starships in most respects it seems unlikely that they are no longer able to use that specific function.

And as far as I know from the search the only fully canonical example of a sStarfleet Starship travelling backwards at warp speed is in TOS "Balance of Terror". It is probable that Starfleet starships retained the ability to travel backwards at warp speeds in TNG, DS9, and VOY, but never had reason to use it.

But I cannot prove from canonical evidence that TNG era starships retained the ability to travel backwards at warp speeds since there is no canonicla evidence that TNG era starships ding it.

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  • Wow, simultaneous answers...
    – LAK
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 17:41
  • does "full astern" in Star Trek mean actually going in reverse in terms of spatial orientation to the bow of the ship? Even in real world, "astern propulsion does not necessarily imply the ship is moving astern (in reverse)": - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astern_propulsion Also - is there indication that the Enterprise in this scene is actually moving at warp when the astern command is given, or just that Sulu is stating, in response to the question, that full warp power is available?
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 17:45

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