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In the first episode of the animated Star Trek series, Beyond the Farthest Star, an away-team investigates an alien ship using "life support belts," which appear to protect the wearer with a force-field type of space suit. They are also mentioned by Uhura later in the same episode, when life support is lost on lower decks, and crew members are forced to use the life support belts.

Have these "life support belts" ever been or mentioned used elsewhere in the Star Trek universe?

I remember clear examples of space walks taking place on other Trek series, so the belts clearly never replaced space suits. The scene to modify the deflector dish in Star Trek: First Contact comes to mind as an example of physical suits being used.

  • The belts appear in a number of TAS episodes ("The Slaver Weapon" and "The Ambergris Element" are two I remember off the tope of my head), but haven't appeared in other series. – John Bode Dec 30 '13 at 19:50
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According to the article on memory alpha, they haven't been seen outside of the animated series.

Although used exclusively in TAS, the life-support belt was invented during the run of Star Trek: The Original Series. Judy Burns, co-writer of "The Tholian Web", thought of using battery-powered "force field belts" in that episode, but the series' producers decided to feature EV suits instead.

  • 1
    The change to the question may warrant a separate question. It seems NikolaiDante answered the original question. – Solemnity Dec 24 '12 at 10:02
  • @Solemnity: Seems reasonable. done. – Flimzy Dec 24 '12 at 16:59
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The belts have not been seen in any other live-action media. It is possible they have been used or referenced in one or more novels, but I have not read any which featured them.

That said, the belts were included as an item in the FASA Star Trek Role Playing Game in the early 80s. They provide a limited supply of air, pressure, and retain heat somewhat, but are otherwise not as good as an environmental suit. They won't work for extended periods or for combat (they put up a noticeable glow around you without providing significant shielding) or stealth.

In other words, they're mostly useful when you don't need them for a long time. They do, however, serve better for highly detailed work and they are better for keeping a team in easy visual contact. They can also be worn in a 'sleep' state where they activate in an emergency (such as when the air vents).

Thus, they are primarily a safety and backup item. Most likely during the timeline of TAS, the belts were new and Enterprise was testing them to determine their limits and utility.

Out of universe, they were created for TAS because it was far easier to draw a yellow line around the characters than to give them all EVA suits and still be recognizable.

  • I think this is a reasonable answer, but it probably fits better with this question. – Flimzy Dec 30 '13 at 18:25
  • It seems to answer both, and I've put a modified version of this answer on that question as well. That said, I agree that the two questions are VERY similar, and likely should have been a single question. – Jeff Dec 30 '13 at 18:41
  • They were a single question originally, and several users requested I separate them. heh – Flimzy Dec 30 '13 at 19:17
  • @Flimzy: SFFSE users are like cats: Never satisfied and you can't please us all. – Jeff Dec 30 '13 at 21:38
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If this counts, they're essentially also used in Star Trek Online as a reason for players to have regenerative shields (in the form of personal force fields) to provide ways to survive at least a few hits.

As for the differentiation - belts vs. suits - I could think of two possible reasons:

  • Writers didn't think of them before or didn't want to introduce them (see Nicolai's answer). Also it would look a bit odd having them used outside a hull (see next point).
  • There are different hazards inside and outside a spaceship or its hull. Inside a ship, the most important role of the shields would be keeping breathable air and pressure around the body. Outside, there are more roles involved, the shields might not be strong enough to fulfill the basic roles (as mentioned) as well as protecting the user from other hazards such as micro meteorites and cosmic radiation.
  • The TAS episode has the crew walking about on the outside of the alien ship using the belts. So while the argument about inside vs. outside makes sense, it didn't stop them from using the belts outside. – Flimzy Dec 24 '12 at 16:56
  • Oh, interesting. Maybe they just found it cooler, or easier to do in an animated series. As for First Contact, I guess they used classic suits, because they've used them before (e.g. Star Trek: The Movie and Voyager (might not predate it; not 100% sure right now)) and it might have looked cheap just pretending there'd be some kind of force field. Also this saved them from explaining the belts and allowed for the sub plot with Worf's damaged suit to be done. – Mario Dec 24 '12 at 17:24
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Personal force-fields were used on several occasions in TNG and Voyager. Mainly in situations for staying unaffected by temporal displacements, prevent radiation poisoning or to manipulate subspace fields. But, those force-fields would need to allow a person to breathe etc. As each series progressed, such technologies were seen less and less (my thinking is that the writers just progressively dumbed everything down to such an extreme as they thought that things were 'too easy' with such advanced technology - which is idiotic on the writers part).

There was no mention of actual 'life-support belts', but personal force-fields would also likely function in that capacity. In DS9, before the Dominion War began, there was talk on the admiralty part that distribution of personal force-fields is ongoing.

So, the technology for all intense and purposes exists... but probably hasn't seen real use later on due to writers just forgetting about it or not wanting to use it. As we've noticed, space-suits are commonly utilized in the 24th century... but even they don't seem to come with personal force-fields... which is really stupid as they could be used to seal suit breaches etc.

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