At the start of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Spock is almost killed detonating a "cold fusion" device to stop a volcano blowing up a primitive tribe. However, for a civilisation that possesses such advanced technology it seems a bit odd that Spock had to go down there and do it manually.

Why couldn't they just set a timer on the device and lower it into the volcano?

  • 17
    Or why didn't they ask the Eagles to fly them to Mount Doom? ;-)
    – Till B
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 18:11
  • 3
    They wouldn't have had a dramatic opening sequence then.
    – BBlake
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 18:29
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    This is one of several questions that IO9 essentially wtf'd here. although berry120 likely came up with it on his own, it's one of a few 'huh' moments.
    – Solemnity
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 4:44
  • @TillB That's already been asked ;)
    – Izkata
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 16:55
  • 1
    Something that happens 5 minutes into the film (and was in the trailer) is hardly a spoiler.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 21:13

6 Answers 6



The scene establishes several parameters:

Which prevent the placement of the "cold fusion" device.


(1) The planet's magnetic field was considered to be powerful enough to block an indirect lock-on and transport so the Enterprise would be required to be visible to the natives in order to make a clear drop. If they were visible to the natives this would have violated the Prime Directive.


(2) The smoky volcano prevented a clear line of sight and enough thermal updrafts to prevent using a line to drop the device. The device needed to be on an interior surface and not dropped into the lava. This could only be assured with a person (Spock) dropping with the device and hiding the shuttle in the ash cloud.

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    And why could this not be done by a teleoperated robot? Commented May 23, 2013 at 14:36
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    For the same reasons they could not get a lock on without direct line of sight, the scene establishes a powerful planetary magnetic field. So remotely controlling a device would only work if there could be a direct line of sight into the volcano. Commented May 23, 2013 at 14:38
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    @Thaddeus that's not really true, they had voice communication with Spock for the entire time that he was setting up the device (it only cut out after he'd armed the device). If you have voice comms, you can teleoperate a bot.
    – Tacroy
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 18:42
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    Evidently, their robots require a wider or higher quality signal. Voice comms should be the lowest grade of signal processed. And I am not surmising this: We are told this by the crew during their operations, so this is why THEY claimed it couldn't be done. Perhaps the operation could not be completed by a bot, or perhaps there was information that could not be transmitted TO/FROM the bot. Commented May 23, 2013 at 22:35
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    Robotics is one area of technology which Star Trek seems to be conspicuously lacking in. You see small roomba-sized repair/maintenance bots in TNG (which raised questions about the ethics of exploiting true AI as a source of labor), but even those would not have been up to the task of navigating the dynamic environment inside the Volcano. Arguably, the original plan of lowering Spock into the volcano and quickly pulling him back out was the quickest way to achieve their mission, as opposed to finding/programming a robot that could replace him. Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 4:55

I don't believe it's addressed in the movie, but my speculation would be it's because the device had to be placed precisely (and not in lava) and calibrated to the exact environment before activation. Neither could be done by dropping it down or lowering it on a line.


Actually, it's because David Lindelof was involved in the script. Firstly, who actually thinks that a cold fusion device (currently called a "Low Energy Nuclear Reaction" device - if it's not all hooey in any case) FREEZES things! The level of ignorance and mind-bending indifference to any sort of credibility pretty much sets the tone. If a 10-year-old with a D- average in science believes that it makes sense, then it fits neatly into this script. Arguing the wheres and where-ases is kind of pointless.

They just forgot they had grav sleds, shuttles, autopilots, etc., etc., because no one cries over a dead shuttlepod.

BTW - if you can conduct wars by teleporting antimatter bombs between star systems (much easier than living, breathing humans) with "trans-warp teleporters", why bother with a fleet? You could wipe out the Klingon homeworld in an hour flat without leaving Star Fleet HQ. With a dozen more, you could wipe out their empire before lunch.

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    Assuming that antimatter bombs could be teleported and that the Federation had no qualms with genocide. Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 5:05
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    Prometheus also suffers from the "Lindelof effect". But in that case, not only does the audience suffer as a result but also the canon of a brilliant director.
    – Praxis
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 21:35
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    -1. This is a rant, not an answer.
    – user1786
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:51
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    Right, the biggest scientific problem with Star Trek is that a "cold fusion" device freezes a volcano. -1 Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 21:16

This is specifically addressed in the film's official novelisation;

  • The device can't simply be dropped into the volcano, it needs to sit on solid rock

  • The outgassing from the volcano is producing an electro-magnetic effect which prevents accurate transport

  • The outgassing from the volcano is blocking the kind of line-of-sight you'd need to deliver the device, even if you could somehow pilot it in by robot:

At his station again, Sulu shook his head. “Negative, Captain. No more than we could use them from the start, when it was decided to carry out the operation utilizing one of our shuttlecraft. The unstable nature of the magnetic and other fields within the throat of the volcano are such that the usual immutable transporter reach and positioning systematics could be knocked off by as much as several millimeters—which, of course, would be fatal to anyone traveling via beam. I regret to say that the situation has not changed. If anything, it has grown worse.”

Chekov chimed in with unnecessary emphasis. “A Mr. Spock retrieved several millimeters out of proper entanglement would not be a Mr. Spock as we know him, Keptin. Or likely one who would appear alive.”


It would have been far easier if Spock could simply beam in and out with the ship’s transporter. But while they could beam him into the volcano, it would be impossible to set him down on a safe, solid location. To do that would have required a preliminary visual fix: one they had neither the time nor the precise means to obtain. Sometimes, despite the availability of the most advanced tech, nothing worked better than a pair of experienced eyes . . . and being directly on site.


"Cold" fusion does not make things cold, it actually generates heat. The reason it's referred to as "cold", is because it's "colder" than the alternative methods of producing fusion reactions, namely atomic explosions, and stars.

Arguing about transporters and/or remote devices is pointless considering that their method for settling a volcano is to set of an A-bomb inside it.

Also, their whole mission breaks the prime directive. Non-interference means non-interference. It doesn't mean "interfere as much as you like, just don't get caught."

  1. program device to auto-start
  2. encase in same material as Spock's volcano suit
  3. lower it into volcano

We could land a rover on Mars, I'm sure that 300 years from now it would be possible to land a suitcase bomb in a volcano.

And for the name of it being a Cold Fusion device I'm sure the writers decided, "Screw science, this is Hollywood".

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