GENERAL DISCUSSIONS

Firefly Mechanics 101

POSTED BY: ZOOT
UPDATED: Sunday, June 19, 2005 06:46
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 1:36 AM

ZOOT


I know I’m a mechanical imbecile – I can’t even fix a car – unless the problem is with the fuses in an MGB or windscreen washer tubes (and I don’t even know what they’re really called)… But I have a question for you budding mechanics out there and it’s this:

Every time the crew start up Serenity’s engine (even from a flying start) they have to pull what looks like a big starter handle at the end of the engine’s turbine to get it started again e.g. Jayne in Serenity when they go for full burn in atmo; Mal at the end of Out of Gas after he’s plugged in the catalyser.

But when Mal first meets Kaylee in the flash back in Out of Gas – Kaylee simply just “plugs the g-line straight into the port-pin-lock” and the engine starts right up. Now why didn’t she need to turn the starter handle thingumy??

Now I’m sure there’s a rational reason for this that I’m just too dumb to get – so could someone please explain it in Captain dummy Talk??


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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 2:20 AM

THETRAINJOBMAN


I suspect it's just a big 'ON' switch. I somehow don't think it's likely even Serenity wouldn't have some sort of starter motor to get the engine spinning.

Most likely Bester had left the engine in 'ON' while he was testing/trying to fix it, not the safest practice I admit, but one that allows you to instantly know when you've got something right.

---------------------------------------------
Kaylee: "No call to be snappy, Jayne."
Jayne: "Are *you* about to jump onto a moving train?!"

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 2:35 AM

ZOOT


But that doesn't really explain why Jayne had to pull it in the pilot to go to full burn as the engine must have been "on" then 'cos they were already in the air .... but am probably just thinkign about this way too much ....

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 2:52 AM

FINN MAC CUMHAL


Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Now I’m sure there’s a rational reason for this ...

You're sure, huh?

-------------
Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:12 AM

ZOOT


Quote:

Originally posted by Finn mac Cumhal:
Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Now I’m sure there’s a rational reason for this ...

You're sure, huh?

-------------
Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.



Well, no, you got me there - I'd like to think it was all part of logical and carefully thought out reasoning as to how a firefly's engine works, but yes, could just be director's choice hence the discrepancy ... sigh!

P.S. He who desires peace should prepare for war???? really??

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:26 AM

FINN MAC CUMHAL


Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Well, no, you got me there - I'd like to think it was all part of logical and carefully thought out reasoning as to how a firefly's engine works, but yes, could just be director's choice hence the discrepancy ... sigh!

Fret not. Sooner or later some Browncoat mechanical engineering student with way too much time on his hands will write a Firefly technology manual and then all your questions will be answered. Presumably.
Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
He who desires peace should prepare for war???? really??

Yep.

-------------
Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:37 AM

ZOOT



Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
He who desires peace should prepare for war???? really??

Yep.

-------------
Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.


Seriously, how d'you figure that?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:43 AM

FINN MAC CUMHAL


Flavius Vegetius figured that in 390 AD. I just quoted him.

Makes sense to me though. You won't get the bad guys to play nice unless they think they've got something to lose.

More recently, another great orator rephrased this as:

"Peace through strength"
-- Ronald Reagan.


-------------
Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 4:17 AM

CYBERSNARK


Hmm. Maybe the handle is a transfer switch that links the main "full burn" engine with the smaller always-running (so we can have life-support and manoeuvring) engine. This allows the pilot to throw a single switch and get everything working (as opposed to shutting down the manoeuvring engine, routing power to the main drives, then spinning up the main drives). It sets it up so the main drives automatically kick in, overriding the sub-drives.

When Kaylee did her "job interview," the ship was grounded; nothing moving, no need to get the two engines working in tandem.

In Serenity, Wash was in the middle of manoeuvres, so they couldn't shut down one engine then start the other.

In OoG, the ship was in space and barely functioning. Also, it was Mal, Mr. shot-of-adrenaline-to-the-heart.

-----
We applied the cortical electrodes but were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 5:07 AM

ZOOT


Yeah, but my problem with that is the - scare them enough and they think they've got nothing to loose thing ....

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 5:51 AM

FREAKYSINS


I believe that's the "Plot Device Activation Switch(tm)".

Peace

FS

They say there is strangeness, too dangerous
In our theatres and bookstore shelves
Those who would know what's best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 6:28 AM

ZOOT


Aha! to quote Mr Hitchcock - A Maguffin, a vertiable maguffin - I knew I'd see one one day!!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 7:02 AM

SICKDUDE


Thought about a pneumatic starting device, but that doesn't really work.

How about this? A magnetic clutch linking the powerplant to the drive (i.e. transmission). Kaylee didn't engage it because they were on the ground.

"Don't say 'ka' until you've tried it." Daniel Jackson

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 10:09 AM

YT

the movie is not the Series. Only the facts have been changed, to irritate the innocent; the names of the actors and characters remain the same


Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Every time the crew start up Serenity’s engine (even from a flying start) they have to pull what looks like a big starter handle at the end of the engine’s turbine to get it started again e.g. Jayne in Serenity when they go for full burn in atmo; Mal at the end of Out of Gas after he’s plugged in the catalyser.


They didn't look the same to me @all. What Jayne is hawlin' on in the pilot is hinged to the floor & ceiling, and is not there in any other shot in the series. I presume it's something Kaylee kludged together to defeat the safety interlocks that would prevent a full burn in atmo.

The starter handle in Outa Gas looks like the starter handle on a WWII sub diesel engine. No coincidence, I'm sure, since Joss & Tim thought of that as the "sub" ep.

Keep the Shiny Side Up . . . (wutzon) Grateful Dead, "Weather Report Suite", from "Dick's Picks vol 1"

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 10:19 AM

ZOOT


Quote:

Originally posted by Sickdude:
Thought about a pneumatic starting device, but that doesn't really work.

How about this? A magnetic clutch linking the powerplant to the drive (i.e. transmission). Kaylee didn't engage it because they were on the ground.

"Don't say 'ka' until you've tried it." Daniel Jackson



Ohh I'm liking the reasoning - if only I knew what a "transmission" was *shakes confused very blonde and very female head*....

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 11:10 AM

STATIC


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaactually. . .


Just for the sake of Clarification. . .


The two engines on the wings (one of which became Crow's final resting place) seem to be what is used primarily for atmospheric flight.. .and to take off OUT of the atmosphere. . .and it doesn't appear to be much more than a big ol' engine like you'd find on the wing of a jumbo jet.

Where as the big glowy-butt engine that is connected in some mysterious way to this big switch is the primary engine that pushes them through space. . .and according to the dialogue in "Serenity" is not generally meant to be USED in the atmosphere. . .much less at 'full burn'.

Of course. . .it could ALSO be as it's been said. . .the "Plot Device Activation Switch"

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:20 PM

FINN MAC CUMHAL


Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Yeah, but my problem with that is the - scare them enough and they think they've got nothing to loose thing ....

Or don’t scare them at all and they think they’ve got something to gain. Either way, you’re going to need a defense.
Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
if only I knew what a "transmission" was *shakes confused very blonde and very female head.

It’s the thing that transmits.




While we are posing questions about Firefly propulsion:

What exactly is the purpose of an air intake turbine on an engine designed to operate in exoatmospheric flight?

Also there are no jet plumes in space.


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Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 4:30 PM

VETERAN

Don't squat with your spurs on.


Quote:

What exactly is the purpose of an air intake turbine on an engine designed to operate in exoatmospheric flight?

Also there are no jet plumes in space.



Maybe the side-mounted engines are a some sort of combination futuristic jet/rocket, which can operate like a jet in atmo and a rocket in space. Hey, that could be a plot device right there,

Mal: "Wash, break atmo and slip in behind that moon before the Alliance cruiser breaks the horizon."
Wash [sarcastically]: "I'd love to Cap'n, except we gave away half our liquid oxygen and we can't manuever much in the vacuum.
Mal: "So."
Wash: "So!(Chinese Curse words), if I don't exit at the exact right angle we won't make the moon before the Feds see us."
Mal: "Just do it."
Wash: "Oh! What, is this all 'part of the plan?' Do, you think that just because you give an outrageous order everything will fall neatly into place? ... Let me tell you, something Mal!...."
Mal [intensely with a hint of malovolence], "Just do it."
Zoe: "I know MY man can do it, Sir."
Wash [suprised and inspired]: "Right, just find something to hang onto."

Serenity breaks atmo heading straight for a nearby moon, with a very short burst she does a neat little turn and slips on the darkside of a small moon. On the bridge of an Alliance Cruiser an Ensign reports to the Bridge Officer.

Ensign: "There's nothing here Sir."
Lt. Cmdr: "Scan for combustion products of monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen
tetroxide."
Ensign: "Just trace Sir."
Lt. Cmdr: "They must have left hours ago, bear away and set course for Persephone."

On board Serenity, running silent. Zoe snuggles up to Wash.
Zoe [whispers]: "I just love a real fly boy."

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 8:03 PM

DRONGO


To anyone on this thread:

A friend of mine had a complaint about the basic propulsive "mechanics" of the ship. What kind of drive enables Firefly to travel between planets in time to get the cattle to market? Basically the planets in the stories would have to be strung out in one convenient line in order for the ship to travel these impossibly vast distances before the characters die of old age.

Has there been any mention anywhere of the actual method of propulsion, or do these engines run on narrativium?

Regards,

Drongo

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:28 PM

HOTPOINT


Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:
To anyone on this thread:

A friend of mine had a complaint about the basic propulsive "mechanics" of the ship. What kind of drive enables Firefly to travel between planets in time to get the cattle to market? Basically the planets in the stories would have to be strung out in one convenient line in order for the ship to travel these impossibly vast distances before the characters die of old age.

Has there been any mention anywhere of the actual method of propulsion, or do these engines run on narrativium?



Well if the ships need "Core containment" because of radiation they are likely nuclear.


Hotpoints Theory

If we rule out something really esoteric like FTL then why not Pulsed Nuclear Propulsion? You don't need huge atomic bombs like Orion you could just use lasers to detonate small charges of Deuterium and Tritium to create "tiny" microexplosions hundreds of times a second.

You can get up to a decent percentage of the speed of light with this method (even minute Thermonuclear explosions will still give you a nice push) and you can throttle the engines up and down easily by just increasing or decreasing the explosions per second which gives you decent control.

If you want to "burn hard" just feed in fuel as fast as the Lasers can make it fuse.

Engines like this could push you around the Solar System with travel times measured in days or weeks



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With cries of “Death or Glory” comes the mighty Twenty-First

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:45 PM

DRONGO


Hotpoint,

>Well if the ships need "Core containment" because of radiation they are likely nuclear.

I remember fusion being mentioned in one of the later episodes.

Hotpoints Theory

>If we rule out something really esoteric like FTL

I really don't see how we can.

>You can get up to a decent percentage of the speed of light with this method

In days, years, lifetimes?

>Engines like this could push you around the Solar System with travel times measured in days or weeks

Maybe across a solar system, but how about between stars? Even if it was possible to travel at 95% of light speed, it would still take over 5 years to get to our nearest star. Most stars are an average of about 10 or more light years apart, if I remember correctly.

I will venture the possibility that plasma electrodynamics powered by fusion might be one solution. And maybe the speed limits imposed by relativity are flawed.

Drongo


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Tuesday, June 14, 2005 10:06 PM

ZOOT


oh dear god, I've really started something now (and bear in mind I am not following any of this) ....

All I wanted to know about was the "starter handle" but the whole "how the hell do they travel so quickly through space?" thing is I guess way more fundamental .... am thinking a whole "suspend disbelief" provision is required ....


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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 10:45 AM

HOTPOINT


Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:
>If we rule out something really esoteric like FTL

I really don't see how we can.



Easy. Single system (which could be a binary or trinary if you don't think a single star has a big enough Goldilocks zone for that many worlds

Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:

>You can get up to a decent percentage of the speed of light with this method

In days, years, lifetimes?



How long it would take to accelerate depends on how much fuel you wanted to burn and how fast you wanted to get up to.

The 1970's thought experiment "Project Daedalus" talked of a 4 year acceleration to get up to 12% of light speed.

Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:

>Engines like this could push you around the Solar System with travel times measured in days or weeks

Maybe across a solar system, but how about between stars? Even if it was possible to travel at 95% of light speed, it would still take over 5 years to get to our nearest star.



But if we're thinking single system that's not an issue and there isn't any indication of interstellar travel on Firefly other than the initial move to whichever system they're in (which could have taken decades)



...................................
Hurrah, hurrah, when things are at their worst
With cries of “Death or Glory” comes the mighty Twenty-First

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 5:26 PM

VETERAN

Don't squat with your spurs on.


Quote:

Easy. Single system (which could be a binary or trinary if you don't think a single star has a big enough Goldilocks zone for that many worlds


Maybe, but don't forget terraforming (is that a word?) moons.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:42 PM

DRONGO


24 planets mentioned in the database. I truly doubt all of them could orbit in one solar system.
If these planets are spread among several systems, then how long would it take Firefly to travel among them?

I've met both Dysons on multiple occasions. An Orion style system still doesn't approach relevant speeds without cryosleep or handwavium. Cryosleep was shown to be possible with River, and may be standard equipment enabling them to bridge the time needed to travel between systems.

Does anything in the new movie shed any light on these questions?


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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:47 PM

DRONGO


Actually gentlefolk,

I think we're back to the answer JMS gave when asked how fast ships in the B5 universe travel:

"At the speed of plot."

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 8:54 PM

HOTPOINT


Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:
24 planets mentioned in the database. I truly doubt all of them could orbit in one solar system.
If these planets are spread among several systems, then how long would it take Firefly to travel among them?



Actually if the planets are arranged in a Kempler Rosette you can have a lot more worlds than that in a single system

http://burtleburtle.net/bob/physics/kempler.html

Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:

I've met both Dysons on multiple occasions. An Orion style system still doesn't approach relevant speeds without cryosleep or handwavium. Cryosleep was shown to be possible with River, and may be standard equipment enabling them to bridge the time needed to travel between systems.



I'd certainly buy cryosleep as the means for the initial flight away from Earth

Quote:

Originally posted by Drongo:

Does anything in the new movie shed any light on these questions?




Please highlight below *spoiler*

Select to view spoiler:



In the movie it says a single system




...................................
Hurrah, hurrah, when things are at their worst
With cries of “Death or Glory” comes the mighty Twenty-First

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 11:36 PM

DAIKATH


In Serenity however they had this special thing to get away from the feds.

The butt of the Firefly would light up and there it would go. In the special features it talked of a way of making it go for really fast travel.


I think that was faster then light speed. Besides if everything had to be within a single system the number of planets they can visit are finite. If you can do it with several systems there is always an extra moon, planet or etc they can visit making the series more dynamic and helps to keep it fresh over 7 years.


edit: Besides even if we would cram all the planets and moons mentioned in the series into one solar system... they were just 13 episodes.. Not enough for a full series. And with Serenity I mean the pilot.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005 1:32 AM

MAJORCLOD


I guess its nit picky, but its annoying when basic stuff like that isn't established, especially in sci-fi.

Revenge of the Sith was really bad when it came to interplanetary travel, especially in a universe that has established a few days travelling time between planets.

Main characters, especially Yoda and Obiwan and travelling here there everywhere, fair enough it could be a few days in between. A whole bunch of characters travel between Coruscant and Mustafar, an outer rim planet. Already established in the films that they are at least a few days travel in between.

One could argue that they don't show the time in between, which is pretty damn obvious, however main characters are doing almost exactly the same thing when the people arrive. I'd hardly imagine Anakin would have stayed on Mustafar for a few days doing jack shit, and I highly doubt he would have spent a few days crawling up an embankment when the emperor arrives to rescue him.

As to what the handle does... well it looks cooler than just pressing a button to start the engine. I like the idea of being a clutch, works for me.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005 7:15 AM

DRONGO



>As to what the handle does... well it looks cooler than just pressing a button to start the engine. I like the idea of being a clutch, works for me.

the commentary for whatever ep introduces the real engineer, explains how "off the cuff" and expedient are the design of these critical engine parts.

As for SW Hyperspace(R) anomaliesia: I'm still not recovered from the presentation that anyone could survive the heat for more than a few minutes on a volcano planet, nevermind the sulfurous atmo.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005 7:22 AM

HOTPOINT


Quote:

Originally posted by Daikath:
In Serenity however they had this special thing to get away from the feds.

The butt of the Firefly would light up and there it would go. In the special features it talked of a way of making it go for really fast travel.

I think that was faster then light speed.



All it looked like was some pretty brutal high-gee acceleration rather than a jump to FTL. You can be sub-light and still be going "really fast" by todays standards.

The "Firefly Effect" could just be plasma residue from the Nuclear Engines at maximum being interfered with by the ships artificial gravity and inertial dampeners (it must have the latter as well as the former or else the Crazy Ivan would have had a messy effect on the crew).

Quote:

Originally posted by Daikath:

Besides if everything had to be within a single system the number of planets they can visit are finite. If you can do it with several systems there is always an extra moon, planet or etc they can visit making the series more dynamic and helps to keep it fresh over 7 years.



You can write a good character-based sci-fi orientated storyline that will last for several seasons without needing to follow the Star-Trek new-planet-each-week pattern. And lets face it Joss can really write!


...................................
Hurrah, hurrah, when things are at their worst
With cries of “Death or Glory” comes the mighty Twenty-First

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Thursday, June 16, 2005 7:51 AM

JASONZZZ


Quote:

Originally posted by Finn mac Cumhal:
Quote:

Originally posted by Zoot:
Yeah, but my problem with that is the - scare them enough and they think they've got nothing to loose thing ....

Or don’t scare them at all and they think they’ve got something to gain. Either way, you’re going to need a defense.

Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum.



Excellent! and definitely ask the Swiss about what it means. Every single Swiss were determined for absolute neutrality (ok, except for the few traitors) during WWII, they were also almost the most well armed and definitely the most well trained marksmen on the continent during that time. They trained to knock off targets at 300 meters when their most ardent opponents were only training for take down at 100 meters.

I really respect the Swiss for demonstrating the spirit of "Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum."


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Thursday, June 16, 2005 2:44 PM

THEREALME


I am a proponent of the Multiple Systems Theory. This is mostly because of “Out of Gas,” where “past” Mal tells Zoe that with the ship, no matter how long the arm of the Alliance got, they could go just a little farther. This could never be true in a single system. You would run out of habitable zone or habitable planets (even terraformed ones).

You would in a galaxy, too, if you want to be technical about it, but I suspect Mal and Zoe would not live long enough to run out of places to go in a galaxy.

Anyway…

I think the true answer(s) cannot be determined. In the related questions of “Faster Than Light travel or not?” and “Multiple star systems or one?”, I remain convinced that Joss doesn’t understand or care.

When asked in an interview if there was FTL travel in the Firefly universe, he didn’t say, “No”. He said, “I don’t think so.” Then he went on to say he’d cry if asked any more science questions.

I remain convinced that Joss doesn’t really understand the differences between outer space, a star system, a group of star systems, a galaxy, and a universe. I think it is all “outer space” to him. Sort of like how some un-informed folks might think that the Pharoah Rameses the Great, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caeser were all more or less contemporaries of each other (they weren't, not by hundreds of years).

I could believe that this misunderstanding in spatial scale could lead to “no FTL travel” coupled with “travel between several star systems in weeks” (which is CLEARLY impossible).

Yes, travel at the speed of plot.

If I’m right, then Joss, the only person with the authority to answer the “FTL” and “multi vs one system” questions, is simply not qualified to do so.

And if these questions are NOT answered, then you could have various writers for the series assuming one or the other position and dropping clues that point both ways.

It’s sad, really, to leave such a hole in an otherwise great background.

Some would tell me that these details don’t matter, that it’s all about the characters. This is true to a point, but I find such errors as glaring as if the crew section was on the upper level one week and the lower level the next. Or if the Serenity was armed with lasers one week and not the next. It is a matter of getting the show’s continuity down.

Of course, I’ll love Firefly no matter what. I just wish they’d thought a bit more about the science aspects, too.

Maybe the movie will answer this question. I’ll know next week.



The Real Me, First Officer of the Sereni-Tree

(The Real Me cannot currently receive messages from this site; he is not ignoring you. But he CAN receive e-mail at realme@pcibroadband.net.)

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Sunday, June 19, 2005 6:46 AM

DAIKATH


I said this before buut ive been thinking about it and Ive become really convinced about this.

Remember the show was cancelled in mid season. They had all those moons there wich would be hard to fit into a single solar system (but possible). But if it indeed was a single solar system dont you think they would have visited the same planets more often then they did? In the first couple of episodes they went to all of them.. Seems a bit strange.

If it is one solar system and indeed all those moons and planets to indeed fit in it. Wouldt all those moons and planet be really developed as there wouldt be too much of them?

If you indeed will have planets and moons where they just drop them with some horses and blankets, wouldt you think they would send more if there werent more then thirty moons or planets?


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