Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 1, Episode 17

Home Soil (20 Feb. 1988)

TV Episode  -   -  Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
6.7
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 697 users  
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On Velara III, Geordi and Data discover a microscopic life form responsible for the death of an engineer stationed on the base.

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Title: Home Soil (20 Feb 1988)

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Kurt Mandl
Elizabeth Lindsey ...
Gerard Prendergast ...
Bjorn Benson
Mario Roccuzzo ...
Arthur Malencon
Carolyne Barry ...
Female Engineer
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Storyline

The Enterprise visits a team of scientists and engineers terraforming on Velara III. The team's leader, Kurt Mandl, isn't very welcoming stating that they are very busy but Picard insists with Riker, Data and Geordie beaming down to the planet. Velara III was selected because of its complete absence of any life forms and the terraforming initiative takes about 30 years. The team is now in the process of removing salts from the natural water supply as the first step in creating a sustainable environment. Geordie and Data come across a non-carbon based object that glows and give the appearance of life. When it attempts to communicate with the crew, it is obvious they have encountered a life form like no other. Written by garykmcd

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20 February 1988 (USA)  »

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Trivia

The life form initially refers to humans as "bags of mostly water," which is accurate. See more »

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Counselor Deanna Troi: Terraformers are often obsessive. It frequently goes with the career profile.
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References Star Trek: The Devil in the Dark (1967) See more »

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Star Trek: The Next Generation End Credits
Composed by Jerry Goldsmith and Alexander Courage
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Can Inorganic Crystals Support Life?
18 September 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Enterprise checks on a team of terraformers on Velara III to see if they can be of any assistance. Kurt Mandl, the lead scientist, just wants Enterprise to go away. But Deanna Troi senses fear and anxiety about Enterprise's presence, so Picard sends an 'away team' to investigate.

"Home Soil" (Episode 17, Season 1, Air Date 02/22/88, Star-date 41463.9) introduces the theme of terraforming and it continues its quest for new life.

*Spoiler's Follow*

The idea of terraforming and its God-like power:

(1) We hear that terraforming is like being a god, which is a great allusion to 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' and other original series movies in which the genesis project sought to transform completely uninhabited planets into life bearing worlds.

(2) But Star Fleet bans any terraforming on planets where any life at all exists or where life has any chance of developing. This fits with an odd interpretation of the prime directive to avoid manipulating other worlds and their natural development.

(3) Star Fleet carefully selects planets for terraforming. Planets must be the 'right mass, gravity, have the correct rate of rotation, and have a balanced day and night'. I would add that planets must be the right distance from a star, for if they are too far away, solar power would be a problem. It may also help to choose a planet with a protective atmosphere, with a young to middle aged star, with a moderate temperature (this doesn't follow from having balanced nights and days), and with a clear orbit to avoid high chances of life destroying impacts. Many factors would impact our choice.

(4) The next phases after selection are to introduce microorganisms into the planet's water supply. This allows the production of oxygen over time.

But many writers and SF thinkers have questioned the conditions for life. Michael Crichton's 'The Andromeda Strain' imagines microorganisms that best survive above a oxygen rich atmosphere since oxygen is a corrosive. And Star Trek has long been in the business of imagining exotic life, including a rock monster made famous by its larger parody in 'Galaxy Quest'.

As the terraformers explain all this, Arthur Malencon is ordered to continue his work removing the salt content from the planet's water supply. But while he works, he gets attacked by his own laser drill. Data investigates the laser and begins to test it the same way Arthur Malencon did, but he gets attacked as well. Data suspects the laser that tried to kill him was programmed by someone or some thing intelligent.

Geordi uses his enhanced visor to point out elaborate patterns and infrared pulses from crystals in the water below; he suspects signs of life even though it can't be from organic life. The Enterprise brings one of the crystals to the ship and begins investigating its nature.

The definition of life:

(1) The crystal doesn't fit any definition for life, but it emits light the way we would expect of a life form.

(2) Dr. Crusher says something is an *organic* life form if it can assimilate, respirate, reproduce, grow, develop, move, secrete, excrete. Carl Sagan says in his 'Cosmos' series that he would require organic life to be carbon based; he thinks a silicon based life form is unlikely to exist.

(3) The way to determine whether the crystals qualify is to observe, theorize, and find evidence -- just the way one normally does in science.

(4) But then she looks for a definition of an *inorganic* life form, and she gets growth, development, and reproduction.

(5) The crystal is investigated very much the same way as in 'The Andromeda Strain' with advanced magnification equipment and computer analysis of its composition. And 'The Andromdea Strain' also used the crystal as the basis of a strange new form of life.

The crystal turns out to be silicon based, with growth, development, and reproduction. When it starts using those three things (the three conditions for inorganic life) it advances into an intelligent computer micro-brain. We learn that it forms an intelligent collective with the other crystals and that it had used salt to communicate with each other (the very salt we were trying to remove to make water supportive of organic life).

So it declares war with humans (those 'bags of mostly water') and comes to believe that humans are too arrogant for civilized contact. Its colony of crystals tried to communicate with the terraformers through strange sand patterns, but it eventually takes over the ship computer and uses it to achieve communication.

This is a good example of where humans are dangerous invaders of a lifeforms environment and where our traditional definition of life fails to take into account possible counterexamples of life missed by our definition. Michael Crichton in fact dismisses the whole idea of giving a definition of life as an impossible game of logic, since counterexamples always exist ('The Andromeda Strain'). But, like I said, Carl Sagan would limit life to include only substances with carbon as its base element, which excludes rock monsters and crystal entities ('Cosmos').

And it's an example of a very broad definition of life inclusive of inorganic material.


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