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How Star Trek Transporters Actually Work & Why They Are So Scary

While the transporters’ matter-conversion process might not routinely kill the transportee, the technology is still fairly unnerving. In fact, several characters find these machines extremely creepy. The in-universe term “transporter phobia” is used to describe people who are scared of transporter machines, and notable characters like Doctors Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) have been very wary of using them. 

They have good reason to be concerned, too. No matter how secure they are, transporters are still methods of transportation, which means there’s going to be an occasional mishap … and when this sort of technology causes problems, said problems can be extremely serious. The long list of transporter accidents various “Star Trek” characters may encounter includes arriving in the wrong place, time, or even universe. The machine could also de-age the transportees, malfunction in a way that leaves foreign objects embedded in their bodies, or, in an example of a time “Star Trek” went too far, even fatally mangle the poor users. Transporters have also been known to split people into two individuals and merge two different people into one. Early models can even induce a condition known as transporter psychosis – a vast array of untreatable physical and mental issues caused by the damage that transporting causes over time. 

Yes, every mode of transport has its dangers. Still, your car is unlikely to leave you randomly stranded in an evil Mirror Universe, which is what happens in the “Star Trek: The Original Series” Season 2 episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Even without the laundry list of other potential things that can go wrong with transporters, that alone is more than enough to make the technology a reliable source of legitimately horrifying “Star Trek” stories.

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