Starship Enterprise model at the Smithsonian (Wikimedia) (Wikimedia)

Faster-than-light travel? Make it so

NASA scientists are working on a Star Trek-inspired warp drive


Natasha Lennard
September 18, 2012 4:34PM (UTC)

Star Trek fans will be familiar with the idea of a warp drive -- the way in which the Starship Enterprise moved comfortably faster than the speed of light.

Those more familiar with the laws of physics than TV might believe that faster-than-light travel is not technically possible but NASA scientists are trying to "make it so."

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Space.com reports that "there is hope" based on new research. According to Space.com:

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

No, you can't travel faster-than-light, but, in very basic terms, a warp drive would work to manipulate space-time around a starship, creating a zone of contracted space-time in front of the ship and expanded space-time behind it. "With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit," reports Space.com.

NASA is now experimenting with mini warp drives. "We're trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million," an agency scientist said. One small step for man, one giant leap for Trekkie-kind.


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Nasa Physics Science Star Trek Television

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