June 13, 2014
Take Us To Warp
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the star-ship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Before we get started, yes, I know this was originally Kirk’s line in the original, but what can I say? I am a Next Generation fan.
The other day, my inbox was practically bombarded by friends and colleagues excitedly telling me about how Star Trek space travel technology will soon be real. Soon we will be able to travel across the stars at speeds nearing, or even exceeding, the speed of light. Somewhat skeptical of some of the more excitable of my friends, I decided to look into it myself and was actually surprised by what I found. As it turns out, NASA physicist and engineer Harold White has been working on a theory about how we might be able to travel faster than light, just like in Star Trek. Recently, this gained a great deal of popularity when graphic designer Mark Rademaker, working with White, created a CGI design for this warp-capable ship. They called it the IXS Enterprise. Fitting.
The design is absolutely astounding, looking like something you might see in Star Trek. Apparently, this was a very deliberate choice on the part of Rademaker, who said in an interview, “We wanted to have a decent image of a theory conforming Warp ship to motivate young people to pursue a STEM career. It does have some Sci-Fi features that might never transfer to a possible final design, unless we really want to.”
What is more impressive than the design, though, is the theory behind it. According to White’s theory, a warp ship such as the IXS Enterprise could allow for interstellar travel in mere weeks rather than the centuries it would take us with our present technology. This works by exploiting a “loophole” in Albert Einstein’s famous theory of relativity, which would allow a craft to travel at these seemingly impossible speeds by expanding space-time – and does that not sound right out of Star Trek – behind the ship while, at the same time, contracting space-time in front of it. What this would do is cause the empty space behind the ship to expand rapidly, which would push the craft forward. The speeds that are being discussed here are the sort that could transport a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in just two weeks. Note that Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light-years away.
White’s theory also includes a mathematically calculated way in which this might be accomplished using far less energy than what it was believed to require in order to pull this off. His concept involves those large rings you can see surrounding the craft, which will greatly reduce the amount of energy needed to warp space-time around the ship, forming what Rademaker called a “Warp Bubble,” which again, sounds right out of Star Trek.
White and his team are now working at NASA’s Eagleworks Labs to create a “proof of concept” for his theory, testing to see if they can make this incredible idea into a reality. As a longtime fan of Star Trek, and as someone eager to know what exists out there beyond the borders of our own Solar System, I will be hoping for their success.
Image Credit: Mark Rademaker via Flikr