Written by Dabney B. on Monday, October 1st, 2012
A few decades ago America put a man on the moon. Today, we’ve got a rover puttering around the surface of Mars. The mysterious universe that surrounds us is slowly becoming less and less mysterious. We’ve made leaps and bounds understanding our own solar system, but the dream of one day reaching another star system through warp drive technology seems like a distant impossibility more at home in science-fiction movies than reality.
Well, believe it or not, some NASA scientists are actually optimistic about the possibility for interstellar travel. Dr. Harold “Sonny” White of the NASA Johnson Space Center recently published a document in which he argued that warp speed technology could be on the horizon. Yeah, exactly like in the Star Trek television series.
Travelling faster than the speed of light isn’t very practical. For one, physicists think that it’s not even possible. Also, anybody who travels at the speed of light will age at a slower rate than the rest of the universe, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. If you hop in a space ship and fly around at light speed for a year, you could return home to find that Earth has aged hundreds of years in your absence.
White hopes that scientists will be able to find some sort of warp bubble that will enable ships to travel at speeds faster than the speed of light, but without suffering from that weird time relativity problem. He even went so far as to say, “a Star Trek experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.”
White explained in layman’s terms: “Those equations are tested using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. By harnessing the physics of cosmic inflation, future spaceships crafted to satisfy the laws of these mathematical equations may actually be able to get somewhere unthinkably fast—and without adverse effects. The math would allow you to go to Alpha Centauri in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth. So somebody’s clock aboard the spacecraft would have the same rate of time as somebody in mission control here in Houston might have. There are no tidal forces inside the bubble, no undue issues, and the proper acceleration is zero. When you turn the field on, everybody doesn’t go slamming against the bulkhead, which would be a very short and sad trip.”
Normally, physicists and movie makers don’t really need to see eye-to-eye on physics. The audience is willing to believe that a space ship will run on dilithium crystals, even though (in the real world) dilithium is just a pair of lithium atoms that have fused together – hardly suitable for rocket fuel. In the not-so-distant future, Star Trek writers and directors like George Lucas might actually need to sit down with consulting groups like Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. to make sure that their warp speed technology meshes with reality.
The Air Force, NASA, and the US government have worked together to send a man to the moon and a rover to Mars. How long before we send an astronaut to Alpha Centauri, the next-closest star in our universe?
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