A staple of science fiction movies and stories for generations, traveling faster than light at more than 186,000 miles per second makes it relatively easy to go from one spot in the universe to another. Although it’s fine for fiction, the fact isn’t so simple. Einstein’s equations seem to have closed the door on traveling to other stars even over several human lifetimes.
But wait! Maybe there’s a way to travel faster than the universe seems to permit without violating any speed laws. NASA now says there may be a way to circumvent Special Relativity while obeying it at the same time.
How? By using a loophole in the math that allows space itself to be traveling faster than light (FTL). Theoretically, a region of space traveling faster than the surrounding space can travel faster-than-light.
Making space itself travel faster is within the realm of physical possibility, NASA explains. To achieve FTL travel a high-energy field (or bubble) would be created around the ship and nearby space. The bubble can be warped using exotic matter or energy. To travel to another star system—whether that be nearby Alpha Centauri or far away Wolf 359—astronauts would shrink the space in front of the ship and inflate the bubble behind them. [Device warping spacetime.]
Voila! Light speed is surpassed as you enter warp.
The NASA Glenn research Center notes that although much of the science gleaned from the field of physics leans towards faster-than-light (FTL) travel being impossible, that’s because of some of the math present in Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Yet among the ideas of how to circumvent the supposed speed limit of the universe, warping spacetime may be the most viable.
Describing Alcubierre’s warp drive, a theoretical technology that uses a field of negative energy surrounding a space vessel and warping moving spacetime.
“In the case of the Alcubierre warp drive,” NASA explains, this moving section of spacetime is created by expanding spacetime behind the ship…and by contracting spacetime in front of the ship.”
The 100-Year Starship project
A project has been launched by some engineers, astrophysicists and other space enthusiasts called The 100-Year Starship.” One goal is to discover viable FTL methods.
One of the participants at the symposium, Harold “”Sonny” White, is already working to create a working warp bubble in the lab. White, a top NASA researcher at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, believes a ship shaped like a football might do the job if traveling within a ring of exotic matter. And it could be accomplished with something that only has several thousand pounds of mass.
White is quoted by Dvice.com as saying, “The math would allow you to go to Alpha Centauri in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth. So somebody’s clock on board the spacecraft has the same rate of time as somebody in mission control here in Houston might have. There are no tidal forces, 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.”
To achieve FTL travel will take less energy that previously assumed, White told an attentive audience at the gathering. He explained warp drives could be generated by devices with no more mass than that of a small automobile.
“The findings I presented today,” he told Space.com, “change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation. The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”
Power sources to create a warp field may use exotic energy triggered by nuclear fuel. Recently, a proposal to power more conventional spacecraft with nuclear waste was suggested by the European Space Agency.
Anatoly Perminov the director of Roscosmos, the Russian counterpart of NASA, told the Russian news agency RIA in 2011 that a joint Russian-US nuclear spacecraft project is something he supports.
Besides the US, other countries that have nuclear expertise will be included in the proposal, Perminov added. Those countries will include China, Japan, Germany, and France.
What would advanced warp drive starships look like? Will they all appear like uninteresting footballs in space?
Well, not if “BTE (Build the Enterprise) Dan,” has his way. The US engineer has unveiled an inspiring and bold plan to go where NASA has never gone before, namely build James T. Kirk’s starship Enterprise. He wants to build a full scale U.S.S. Enterprise in Earth or lunar orbit. The official project name is the “Gen1 Enterprise.”