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NASA Scientist: 'Star Trek' Warp Speed Is Doable

By Mark Holthaus   |   Monday, 31 Dec 2012 12:38 PM

NASA is not your father's space agency.

Bored with Earth orbits, moon landings, even putting roving camera on Mars, its scientists are thinking big: Last week's revelation was capturing a passing asteroid to use as a mid-space refueling station. Now they want to jump light years ahead by bending time.

Harold White of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston says developing a "warp drive" capable of propelling a space vehicle faster than the speed of light could be doable. He told a government-backed symposium dedicated to interstellar travel that he and associates already are tinkering in his Eagleworks Laboratories on a technology that could allow a real starship to achieve the same speeds as the fictional Enterprise of Star Trek fame.

"Perhaps a 'Star Trek' experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility," White said in a paper prepared for the Exotic Research Group of Icarus Interstellar, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to achieving interstellar flight by 2100.

White said his lab is doing the mathematics and physics required to find answers that defy traditional Newtonian laws and still obey the 11th commandment: “Thou shall not exceed the speed of light.”

A warp drive would take advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light by manipulating the space-time continuum, according to Space.com, which tracks news on space exploration. By generating a space-time bubble around the starship, a region of contracted space would be created in front of the warp and a region of expanded space would be created behind it. The starship's bubble would jump ahead as much as 10 times the speed of light while the starship in it wouldn't actually move at all.

The warp-drive theory was first expounded on in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, according to the Science Channel, but calculations showed that the energy needed to move was more than exists in the universe.

White now thinks energy needed can be whittled down to fit in a spacecraft about the size of the Voyager 1 probe that NASA launched in 1977, and he's playing with a mini version of a warp drive in his lab that uses a "White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer" to create micro versions of space-time bubbles.

"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," White told Space.com.

That's actually thinking big, a characteristic of the new NASA. For example, according to last week's proposal to the White House Office of Science and Technology, NASA scientists want to capture a 500-ton asteroid, move it through space, and then keep it in a predestined position to act as a refueling space station for astronauts making their way to Mars.

"While we are trying to reach neighbors within our solar system for the time being, we cannot help it if visions of distant star systems exist in our daydreams," says White.

If NASA ever achieves warp speed, wonder if it will it have to pay royalties to the estate of late television screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry who created the Star Trek franchise?

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