BBC Focus - Science & Technology|July 2020
In the universe of Star Trek, on 5 April 2063, humanity ventures out into the Galaxy on the first ship capable of faster-than-light travel, the USS Enterprise. The newly invented ‘warp drive’ not only lets humans explore the cosmos, but also attracts the attention of Vulcans and brings about our first contact with an alien species.
It’s been 54 years since we were first introduced to the USS Enterprise, and many of the futuristic technologies from Star Trek have since been invented, from handheld communicators to universal translators. A warp drive is the next obvious choice: Voyager 1, which has travelled further from Earth than any spacecraft, took nearly 35 years to leave the Solar System. Not exactly handy for interstellar travel.
Luckily for humanity, theoretical physicists have been working on it. In May 2020, NASA scientist Dr Harold ‘Sonny’ White released an internal feasibility report discussing the technology from the point of view of ‘early mission planning’.
FASTER THAN LIGHT
The first scientific theory of warp drives came about in 1994, when theoretical physicist Dr Miguel Alcubierre used Einstein’s theory of General Relativity to develop a framework that would allow faster-than-light travel within the confines of the laws of physics. The key that makes it possible is that, technically, the ship itself doesn’t travel faster than light.
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