According to NASA physicist and engineer Dr. Harold G. White, 43, it is possible to bend the rules of time and space that Albert Einstein constructed when he said that it is impossible to exceed the speed of light. If White is correct, NASA could be closer to the dream of Trekkies everywhere of building a warp-drive engine and to travelling faster than the speed of light.
How might it be possible to exceed Einstein’s galactic speed limit?
White’s research and thinking about the possibility of creating a warp-drive engine and flying faster than the speed of light is based on the theories of Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who in 1994 theorized that exceeding Einstein’s galactic speed limit was possible if scientists discovered a way to harness the expansion and contraction of space.
The way this expansion and contraction of space might be harnessed is by creating a “warp bubble” that expands space on one side of a spaceship and contracts it on the other. By doing this: “the spaceship will be pushed away from the Earth and pulled towards a distant star by space-time itself,” according to Dr. Alcubierre in his hypothesis.
As one step towards realizing his goal, Dr. White is trying to warp the trajectory of a photon to see if he can propel its travel at faster-than-light speeds. His laboratory floats above a system of underground pneumatic piers. It was constructed in a way that it would be free from seismic disturbances. This is because his team’s measuring devices can pick up the smallest vibrations, even those created from people who are walking nearby.
Since nature can travel at warp speeds, Dr. White reasons that there is a chance that humans can figure out how to do it too.
According to White:
Space has been expanding since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. And we know that when you look at some of the cosmology models, there were early periods of the universe where there was explosive inflation, where two points would’ve went receding away from each other at very rapid speeds.”
The potential construction of a spaceship like the USS Enterprise lies in the distant future, but White is convinced that such a project could open doors for far-reaching space travel. Developing such a warp drive would allow NASA to drastically reduce travel times to other star systems from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months. Astronauts, with such technology, could take quick trips to explore other solar systems.
Edwin F. Taylor, a former editor of The American Journal of Physics and senior research scientist at MIT, states:
The idea is crazy for now. [But] check with me in a hundred years.”
According to Richard Obousy, a physicist and president of Icarus Interstellar, the idea:
…is not air-fairy, pie in the sky. We tend to overestimate what we can do on short time scales, but I think we massively underestimate what we can do on longer time scales.”
Dr. Alcubierre, who has never met Dr. White, said that a major problem that would have to be overcome is that a warp bubble “cannot be reached by any signal from within the ship” and can’t be turned on or off in the first place.
Dr. White and his team are continuing their research despite the odds. They believe that they can bring warp speed into the realm of the possible, and if they are correct, NASA might be closer to bringing a warp-drive engine like the one that the Starship Enterprise uses to reality.