Oct 11 2008
Will any future Captain Kirk ever say that for real?
In any case, growing excitement over a far-future interstellar propulsion system can be taken as evidence for early ebullience … a key characteristic of the approach to the next Maslow Window.
The September issue (Vol. 61, No. 9) of the prestigious Journal of the British Interplanetary Society features six articles on how we may someday be able to travel to the stars using a faster-than-light (FTL) warp drive.
Although this may sound impossible now — and indeed our Universe may prohibit it — the first serious scientific speculation about warp drive was published in 1994 by Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre. His solution to the Einstein field equations features a “bubble” of highly curved space-time powered by a local expansion of space-time at the bubble’s rear and a corresponding contraction in front. It’s especially nice because while the bubble is executing FTL speeds, the spacecraft — comfortably ensconced inside the bubble — remains at rest with respect to normal space-time and thus doesn’t fuss with annoying time dilations or relativistic mass increases. Old fashioned wormholes need not apply in this future scenario.
But for now, the Alcubierre drive remains “scientific speculation” because of 19 unsolved physical problems with the concept, according to BIS Warp Drive Symposium Chair K.F. Long. For example, it’s not known yet how to disturb space-time to produce the desired “bubble” or how to obtain the large amounts of negative energy needed to maintain it. Plus, the 2nd Law of Thermo may prohibit negative energy anyway.
But assuming it’s possible, how long do aspiring galactic explorers have to wait? Jeremy Gardiner offers an estimate based on an interesting historical analogy with manned spaceflight to the Moon. Although Galileo first observed the Moon’s mountains and valleys in 1610, the first fictional account of human Moon travel was in 1657 by Cyrano de Bergerac. That was even before Newton published the rules (e.g., gravity) about how to get there in 1687. Robert Goddard discussed the theory of rockets in 1919 and then demonstrated it for liquid propellants in 1926. After being refined by the Germans (V-2), the Russians, and the Americans, the first manned landing occurred in 1969 — slightly over 300 years after Cyrano’s fictional winged spacecraft with staged rockets!
The Warp Drive timeline includes Einstein’s Special and General Theory in 1905 and 1915, John W. Cambell’s 1930 novel that first described warp drive (and later movies and TV shows like Star Trek), and the 1994 Alcubierre warp paper. Thus Gardiner suggests a real warp drive might be available around 2180!
Mark your calendars…