The development of the warp-drive for faster-than-light propulsion is known to every eager Star Trek fan: The physicist Zefram Cochrane “invented the warp-drive engine in the year 2063” being hindered by “evil time-traveling aliens”. “It wasn’t easy.” In this way Cochrane established the basis for the interstellar voyages of the starship Enterprise centuries later.
In the real world at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Harold “Sonny” White investigates the feasibility of building a real warp-drive engine. He assembled an experiment to create tiny distortions in space-time. This experiment may lead to the development of a system that generates a bubble of warped space-time around a spacecraft. Instead to further increase the craft’s top speed this bubble may allow to “sidestep the laws of physics that prohibit faster-than-light travel, allowing to cross the vast interstellar distances in a matter of weeks.
(For the author of the article) It is heartening to see that the federal government also invests in projects like the one of Mr. White that are challenging and even considered impossible by some physicists.
A surprising number of scientists engineers and amateur space enthusiasts believe in interstellar travel. They shared their hopes and hypotheses at academic conferences and founded organizations that seek to lay the groundwork for an unmanned interstellar mission. Their ardor has grown in recent years as astronomers have detected several earth-like planets that orbit stars in a habitable distance, stars that are relatively near to our sun.
“The problem is getting there in a reasonable amount of time.” NASA already has a probe in interstellar space. Voyager 1 launched in 1977 left our solar system in 2012. At its current speed of 38.610 miles per hour it would take 70.000 years to reach any of the nearby stars. “Researches need to make some serious breakthroughs in spacecraft propulsion to get there faster.”
In contrast to Mr. White most interstellar enthusiasts focused their attention to less hypothetical technologies. Icarus Interstellar, for example, is coordinating a study of a mission that would use the energy that is emitted by the fusion of atomic nuclei. “If this energy could be properly controlled and harnessed it could accelerate a probe to […] speeds, thousands of times faster than Voyager 1. But researchers have been trying to build a fusion power plant for the past fifty years without much success.”
With these enormous speeds even the microscopic interstellar dust causes plenty of damage. “A spacecraft would have to be equipped with heavy shielding” needing more energy to accelerate. On the other hand there is the need to decelerate before reaching the destination. The probe would have to use its engines to slow down. In a nutshell the spacecraft would need to carry an even heavier load of fuel. The complications of interstellar travel seem endless, its difficulty tremendous.
“The dream of interstellar travel remains stubbornly alive.” Symposia are hold and new conferences are hosted. “At these times, when NASA has difficulties to fund its priorities” interstellar travel seems premature. But advocates argue that interstellar travel is essential to humanity’s long-term survival. As long as humans are confined to earth they are at risk of extinction by a planetary catastrophe.
So maybe the fate of humans lies among the stars looking something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
- word count: 540
- time taken: 7 hours 10 minutes
I’ am not sure about this summary. It seems to me more like a shortened version of the original article.