Faster Than the Speed of Light?

Harold G. White, a NASA physicist, is working on the concept of warp drive, like on "Star Trek." Some of the original series' ideas fit into the new warp field theories, like the round shape of the engines in the rendering.

Beyond the security gate at the Miguel Alcubierre, theorized that faster-than-light speeds were possible in a way that did not contradict Einstein, though Dr. Alcubierre did not suggest anyone could actually construct the engine that could accomplish that.

Harold G. White uses an interferometer to measure any change caused in a photon’s trajectory.
Harold G. White uses an interferometer to measure any change caused in a photon’s trajectory.

His theory involved harnessing the expansion and contraction of space-time by generating a so-called “warp bubble” that would expand space on one side of a spacecraft and contract it on another.

“In this way, the spaceship will be pushed away from the Earth and pulled towards a distant star by space-time itself,” Dr. Alcubierre wrote. Dr. White has likened it to stepping onto a moving walkway at an airport.

But Dr. Alcubierre’s paper was purely theoretical, and suggested insurmountable hurdles. Among other things, it depended on large amounts of a little understood or observed type of “

He is quick to offer up his own caveats, however, saying his warp research is akin to a university science project that is just trying to prove that a microscopic warp bubble can be detected in a lab. ”We’re not bolting this to a spacecraft,” he said of the warp NASA in 2000, starting his career at the agency by operating the arms of space shuttles. He got his doctorate in physics from Rice University in 2008, and now works on a range of projects aimed at taking NASA beyond the fiery rockets that have long characterized space travel.

For NASA, Dr. White’s warp speed experiments represent a rounding error in its budget, with about $50,000 spent on equipment in an agency that spends nearly $18 billion annually. The agency is far more focused on more achievable projects — building the next generation Orion series spacecraft, working on the International Dr. Harold White at Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, with a low thrust torsion pendulum.

Dr. Harold White at Steve Stich, the deputy director of engineering at the Johnson Space Center, said, “You always have to be looking towards the future.” He held up his iPhone.

“Forty Captain Kirk talking on a communicator whenever he wanted to,” he said. “But today it exists because people made the battery technology, worked on the computational technology, the touch screen.”

Theoretically, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months. But we should probably not book reservations anytime soon.

“My personal opinion is that the idea is crazy for now,” said Edwin F. Taylor, a former editor of The American Journal of Physics and senior research scientist at M.I.T. “Check with me in a hundred years.”

But Richard Obousy, a physicist who is president of Icarus Interstellar, a nonprofit group composed of volunteers collaborating on starship design, said “it is not airy-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,” he said of the work of Dr. White, who is a friend and Icarus collaborator.

Dr. White likened his experiments to the early stages of the Manhattan Project, which were aimed at creating a very small nuclear reaction merely as proof that it could be done.

DANNY HAKIM - the New York Times