Scientists: We Can Build the Starship Enterprise

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 5:05 PM EDT

While we were all poring over Mitt Romney's aversion to the poor, physicists in Texas gathered to work on bending the space-time continuum so that spacecraft can travel 10 times faster than the speed of light. 

Clara Moskowitz at Space.com has this Quantum Leap episode—er, story—detailing how the researchers are trying to make the concept "popularized in television's Star Trek" run efficiently and, you know, realistically:

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind...Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn't being warped at all...[S]cientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

The recent brainstorming on interstellar travel was conducted by a diverse array of scientists participating in a NASA- and Pentagon-backed summit in Houston. Previous studies had concluded that, in order to function, a single warp drive would likely require an amount of energy on par with the mass-energy of Jupiter (which is a lot). New calculations by the Johnson Space Center suggest that if the shape of the ring around the spaceship were "adjusted into more of a rounded donut," the drive could run on a mass roughly the size of the famous unmanned space probe Voyager 1.

This would give you an estimated speed of 6.7 billion miles per hour.

There you have it. The era of the man-made space-time warp may soon be upon us. It's just too bad that time travel...

By XXBy xkcd

...has largely been panned as impossible by the scientific community.