Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Reinvigorating the Imagination in Space: Warp Drive

When I was a little girl, I loved space. My mother bemoaned the fact that the only fiction I read were Star Wars and Star Trek novels. I had tons of phasers, blasters, a homemade Original Series science officer uniform, Spock ears, and all the fiction I wrote dealt with science fiction and interstellar travel.

But as I got older, my dreams of space adventure faded. In middle school, I had the honor of attending Space Camp, which was awesome in a lot of ways. One of the things we did was go on a simulated mission in a shuttle. I was the pilot of the mission, which was very cool, but boy was it overwhelming with all the buttons, knobs, checklists, and Mission Control and I getting irritated at each other. I recall a moment, with my all too vivid imagination and the image on our monitors of space stretched out before us, of utter loneliness. I realized in a simulation that had no Vulcans or droids, no landing on other planets or encountering other spacecraft, that we are very isolated and alone in the universe. Whether aliens were real or not--I hadn’t made up my mind then (and still haven’t)--they weren’t there, and the vastness of space unfurled before us, incredible and unreachable. It was the first moment when my enthusiasm began to fade. It was like discovering I was allergic to my favorite food and could never enjoy it again. Worse perhaps.

Then as I got into high school and realized we weren’t really doing anything epic in space anymore, no serious attempts to get to Mars, no returning to the moon, no fantastic advancements, the dream sizzled and died. Star Wars and Star Trek were still cool, but instead of inspiring me, they were just fun escapes from reality.

I have friends who felt the same way. We all felt like the advances of science had shunned the glories of space and turned simply to the minutia of Earth. While the internet, cell phones, laser technology, and a vast array of other advances were impressive, it wasn’t the same. It was almost like admitting we could never reach the stars and giving up. And even as my dreams of space died too, it still saddened me.

Earlier this year, I saw a presentation on Google’s Lunar XPRIZE. That was exciting because it said to me that there are still people out there eagerly pursuing space and the adventures and awesomeness it can offer. But part of me whispered that even if someone wins, even if several teams manage to reach the moon, will it continue? Or will this be a small burst that fades quickly while the rest of us return to texting and surfing YouTube?

Over this last week, I started re-watching Babylon 5, one of my all time favorite SF shows. That tiny part of my mind that refused to completely die when it comes to imaging space began to stir. After all, Babylon 5 is an awesome show.

Wait. What? Did I hear that right?

While the skeptic in me started immediately knocking my little inner space adventurer in the head to silence her, that groggy astronaut didn’t heed him as much as usual. Actual warp drive might be possible within the foreseeable future, she said. That’s way to exciting to let myself go back into cryo.

From the little research I managed before writing this post, what NASA actually did was test a new type of drive in a vacuum, an EmDrive. It literally breaks the laws of physics. Isn’t that cool? I love it when science proves something possible that it once said was impossible. During the test, scientists sent lasers into the chamber and measured the speed of those lasers as exceeding the speed of light, thus implying that the EmDrive created a warp bubble.

Of course, none of this is proven, and it doesn’t mean we’ll be jumping aboard the Enterprise anytime soon, but the implications are huge. It could mean rocketing us out of space doldrums into a new era of exciting exploration and technology. We already functionally have communicators (cell phones) and computer and robotic technology that could easily fit in on a Star Trek episode. Why not the EmDrive? Why not warp drive? If we let ourselves dream about it again with this new study, just maybe we can make it reality.

I also ran across other pioneers in the fields of making science fiction science fact. Like the privately funded and run contestants of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, NASA and China aren’t the only sort of groups working on potential interstellar travel. I came across an article by Dan van Winkle back from January about a private individual working on creating warp drive in his garage, and according to the interview, the determined individual, David Pares, claims he’s close. To me, that’s an encouraging sign. Often in science, multiple researchers come close to significant discoveries near the same time. Recalling my high school biology II teacher, this was the case with determining the structure of DNA, which apparently has a whole exciting story of its own, including stealing others’ research. But as I don’t recall all the details, I won’t try to expound upon them now.

In either case, whether NASA, David Pares, or someone else figures warp drive out first, we may be on the brink of exciting new times. Maybe those of us who gave up on the dream can pull it out and dust it off again. Maybe it would be good for us to break a few laws of physics.

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