I am a dreamer. And we, dreamers, don’t see “what is”, we don’t even see what “will be”. We see “it would be awesome if it would be like this” in every possible situation. And I dream big too. Therefore, when I think of “transportation of the future”, I don’t think of “even faster airplanes”, I don’t think of “hoverboards”, not even of “Hyperloop”. Bigger. I believe, that in the centuries to come, there’s only one kind of transportation that will matter.
Picture this. The year is 2117. The population of Earth: 15 billion humans and 300 million sentient dolphins. Chicago Cubs celebrate their fourth world series title, and “Super Mega Fastest and Obviously Terribly Furious: The Conclusion 3” hits the cinemas. However, overpopulation took its toll. The resources are almost depleted, and even our President of the United Earth, Colin Mochrie III seems helpless. Does it matter how fast you can get from one of the remaining bio-domes to another when the oxygen will soon be gone anyway? No, it doesn’t. There’s only one thing that matters. Zelrog V, a habitable planet some two hundred light years away, and the way to get there. And the “way” is FTL (Faster Than Light travel).
Back in high school, we were allowed to pick our own topics for a presentation for physics class. Being the nerd that I am, I chose the “Future of space travel – where NASA ends and Starfleet begins”. I had a really cool physics teacher.
Anyway, there are two hypothetical ways of traveling in FTL. By the way, it is, of course, imperative that we do travel faster than light. The speed of light is a joke by cosmic standards and we need something more if ambitions go further than, say, Jupiter. No, we need something faster, much more efficient. Preferably something that is fascinating enough to be pictured in sci-fi movies, but realistic enough to have people with degrees actually thinking about it. And to my surprise, there are, like I said, two ideas, that you didn’t even know are… well, to tone down the optimism, let’s just say they’re merely “discussed”.
The first one is, the so called “hyperspace“.
The most universal definition of hyperspace would go something like this: hyperspace is a dimension, in which the distances between points in our dimension are shorter. In science fiction, the idea is very popular, although often explained or depicted in very different ways. One of them is the “wormhole”, sort of a “tear” or a set of them in the fabric of our reality. Hypothetically, the wormhole, the existence of which has even been suggested by Einstein, would connect two points in our dimension, by creating a tunnel through another dimension.
The example that I came out for this technology, is this: imagine you need to get from, say, your home to your workplace. In “our dimension”, you would need to exit the room, then possibly go down stairs, make your way through hallways, through the streets, turning to other streets, constantly avoiding cars, people, other obstacles, until you reach the workplace entrance. It’s the shortest way “our dimension”, the ground level offers. Now to enter the “hyperspace”, you would simply dig a hole, and build an underground tunnel, a straight line from your home all the way to your work, and then dig yourself up. Technically, you covered the same distance, but since there was no need to turn or avoid obstacles, and you traveled in a straight line, your path was shorter in hyperspace.
It’s impossible to tell (today) how far away from each other the points between which we would travel could be, or how much energy would this way of traveling require. Unfortunately, our best source of material on the hyperspace technology still is the Stargate franchise, which, you understand, is no reliable source at all. But still worth watching, seventeen seasons of amazing TV.
However, there is another theory, and it looks more promising. And while I don’t want you to get too ecstatic just yet, some excitement is understandable. Ladies and gentlemen, the real life Warp Drive.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek, the man who introduced sci-fi nerds to the Warp technology needed a way to make the traveling between the stars look at least somewhat believable. When the show was still just a concept, Mr. Roddenberry spent some time with scientists, physicists, employees of NASA, and asked them to come up with a theory that would explain the FTL adventures. That’s how the Warp Drive was born.
Because you see, the idea of “warping space” was already an actual idea among scientists. Of course, nothing more than that, just an idea. But as the decades passed, more and more evidence of the possibility of the space being elongated, shortened or manipulated in another way were discovered.
The Warp Drive, both in sci-fi and “not necessarily not” in the real world, would work by doing exactly that – reshaping the space. An object, preferably a spaceship, would simply shorten the space ahead of it, and spread it behind it. Then, without technically traveling faster than it usually does, hence avoiding the time dilation effect, it would cross much, much greater distances than it normally would.
An example. Let’s say you take one step per second, each step is one meter long. To cross a 100-meter long carpet, you would need 100 seconds. Now, imagine, that still standing at one end of the carpet, you’re pulling it to yourself, then taking just one step over the rolled carpet, and unrolling it all behind yourself. You cross a hundred meters in just one second, just one step, without moving any faster than usual.
That’s why these starships in Star Trek always seem to get very long before disappearing in a “blink” – the entire space gets longer.
The fun part is, Dr. Harold “Sonny” White, a NASA scientist worked together with a 3D artist, Mark Rademaker to create a model of a ship that would be best equipped to use this technology. It’s a great way to make it all feel “real”, isn’t it?
And let’s face it, it’s time for us to move around in the universe. I mean, I’m not a fan of apocalyptic theories, I think the human kind will make do when it will need to. I don’t think we’re that desperate to search for colonies that would decide whether we survive as a species or not. But the whole creation is out there waiting for us. We can see only that much on and from our little rock. We are explorers in our hearts, that’s what I believe. And there’s nothing more for us to discover here.
“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”
Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.
Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.”
“The Pale Blue Dot”, Carl Sagan
Enjoy the music, if you can.