Fast, faster, FTL.

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

(Highly recommending watching this short movie)

Enjoy the music, if you can.

-Calmest Waters


12 thoughts on “Fast, faster, FTL.

  1. I like the way you have described warp drive. What a lot of sci-fi authors refer to as folding space, you don’t ‘engage’ (sorry Jean-Luc) but fold.

    It’s an interesting concept, which I think was well explained by Stephen Hawkins, where he described time as a flat sheet of paper, and the fastest way to travel from point A to point B was not to travel along the sheet, but to fold it and just hop from A to B where they came together.

    Top secrecy would be very much in effect if this was being developed, and governments being what they are, I often find myself wondering just how close humankind is to achieving this…and what else.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, travelling in FTL sounds awesome! Isn’t this essentially time travel though? I did a project about time travelling a couple of years ago at school where I found that you needed to travel faster than light in order to time travel – this lead to all sorts of complications, as you can imagine, involving the effects movement had on distance and time. For example, moving clocks run slower and moving objects become shorter; fascinating, right?! I wonder how these challenges will be tackled if FTL travel becomes a reality.

    I also wanted to bring up a paradox which I’ve come across involving time travel and therefore FTL travel. Imagine that you’ve just built a time machine and travelled back to a time when your grandfather was quite young. You kill him. Killing him means that your grandfather never met your grandmother, so your father was never born, which means you were never born and were never able to build the time machine in the first place. How is this possible? According to quantum mechanics, you’ve created another universe but I don’t think that the theory of relativity could explain this phenomena…

    Thanks for sharing your interests in this post Jake! I was wondering whether you’ve read the book ‘Hyperspace’ by Michio Kaku – I enjoyed reading it and I’d recommend it to you if you haven’t had the chance to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The time effect is called time dilation, the good, old “the faster you move, the slower the time goes”. However, both theories I discussed have their own way around it. The hyperspace, the less realistic one, makes your trips shorter by basically taking a shortcut through another dimension. But you don’t move faster – the way is shorter.

    The warp drive is similar in that manner: it’s the space that shortens or gets folded, while you don’t move any faster than normally per se.

    Any discussion about hyperspace at this point is only theoretical. However, the scientists behind the real world warp drive believe, that time dilation wouldn’t be an issue since it’s the space that is manipulated, not the object traveling.

    Oh, I absolutely love the grandfather paradox! It could be one of the topics on Brains Unite if it was up to me.
    One thing though: FTL travel wouldn’t in itself allow us to travel back in time. Even if the time dilation effect was indeed an issue, and would affect our travel, its only effect would be that people aboard the traveling ship would not feel the passing time the same way as the people, for instance, on a planet. So in a way, it could be a way of “going to the future”, but it would be a one-way trip, I’m afraid. In fact, this effect is real and it happened already. There are astronauts who technically traveled to the future, as the difference in time velocity on the International Space Station, that is constantly rushing around the globe, makes the astronauts age about 0,007 seconds slower than people on Earth.

    I’ll definitely check out the book you recommend, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kind of heading off on a tangent here…but, my thinking re the grandfather paradox would be that you aren’t going back to your own history, but effectively a copy of your own history; so in theory anything you do in that ‘stream’ would effect that version, and not your own. A split in the time stream in effect.
    Alternatively, if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, you couldn’t exist, so you couldn’t go back in time and kill your grandfather, which is the paradox. Though, that could mean that grandad exists in 2 states, both alive and dead (Shroedingers cat, anyone?) at the same time, and so do you. Two realities acting in parallel. Quantum superposition, or a closed time loop…

    Hey-ho…..An alternative to going faster would be to go at a regular pace, but slow down the ageing process of the passengers. The big problem with that is pretty obvious though, it would be a one way trip, because when you got back everybody you knew would be long gone.

    So, I guess it really all depends on what you want to achieve, if you need to be at the other end of the galaxy to intercept a huge comet hurtling towards us before its too late, warp drive. You are abandoning the planet to recolonise elsewhere, then maybe stasis is the way. Not that I fancy it, mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, what always seemed more “logical”, or maybe just more “instinctive”, was that after you travel back to the past, kill your grandfather, you don’t disappear, but when you return to the present it’s a world where your grandfather was killed years ago, and you have never been born. A world different than the one from which you came. Meanwhile the people from the world you came from live on, and you would have no way of returning to that timeline. But at this point, it’s, of course, all speculation.

      Hibernation certainly sounds more realistic than FTL travel, but like you said, it’s far inferior when it comes to conquering the space.
      I can’t imagine it being a long-term solution, not efficient enough. It *might* work for colonization, but then again, one thing goes wrong and you’re stranded in space, no way of completing your mission, no way of coming back. And there’s so much that could go wrong. Hibernation offers no safety net for conquering the space.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You might enjoy the short film, “One Minute Time Machine”, whi h you can see on YouTube, here…

    Please feel free to delete this post if deemed too off track!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When I was little, my dad had a Renault car, of 1964 vintage (engine in the back, and a weird shaped bonnet, kind of W shaped. Anyhoo) and we would be tootling along the m6 and I remember constantly dropping things and could never quite work out why they just fell, instead of falling to the back of the car. After all, the car was moving! Surely it should be in the air, and relative to its position, stationary while the car around it moves. We know that’s not so (and I do too now :D).

    Yet, in SciFi, they invented the inertial dampeners, so the crew don’t get turned into jam as they hit the bulkhead under the massive acceleration. I think that might be the biggest stumbling block. Our current fighter pilots have to wear anti gravity suits to stop them from blacking out in tight turns. That’s only mach 1!

    Being in stasis certainly would have it’s problems, not just the chance you might not wake up, automated navigation systems might make any number of errors (ever met a perfect computer? Imagine windows trying to run for 50 years. Oh, hi, blue screen), if there was a crew, then they would die of old age, and probably boredom, before getting to the target.

    I think I’ll risk the chance of being jam. Be over quicker if nowt else!


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