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This incredible 'Warp Ship' design might someday take us to the stars

Credit: Mark Rademaker - Holland Space Yards

Credit: Mark Rademaker - Holland Space Yards

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 2:56 PM - When the words "warp drive" show up in a story, it's natural for ones thoughts to immediately turn to Star Trek. However, this concept might not stay in the realm of science fiction for long, and the IXS Enterprise, shown here from Dutch 3D artist and 'Starship Designer' Mark Rademaker, might just be the ship that sees fantasy turned into reality.

Rakemaker's design comes from a collaboration with graphic designer and self-professed 'Space geek' Michael Okuda, who is perhaps best known for his work on Star Trek, and NASA scientist Dr. Harold 'Sonny' White. The results Rademaker came up with (check out his Flickr account for the full versions) are just incredible.

Story continues below:

Credit: Mark Rademaker - Holland Space Yards

Credit: Mark Rademaker - Holland Space Yards

The idea of travelling through the stars at faster than the speed of light is at the heart of science fiction universes like Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. Basically, if the intrepid starship crew can't hop from planet to planet in a matter of days or weeks, the entire concept of the show breaks down. Based on the laws of physics, though, the only thing that can travel at the speed of light is light itself, and nothing can travel faster. It's the 'universal' speed limit. If anything approaches the speed of light, time slows down around it, its mass increases very quickly, and the amount of energy needed to drive it faster increases as well, leading up to needing an infinite amount of energy to drive an infinite-mass starship (and crew), which is impossible.

However, there's a loophole here. Nothing can travel through the universe faster than the speed of light, but the universe itself isn't bound by that limit. Spacetime can expand and contract at any speed. This is how Star Trek's warp drive has been explained, and this is what Dr. White has been working on for NASA, in his investigations of what's called an Alcubierre drive. Basically, if you can 'tweak' the universe in just the right way, you can expand spacetime behind your ship, and contract spacetime in front of your ship. The little 'bubble' of normal spacetime your ship is resting on is then suddenly much further away from where it started and much closer to its destination. There's no acceleration or deceleration (no 'inertial dampeners' needed). The piece of space where you're at simply gets carried along to wherever you wanted it to go (within reason). According to Dr. White, if we wanted to use this to travel to Alpha Centauri, our closest neighbouring star system (4.35 light years or over 40 trillion kilometers away) we could do it in just two weeks. 

The entire concept is still only in the speculative phase (you can check out NASA's progress page here), but given how big space is, if we don't see if this is actually possible, we could be stuck in our solar system until the end of time. 

You can check out Dr. White's ideas in this video, filmed at a talk he gave at SpaceVision 2013, the student run space conference at Arizona State University:

A sharp eye will give you the hypothetical date when this 'warp ship' gets built (the year 2086, 3rd image from the bottom). That might be optimistic, but we've come a long way with technology in the past 70 years, so who knows what breakthroughs are still coming to us.  Quite frankly, given all the exoplanet discoveries being announced, especially the ones about nearby planets that could potentially harbour life, if the concept of the 'warp drive' is actually possible, and we can actually build a ship like Rademaker's IXS Enterprise... sign me up and let's go!

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