To do this, they would need to break, or at least bend the rules of time and space famously laid out by Albert Einstein over 50-years ago.
Undeterred, Dr. Harold G. White and his team have begun small-scale experiments using infinitesimally small photons that could have galactic sized ramifications for the future of space travel for mankind.
Dr. White, 43, is trying to manipulate or ‘warp’ the trajectory of a photon – put simply, he wants to see whether he can fold time and space around the photon to allow it to travel a greater distance, but at the same speed.
‘And we know that when you look at some of the cosmology models, there were early periods of the universe where there was explosive inflation, where two point would’ve went receding away from each other at very rapid speeds.
‘Nature can do it. So the question is, can we do it?’
Despite the speed of light being seen as an absolute, Dr. White has been inspired by Mexican physicist, Miguel Alcubierre, who postulated a theory that allowed for faster-than-light but without contradicting Einstein
His theory was published in 1994 and involved enormous amounts of energy being used to expand and contract space itself – thereby generating a ‘warp bubble’ in which a spacecraft would travel.
Allowing space and time to act as the propellant by pulling the craft through the bubble, Dr. White explained it to the New York Times as stepping onto a moving walkway at an airport.
Despite Dr. Alcubierre stating his theory was simply conjecture, Dr. White thinks he and his team are edging towards making the realm of warp speed attainable.
However, Dr. White admits that his research is still small-scale and is light years away from any type of engine that could be constructed into a space ship like the USS Enterprise.
NASA is cautiously supportive of Dr. White’s research with Steve Sich, the deputy director of engineering at the Johnson Space Center daying, ‘You always have to be looking towards the future.’
Holding up his iPhone, Sich said, ‘Forty years ago, this was Star Trek, Captain Kirk talking on a communicator whenever he wanted to. But today it exists because people made the battery technology that allows his device to exist, worked on the software technology, worked on the computational, the touch screen.’
Developing any form of warp drive would allow mankind to cut travel times to other star systems from tens of thousands of years to months.
Indeed, Richard Obousy, a supporter of the work of Dr. White says that more money should be put into developing the technology behind warp drives.
‘We tend to overestimate what we can do on short time scales, but I think we massively underestimate what we can do on longer time scales,’ said Obousy, who is president of Icarus Interstellar, a group working on a faster than light design.
Hoping to stop anyone getting carried away, Dr. Alcubierre pointed out a massive structural problem with any warp drive.
‘At speeds larger than the speed of light, the front of the warp bubble cannot be reached by any signal from within the ship,’ he said.
‘This does not just mean we can’t turn it off; it is much worse. It means we can’t even turn it on in the first place.’