Warp Speed Ahead!
"Star Trek" isn't just a summer blockbuster -- some of it is real science, like warp speed and the flip phone.
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Geek alert! The new "Star Trek" film opens this week. And it's going to be full of great gadgets; but are we even close to developing the technology we see in films like "Star Trek"? Are we ever going to be able to travel at warp speed or beam ourselves to work or, better, Hawaii? And if the Klingons attack, are we going to be able to live in space?
From Jules Verne's novels inspiring the development of submarines, and the Starship Enterprise spurring the development of the flip phone, science fiction has offered numerous ideas for new technologies. Marc Millis is the former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, and on "The Takeaway," he explores "Star Trek" and the science of the future.
Millis on where pop culture meets real technology: "Here's the obvious one: I got a real cell phone before I was even able to attain this toy ... the communicator. And ... I remember the sliding doors, and how many grocery stores have those.
"But when it comes to the spacecraft itself, and its engines, all that is in the realm of fiction today ... here's another big one that's usually taken for granted that "Star Trek" has that is really not able to be done yet -- they have gravity on board -- synthetic gravity on board ... that would be a big deal."
Millis explains "warp drive": "1994 was the first time it came out in a peer review journal, and the author did use the title "warp drive." But even though there's a speed limit for how fast something can move through space-time, what you can do with space-time itself is still up for debate. And the idea here is that you move a chunk of space-time faster than light and carry inside it the vehicle, and to the people on board the vehicle, they don't even know they're moving. And this is done by expanding space-time behind it, and compressing space-time in front of it.
"This is at the level of theory of mathematical equations, which gets to some of the bad news: The amount of energy it would require to do that is enormous."
He estimates it would take roughly about 20 minutes to get to Mars on warp speed.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.