Maybe Elon Musk isn’t thinking big enough?
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein’s law of relativity.
I’ve heard about this kind of research off-and-on for some time, and have to admit I thought it was nuts. But if it’s actually within reach of current technology (namely, enough energy to power such a thing) then, yeah. That’s the sort of out-there R&D that NASA ought to be working on, because new technology pretty much always starts with a lab experiment:
What White is waiting for is existence of proof — what he’s calling a “Chicago Pile” moment — a reference to a great practical example.
“In late 1942, humanity activated the first nuclear reactor in Chicago generating a whopping half Watt — not enough to power a light bulb,” he said. “However, just under one year later, we activated a ~4MW reactor which is enough to power a small town. Existence proof is important.”
Once the underlying science is understood, it becomes an engineering problem. And that’s where the really cool stuff gets done.
11/29 UPDATE: Warp Drive goes all respectable-like in the Atlantic Monthly.