I’d hoped this New York Times story on warp drive research contained was actual news, but it’s just a rehash of stuff I linked to last fall so apparently there’s been no actual progress. That’s what happens when you let the NYT get your hopes up:
Dr. White likened his experiments to the early stages of the Manhattan Project, which were aimed at creating a very small nuclear reaction merely as proof that it could be done.
They tried to go through and demonstrate a nuclear reactor and generate half a watt,” he said. “That’s not something you’re going to market. Nobody’s going to buy that. It’s just making sure they understood the physics and science.”
While I think this is way cool and exactly the sort of ragged-edge R&D that NASA should pursue vigorously, my enthusiasm is curbed by the thudding crash of lumbering reality. In particular, this stuck out like a sore thumb:
For NASA, Dr. White’s warp speed experiments represent a rounding error in its budget, with about $50,000 spent on equipment in an agency that spends nearly $18 billion annually. The agency is far more focused on more achievable projects — building the next generation Orion series spacecraft, working on the International Space Station and preparing for a planned future mission to capture an asteroid.
What, exactly, has NASA “achieved” in terms of new vehicle development since barely dragging the Shuttle across the finish line thirty-odd years ago? It’s an easy answer: think of a whole number that falls between 1 and -1. Null. Nil. ZERO. And the amount of money they’ve spent on all those cancelled projects? Well, it’s something approaching the exact opposite of zero.
So yeah, this would all sound a lot more impressive if I had more confidence in the guvmint’s ability to see any high-tech project through to completion, much less on time. Or on budget. Of course, they’re real good at stuff like tapping our cell phones or reading our e-mails (“Yes, Verizon? I’m interested in your ‘share EVERYTHING’ plan…). But when it comes to next-level tech projects that don’t involve violating their constitutional limits? Yeah, not so much.
Having sold the fusion facility in its current incarnation as a device for testing the reliability of nuclear weapons, the lab’s leaders now are back to selling it as an energy machine. The lab’s director told CBS’s “60 Minutes” earlier this year that NIF’s aim is to generate “clean, limitless power.” He said that would free the United States of greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on Mideast oil, and that commercialization of the technology could begin in ten years.
Good grief. Sounds like they’re setting up a plot device for the next Marvel Avengers movie. Come to think of it, NIF wasn’t a total waste since it made for a really cool set in the new Star Trek movie. So there’s that.
It’s all fun and games until someone has to climb inside the warp core.