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Could NASA be about to break physics?
It took three days for the Apollo mission astronauts to reach the moon, but if postings on NASASpaceFlight.com are to be believed, this time could be cut to hours by engineers working on technology that breaks physics as we understand it.
Now you may think listening to internet forums is a sure-fire way to report crazed witterings as news, and typically you’d be right, but the posters discussing the technology have been verified as genuine NASA engineers working on the plan, according to CNET. The technology would allow travel at the speed of light – or even breaking it. And NASA has already successfully tested it in conditions similar to outer space, apparently.
How? Well, it involves the electromagnetic drive – or EM drive, to its friends. At this point we’d recommend nodding, going ‘oh’ and moving on with your day, because things get a lot more complicated.
Want more? Oh okay. Strap in.
The EM drive works on the idea that you convert electrical energy into thrust without using the fuel found in rockets. This shouldn’t be possible, as it breaks the law of conservation of momentum. When people say “rules are there to be broken,” they don’t typically mean laws of physics, but this time they do. The law states that momentum can only be changed by using one of Newton’s laws of motions – the same way traditional rockets work. More hard science available by following the chatter on the NASA Space Flight forum.
While the EM drive itself is nothing new, this is the first time its been used in conditions similar to outer space – and obviously that’s where the advantages of traveling at light speed would really be felt. It’s not the kind of tech you’d use to nip down to the shops for some milk – you’d likely miss the carpark by several thousands of miles.
Could this mean Star Trek style warp drives? Hopefully.
NASA didn’t respond to CNET’s request for comment, but Paul March an engineer working on the project and a prolific poster to the forum did, saying “My work at Eagleworks is just a continuation of my work tackling the fundamental problem that has been hindering manned spaceflight from the termination of the Apollo moon program. That being the availability of a robust and cost-effective power and propulsion technology that can break us loose from the shackles of the rocket equation.”
“Just.” We love his modesty!
It’s a long way from being installed in all our spaceships – it needs to go through several tests and peer review, and as CNET points out, “any spacecraft that ends up using an EM drive will basically need a substantial onboard nuclear power plant that will need to be developed for such a specific use in space.”
Still, if we can break our understanding of physics, anything’s possible. Right?