The space between star systems is usually known as interstellar space. To explore planets and objects outside our solar system, it is essential that we travel through interstellar space, a region largely filled with dust, cosmic rays, and matter in the form of ions, atoms, and molecules.
One of the first things that come to mind when talking about interstellar travel is the question of why. Why would anyone want to travel interstellar space given that we have not yet traveled within our solar system? The answer is simple — to discover new things. Remember, it is the final frontier even though we’ve technically not covered all our oceans, caves, or the Earth’s surface. Outside our solar system lies a vast ocean of mysteries that can yield scientific insights and technologies that can propel our species forward.
For instance, we might come across substances capable of resisting even the temperatures of the Sun. This might help us in harnessing the energy of the Sun. Or we might discover a black hole spinning faster than light, which could reveal the singularity inside and help us manipulate time and gravity at will, making things like time travel possible.
Despite such fantastic possibilities, investing in interstellar travel is still frowned upon by most businesses. This has to do with the high risk that comes with such investments. There is no guarantee that the spacecraft sent to explore interstellar space and beyond might send any data that can be used back home in a profitable manner.
And even if someone considers investing in such a project, the time taken to produce results is a big factor, dampening the enthusiasm. A spacecraft might take 20 years to breach through our solar system and enter interstellar space to explore new mineral-rich planets. Hence, for at least 20 years, the business that invested in the project will generate no revenues.
Even worse is the fact that the nearest solar system, Alpha Centauri, is 4.2 light years away. Considering that Voyager 1, the NASA satellite that has entered interstellar space, will take tens of thousands of years to reach Alpha Centauri, it is impossible for anyone to even invest a penny in interstellar projects with a view to exploring planets. That is, until, we create a hyper-fast spacecraft.
The warp drive
At NASA, Dr. Harold White is working on something that could make interstellar travel very possible within our lifetime — a warp drive.
A warp drive, based on the concepts developed by physicist Miguel Alcubierre, would allow spaceships to bend the space around them. This makes the distance between two points shorter, allowing for faster travel in-between. The best part is that the spaceship itself won’t be traveling at faster-than-light speeds, which means that it does not violate a major commandment of Einstein — you cannot travel faster than light.
“[There won’t be] tidal forces inside the bubble, no undue issues, and the proper acceleration is zero. When you turn the field on, everybody doesn’t go slamming against the bulkhead, which would be a very short and sad trip,” he said to Gizmodo.
According to White’s estimates, his warp drive could get a spacecraft from earth to Alpha Centauri in just about two weeks. That is definitely a massive improvement from Voyager 1’s thousands of years estimate.