Search Glenn

Go

Text Size

As of March 1, 1999 the Lewis Research Center is officially renamed the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field. Because of the historical nature of some web pages, the references to NASA Lewis have not been changed to NASA Glenn.

Where Fact Meets Fiction

Can science boldly go where "Star Trek" has already been?

By Kristin K. Wilson, Media Relations Office; orginailly printed in the March 3, 1995 edition of the Lewis News

Have you ever wondered when we will be able to travel to distant stars as easily as in Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek"?

Marc Millis, an aerospace engineer in the Space Propulsion Technology Division, spends much of his free time examining the possibilities. He has presented his findings at two "Star Trek" conventions and recently at the Lewis Visitor Center.

Inspired by the Apollo moon missions as a child, Millis became fascinated with the technology that enables humanity to explore new frontiers. At the same time, the television series "Star Trek" was fueling his imagination to look beyond present technology and focus on the high tech advances that would be necessary for us to boldly go where no one has gone before.

In the spirit of community outreach, relevance, and revolutionary technology, three of values professed by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, Millis enjoys speaking to public audiences about the advances required to enable the ultimate human quest--the exploration of distant worlds.

Using familiar visions from 'Star Trek,' such as warp drive and transporters, helps everyone understand the comparisons between today's technology and where we would like to be," Millis explained.

How far away is science from enabling us to travel across the galaxy faster than the speed of light?

For warp drive to exist, Millis explained there must be two breakthroughs in physics--control over gravity and the ability to exceed light speed. While the timeframe for these discoveries is impossible to pinpoint, antimatter--the futuristic fuel that has propelled every starship since the "Star Trek" series began--is real science. Millis said that antimatter may not be a practical energy source even if its cost of $100 billion per milligram were significantly reduced.

Millis also had some bad news for everyone who has dreamed of one day saying those magic words--"Beam me up, Scotty."

"It's very convenient to make the story lines move fast, but transporters are even more unrealistic than warp drive or controlling gravity."

And what about the possibility of phasers, a Holodeck (an advanced virtual reality program), or androids like Data on the first "Star Trek" spinoff, "The Next Generation"?

"Once we have the science to create all of these things, it will take 50 to 100 years to put into design," Millis said.

For millions of fans, "Star Trek" is the ultimate adventure into a world where science has no boundaries. But is Roddenberry's vision of the future on track with the current pace of technology?

"Science happens in surges," Millis emphasized, referring to discoveries made by Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. "Who knows what advances the next surge will bring--it might just take us on a trek through the stars."

Back to "Warp Drive When?" page