Technology is all about making the impossible possible – and in a story straight out of Star Trek, scientists are testing an electromagnetic propulsion drive, better known as EM drive.
Basically, it’s rocket propulsion on steroids.
Indeed, the technology can supposedly produce several thousand times more thrust than anything in existence today.
If it works, it would only take four hours to travel to the Moon and 70 days to reach Mars. Even a trip to Pluto would only take 18 months.
But it’s a big “if.”
Beam Me Up, Scotty
The technology was first developed about 15 years ago by British inventor Roger Shawyer. The simplest explanation is that it uses solar power to generate multiple microwaves that continuously bounce back and forth in an enclosed chamber. This generates thrust for a rocket without using any fuel.
I’m sure it’s something that Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Chief Engineer on the USS Enterprise, would love to tinker with. But Shawyer was ridiculed because his concept violated a basic law of physics – the law of the conservation of momentum.
To put it simply, the law in this case means that the forces inside the chamber should cancel each other out, yielding no thrust.
Yet tests have continued to show “anomalous thrust,” thus sustaining hopes that the technology could actually work.
And keep in mind, these tests come from none other than NASA. Its Eagleworks Lab tested a version of EM drive for over a year and has yet to poke holes in the theory. That pesky anomalous thrust keeps appearing.
In addition, Chinese scientists have also found similar thrust with their version of it.
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And now, Professor Martin Tajmar, Chairman for Space Systems at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, has again found thrust. This is important, as he’s one of the world’s most respected experts in propulsion systems – a man who’s debunked many supposed breakthroughs by finding experimental errors.
But it seems the tables have turned on the Austrian scientist…
A number of fellow scientists don’t believe in the “impossible” EM drive and say Tajmar’s experiment had a number of flaws. These flaws seem to center on his measuring instruments.
Skeptics point to the fact that thrust was detected even after the electric power was turned off – something indicative of a thermal effect, rather than a true propulsion breakthrough.
Others haven’t held back on their criticism, with CalTech physicist Sean Carroll labelling EM drive as “complete crap and a waste of time.”
As a physics major in college, I also have my doubts about EM drive. After all, if a basic law of physics dating back to Sir Isaac Newton doesn’t apply in this case, I want to see a ton of evidence as to why not.
However, I’m willing to keep an open mind. After all, scientists once thought the Earth was flat and at the center of the universe. And ask Galileo the reaction to him saying the Earth revolved around the sun!
Even NASA is saying there might be something weird at work – for example, like how the technology somehow manipulates subatomic particles that constantly pop in and out of existence (such particles do exist).
Tech history is littered with examples of “impossible” theories being refuted – and this could be another one. However, if you’ve got a hankering to visit the Moon anytime soon, I’d hold that thought for now.