CLN – Karl Tate – Warp Drive & Transporters : How ‘Star Trek’ Technology Works (Infographic)
The original “Star Trek” television series featured technology that had first appeared decades earlier in science fiction stories. Pulp heroes had been wielding ray guns, flying faster than light and teleporting from place to place since the 1930s. But perhaps the true inspiration of Star Trek’s superscience is the revolutionary physics discoveries of the early 20th century. Relativity, discovered by Albert Einstein and quantum physics, pioneered by Max Planck revealed a universe far different than ordinary human experience might suggest.
Although Einstein’s theory forbids matter to accelerate past the speed of light, the demands of sci-fi storytelling require that people be able to travel between the stars in a reasonable amount of time, usually hours, or at most, days. Enter the space warp drive, or as it was called in “Star Trek’s” pilot episode, “hyperdrive.”
Warp drive in Star Trek works by annihilating matter (in the form of deuterium, a kind of hydrogen gas) and antimatter in a fusion reaction mediated by dilithium crystals. This produces the enormous power required to warp space-time and drive the ship faster than light.
The crew of the Enterprise measures velocity in warp factors. Warp factor 8 equals the cube of 8 (8 times 8 times 8), or 512 times light speed.
Even this velocity is too slow to allow starships to travel as quickly as they appear to on TV. In reality, the script writers arbitrarily allowed the Enterprise to get to wherever it was going, as fast as was convenient for storytelling. By the era of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the warp speed scale was recalibrated. Under the new scale, a starship could get from Earth to Alpha Centauri in about 37 hours at warp factor 8.