Travel to Mars in Three Hours

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Is it possible to travel at seven-hundred-million miles an hour? Frank Bonilla/Flickr.com
Frank Bonilla/Flickr.com

Physicists are working on technology that could one day have us traveling in hyperspace.

We're going to step into the middle of a nifty science and engineering controversy. Today. On Engineering Works! Listen to the podcast

If you've ever taken a physics course, you know that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second. Seven-hundred-million miles an hour. Everything physicists know says you can't go faster. But some physicists and engineers think they can do an end run around the speed-of-light limit.

They say that ideas developed about 50 years ago by a German scientist named Burkhard Heim suggest that we could use a very strong magnetic field to push spacecraft into another dimension. A dimension where the physical laws that make the speed of light as fast as anything can go don't exist.

The idea sounds like science fiction. And a lot of top physicists say that's all it is. But if it's real, it could mean traveling to Mars in three hours or to a nearby star in three months. The interesting part is that the Department of Energy has a device -- the Z-machine -- that could produce the kind of ultra-powerful magnetic field we'd need to see if the idea might work. If it does, researchers could be testing a working engine in five years.

Even if everything turns out the way the visionaries think it will, it'll be a long time before you can buy a ticket for a day trip to Mars.

So, beam us up, Scotty. We're through here for now.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. 

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