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10-06-12, 03:00 PM
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/startrek.jpg Fueled by dilithium crystals.
JD Han**** (http://www.flickr.com/people/jdhan****/)


Humanity has been in space for a while, but we really haven't managed to go very far. Carl Sagan once said that "the surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean, and recently we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle deep"‚??that was in 1980, and we haven't risked testing the water any deeper since then.

One of the main reasons for that, though, is that space is so frustratingly massive. Voyager 1 is the fastest¬*man-made¬*thing ever, but 17¬*kilometers¬*per second is a tiny¬*fraction of the speed of light. Even getting to one of our nearest¬*neighbors, Mars, would take six to eight months using conventional spaceship engines. Ideas like¬*warp drives (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/20/warp-drives)¬*are still theoretical, and unlikely to be seen within our lifetimes. However, it might be possible to cut that trip to Mars down to as few as three months using a form of fusion fuel‚??"dilithium crystals." Yep, just like¬*Star Trek.

It's not quite the same, of course. In the sci-fi series, the crystals are a rare substance that the crew spend an inordinate amount of time searching for, and their engines can use it to travel faster than the speed of light. This engine, currently under development at the¬*University of Hunstville (http://www.uah.edu/news/items/10-research/3855-alpharetta-graduate-seeking-holy-grail-of-rocket-propulsion-system-alpharetta-graduate-seeking-holy-grail-of-rocket-propulsion-system#.UG7DSSNSTCq)¬*by a team working in collaboration with Boeing, NASA¬*and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would by comparison be about twice as fast as the best current technology.

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