You might not believe any of this stuff. But suspend your disbelief for a moment and make space for something incredible.
Let’s start this past summer, when a NASA scientist named Harold “Sonny” White unveiled an artist’s rendering of a spacecraft capable of shooting across the galaxy.
The spacecraft was theoretical, but the research behind it was real. For years White has been exploring the possibilities of actual “Star Trek”-like travel. He even named his ship the IXS Enterprise.
There are obstacles, such as forms of energy that might not exist. That’s a problem.
For NASA, yes, but also for the world’s scientists and Trekkies and time-travel obsessives (not necessarily mutually exclusive groups) for whom “warp drive” technology — once the stuff of science fiction but now generally accepted as a mathematical possibility — hangs like the most delicious carrot on the most spectacular stick in the cosmos.
The dreamers are out there. They attend space conventions and frequent online discussions and brush aside pooh-poohing issues over “causality” and “exotic matter,” and believe these questions must have answers. You just have to know where to look — because maybe the key to unlocking this cosmic mystery will be found in a place nobody expects.
Like here in David Pares’ garage.
You might call Pares (pronounced “PARE-is”) one of those dreamers, though what he’s doing goes far beyond the realm of online chatter.
Some guys spend their spare time restoring automobiles, devoting garage space to motionless Corvettes and Camaros.
Pares is making his own warp drive.
To hear him and his small team of supporters tell it, something weird is happening out here in the garage.
“The compression of the fabric of space,” Pares says matter-of-factly.
Pares’ garage is exactly as it sounds. This is not some converted hangar or temperature-controlled shed. Pares’ laboratory, the headquarters for his Space Warp Dynamics endeavor, is attached to the mid-size Aksarben-area home where he lives with his wife and their cat. It is split in halves, each side large enough to accommodate a not-very-large car. It is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It is a garage.
On average, Pares spends a couple of hours a day here almost every day of the week. To bend the fabric of space, he sits in front of a tray of instruments, twisting knobs and glancing every now and then into a Faraday cage, where a 3.5-pound weight hangs inside an electrically isolated case. Outside the case hangs a strange instrument made up of V-shape panels with fractal arrays on the surfaces. The instrument is the latest version of what Pares believes is the world’s first low-power warp drive motor.
He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor.
“You’re not supposed to be able to do this,” Pares says.
At just 100 watts of power, he claims an electrical field created by his arrays is ever so slightly condensing space in front of the motor, the way you’d squeeze coils on a Slinky.
Not many people have seen this. Some aren’t willing to look. Pares has submitted papers to journals and proposals to conventions. When he does get a response at all, he’s told his discovery is “premature.”
“It is so far out there, he’s not going to get funding to do it,” says Jack Kasher, a retired physics professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done in his garage.”
Before he read Pares’ paper, Kasher thought the idea was “ridiculously impossible.”
Now he believes this 62-year-old adjunct instructor is on to something.
“A lot of people are going to flat-out dismiss it off the top, but I think he’s crossed some kind of bridge here,” Kasher says. “Just showing this is possible with reasonable energy. It wouldn’t surprise me if NASA latches on to this.”
He draws an analogy: Before the era of modern aviation, at a time when human flight seemed impossible, there were the Wright brothers tinkering in their bike shop, taking the small steps that made everything that followed possible.
Here it might be worth going into the science a little, which shows both how far-fetched all of this is and how revolutionary it would be if somehow true.
Most people would agree zipping off to other stars would be pretty cool. It would also take a really long time. To make such a trip feasible, a spacecraft would have to move faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, Einstein told us that to get a spaceship to even go the speed of light would need infinite energy, and to go beyond the speed of light is impossible.
But then, in 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre came up with a work-around. By artificially warping space — essentially picking up a piece of fabric at two points and bringing them together — a ship could travel incredible distances while avoiding the speed-of-light problem.
In theory, a warp drive contracts space in front of the ship and expands it at the back. The ship itself sits inside what is called a “warp bubble.”
This is what NASA is working toward, though it runs into that problem about the huge (and possibly nonexistent) forms of energy required.
Pares has another idea altogether.
He believes warp bubbles already occur. For decades he has been drawn to case studies of pilots apparently thrown off course and, in some reports, projected hundreds of miles ahead while trying to navigate through storms. He is especially enamored with the story of Bruce Gernon, an experienced pilot who in 1970 flew into what is commonly called the Bermuda Triangle. Facing a fierce thunderstorm, Gernon steered toward what appeared to be a small break in the clouds, only to emerge 100 miles ahead of where he should have been.
Pares theorizes that what pilots like Gernon really experience is a local space warp created by the immense electrical energy within the storms.
He went about replicating such an electrical field, at low power levels, in his garage. In a series of experiments, he beamed a laser into the core of the field and observed a compression of the beam. Since then, he’s turned his attention to creating an actual warp drive motor — those V-shape panels — that generate the same effect.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met somebody as dedicated in the way he is,” says Matt Judah, a doctoral candidate in physics at Colorado State University and Pares’ closest ally on the project. “He teaches, gosh, 11 or 12 courses a year, and yet he still finds time to do this research. He’s an amazing man.”
Judah understands others will be reluctant to believe any of it. But he’s a believer.
“Science is out there in nature,” he says. “You just have to recognize the pattern and realize this is the way the world works.”
For Pares, the next big step comes next summer. In addition to refining his motor, he has been building a 7-by-7-foot spacecraft called the Blue Bird II. He admits it’s somewhat for show. The ship won’t even travel to the outer limits of his own driveway. But using the same principle as his cage experiment, he intends to lift the craft a few feet off the ground.
“That’s what people want to see,” he says. “They want to see ‘Star Trek.’ ”
The Blue Bird II itself stands on end behind him, the only way it will fit inside the cramped and cluttered garage. Pares holds a smaller model of the ship in his hands, demonstrating how the motor will draw the Blue Bird II into the air. The more he talks, the more the conversation advances into the future. An entirely new space economy. Interstellar explorations. Trips to the grocery store in a fraction of a second.
All around him are remnants of earlier motors and prior experiments. A bookshelf overflows onto a desk covered in papers and tools and instruments. He looks to his right for a place to set down the model. Then he looks to his left.