EM Drive NASA EagleWorks photo.

EM Drive Dreams: Space Exploration Implications of Working NASA EM Drive

EM Drive speculation has run wild over the last few months, with the increasing likelihood that a functioning EM Drive might actually be possible. The publication of a peer-reviewed paper on the subject by NASA scientists has been the focus of heated debate by other scientists around the world, with many insisting it couldn’t possibly work. But assuming that it does work, just what would a working NASA EM Drive mean for the future of space exploration and humanity?

As reported by Science Alert, the EM Drive is a highly controversial device invented more than a decade ago in the UK and currently being studied by space agencies in the United States, China and elsewhere. The controversial aspect of the EM Drive is that it produces thrust without using any propellant.

NASA EM Drive from 2 angles,
NASA EM Drive from 2 angles, [Image by NASA]

This aspect of the EM Drive – that seemingly violates the Newtonian physics requiring equal and opposite reactions – is difficult for scientists to accept. Even so, the experimenters working on the project have carried out rigorous testing of their experimental setup and have produced a small but consistent thrust.

What Can We Do with the EM Drive?

As noted by The Washington Post, even though the Eagleworks team at NASA under a Harold “Sonny” White has published a peer-reviewed paper describing the details and results of their experiment regarding the EM Drive, the team doesn’t have a definitive answer for how the EM Drive produces thrust. Concepts related to quantum vacuum fluctuations and pilot wave theory have been put forward by some.

Harold White is main investigator of EM Drive NASA is testing.
Harold White is the main investigator of EM Drive NASA is testing. [Image by NASA]

On paper, the amount of thrust produced by the EM Drive would be sufficient to accelerate a manned spacecraft from Earth orbit to Mars in 10 weeks or less. This is a fraction of the time it would take for conventional, chemically powered rockets to take human beings to the red planet.

Even at the current level of thrust being produced by the EM Drive, it’s conceivable that an unmanned craft could be accelerated from our solar system and reach Alpha Centauri in less than 100 years. Currently, such a trip would take many thousands of years.

Assuming that the propulsive effect of the EM Drive could be ramped up once the physical mechanism underlying it is better understood, it might finally be possible to think about manned missions to other star systems. While these trips would take years, they would still be a fraction of the millennia it would take using conventional rockets. It’s important to remember that the early exploratory sailing trips around the Earth also took years.

Social Implications of the EM Drive

Assuming that the speculation by Harold White about the potential performance of such a drive is accurate, the EM Drive would simultaneously make the universe smaller and larger. It would be smaller, because we would actually be able to travel to other planets that are almost out of our reach now. Even Neptune would be only 18 months away.

But it would also be larger, because the possibilities for human growth would expand exponentially. Suddenly, the “world” that human beings had access to would have limitless horizons and mysteries. Like the early explorers of five centuries ago, humanity would suddenly have the opportunity for exploration and adventure across the solar system – and perhaps beyond.

As trivial as it might sound to talk about “adventure,” the simple fact is that the Earth has become so small that the opportunities for true exploration and adventure are extremely lacking. People desperately climb to the top of Mount Everest or travel to the ocean depths in the hope of finding the kind of adventure our ancestors knew as they explored a New World. But it’s not quite the same. The EM Drive could be the solution to this problem.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the terrible tragedies that grew out of such exploratory voyages. The growth of the African slave trade and the genocidal destruction of Native Americans are directly linked to such exploration. But at the same time, the spirit of adventure and exploration that imbued the voyages of early explorers – not to mention the desire for profit – was one of the underpinnings of the later Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment.

During the Enlightenment, one of the fundamental motivations behind the growth of scientific inquiry was the desire to classify and understand all of the new animals, plants and minerals then being discovered around the world and brought back to centers of knowledge and learning like London. Vague maps that frequently showed only “here there be dragons” were being quickly filled in with facts.

It’s impossible to even imagine the things that exploratory ships Powered by EM Drives traveling to other planets in our solar system – or to Alpha Centauri or other star systems – might discover, but it’s safe to assume it will be astonishing.

[Featured Image by NASA]