We all have hobbies and side projects we like to work on in our free time. For most these are merely diversions, but in some cases they can lead to big things down the line. While there are plenty of pastimes to while the time away, perhaps none is as strange and ambitious as one man’s quest to create a warp drive like something straight out of a sci-fi film right in his own garage. Yet this is exactly what one determined scientist has been spending all of his time and money on in recent years, and it is a hobby that is as fascinating as it is strange.
Starting from 2012, University of Nebraska science professor, former Air Force meteorologist, and complete Star Trek dork David Pares got a vision in his mind, a vision that the spectacular warp drives so common to science fiction were not only feasible, but that he could possibly create one himself. It would be an ambitious undertaking, the Holy Grail of space travel and the key that would unlock our ability to travel to the stars and open the larger universe up to us, bending the very fabric of time and space to allow us to jump across vast distances in no time at all. So he had this vision, his own plans for how it would all work, so he must have secured a top secret laboratory for this endeavor, right? He must be well-funded to be working on what is potentially the greatest invention mankind has ever known, right? Well, no, actually. His base of operations is actually out in his garage.
While it is incredibly complex beyond the scope of this article, the concept of the warp drive essentially involves compressing space by creating a “warp bubble” around a space craft to allow it to achieve speeds that are faster than light, the universal speed limit proposed by Einstein. It works by theoretically warping the space and contracting it in front of the vessel, only to expand it at the back, pushing the ship through space and time at velocities previously unheard of, and until now it has always been firmly in the realm of science fiction stories, but Pares believes he knows better. Interestingly, his fascination with warp drive technology and engineering in general came about after he had an encounter with a UFO when he was only 16 years old, of which he says:
I sighted a UFO and I can describe to you in great detail what I saw. That was one of the driving forces and what pushed me towards engineering and the sciences, and learning as much as I could about every discipline possible because they’re all interconnected. If I were just in the physics discipline, I would have never figured this out. It would’ve meant sticking with chemical [rocketry], maybe get into ion drive. But you get into this exotic stuff, you’re gonna be labeled as a weirdo, as an outcast. Not that that hasn’t occurred!
He was further inspired by other strange events as well. One case from 1970 involved a pilot by the name of Bruce Gernon, who claimed that his small airplane had fallen through some sort of vortex in a thunderstorm, only to be spat out hundreds of miles away nearly instantaneously. While this may seem to be just a typical unsubstantiated piece of spooky paranormal literature, Pares believes that this was evidence that the sheer power of the thunderstorm had created a naturally occurring warp bubble and catapulted the pilot over that distance and that this could be potentially recreated in a laboratory. In his opinion, this was proof that these warp bubbles occur naturally and can be emulated with the right equipment and know how.
The theory of a warp drive itself is not technically entirely impossible, as some scientists over the years have theorized on how it could work. For instance, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994 surmised that Einstein’s equations could be extrapolated to show that a 3D piece of space-time could be technically compressed and then expanded to generate a placid flat region in the middle, a real life warp bubble, with two points in space essentially drawn together like two opposite pieces of a folded sheet of paper, all while staying within the laws of physics. The drawback was that this would require a lot of energy, to the tune of perhaps even all of the available energy in the universe to pull off, making it rather non-efficient, but “possible” was good enough for Pares.
He became convinced that not only was warp drive technology possible, but that it could be developed right there in his own backyard and could be engineered to need no more energy than the mass of a star of even merely the mass of the Voyager spacecraft, which could be feasibly provided with electromagnetic power like in storms. To this aim he went about converting his garage into a makeshift laboratory, which he calls the headquarters for Space Warp Dynamics, which he started with the help of two physicists, a software engineer, and a systems designer. The place is littered with all manner of instrument panels, mirrors, batteries, panels, model spacecraft, and machinery and devices, all in the name of creating what Pares calls a “low-power warp drive.” Don’t let the hodgepodge of crude equipment and the clutter fool you, though. According to Pares he has made leaps and bounds in warp drive research in this very place, saying:
The only difference between a garage and [NASA’s] lab is that I’ve got lower overhead. If NASA did what we did and had the measurements we have today, they’d be parading them around and getting the Nobel Prize in Physics. Us? We would have to build the Starship Enterprise. The theoretical physicists all believed that you couldn’t make a warp bubble unless you had the exotic energy of antimatter, or dark matter. If I would have believed those guys, I’d have put down my Etch-a-Sketch, walked away and drank a beer.
According to the team, they have already managed to create warp effects with just a few hundred watts of power, managing to physically displace a 3 ½ pound weight in an electromagnetically protected space called a Faraday cage, which by common knowledge should be impossible. They also claim that they have documented on several occasions compression detected in patterns of a laser beam passed through an electrical field, which is evidence of compressing spacetime, and they have claimed to have made great leaps and bounds into showing the feasibility of the technology, although the scientific community has remained skeptical of it all. Pares has said:
We’ve been able to show all the numbers in our graphs that indicate that we’re producing an artificially induced pulling action. We’ve already shown that we can do this right now, but everybody’s waiting for Star Trek, don’t you know … and of course who the hell’s gonna listen to me? ‘He works out of a garage!’
They have even created a sort of spaceship they call the Blue Bird II. The craft measures 7 feet by 7 feet, and the aim of the crew is to use their findings to start by lifting it a few feet off the ground. In the meantime, Pares has sent out his research to the Department of Defense, NASA, and a slew of other academic institutions, as well as written papers and journals on his findings, but he has remained considered somewhat out on the fringe, with no one really willing to take him seriously. However, a few think he may be on to something, such as retired physics professor Jack Kasher, who has said of the whole oddball experiment:
It is so far out there, he’s not going to get funding to do it. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done in his garage. 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. Just showing this is possible with reasonable energy. It wouldn’t surprise me if NASA latches on to this.
For the time being, as revolutionary as Pares claims his work to be there has been much skepticism from a scientific community that demands a more spectacular demonstration of the feasibility of this all. Despite all of this, Pares has continued to fund is own experiments and has even applied for a patent on his invention, hoping that the technology will be picked up on by the wider scientific community. It is not all for naught, just not quite there yet, as former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project Marc Millis has said:
Warp technology has staggering implications if it were to be realized. But being so new, it’s easy grounds for people to make it look like they know what they’re talking about. You look at how the work is being done, rather than what they’re working on or who’s doing it. I’ve seen sensationalism from within the professional community, and I have seen excellent work on the part of amateurs, so it’s how they do the work. Advanced propulsion concepts work is like parsley: you want to have a little bit on your plate but you don’t want to have too much. The vast majority of them probably won’t pan out, but you want to make sure you don’t miss something important.
It remains to be seen whether David Pares is on the leading edge of a new technology that will change human history or whether he is just a crackpot with big dreams and little else. If he is right, and his ideas can be proven and developed, then it would mean vast leaps and bounds forward into out ability to explore the cosmos, unshackling us from our slavery to the speed of light, and allowing us to make a jump into the future beyond what even the Wright Brothers accomplished when they gave us flight. Pares continues to work on his inventions and experiments, and although it might all lead to nowhere, one certainly hopes that he is onto something.