One of the consequences of Einstein's theory of special relativity is that the speed of light effectively becomes a universal speed limit for moving objects. As an object approaches the speed of light freaky things start happening. Time slows down (dilation) and the object's mass approaches infinity since the energy which an object has due to its motion will add to its mass. At the speed of light (c), the object would have infinite mass. And since an object with infinite mass would be pretty damn hard for anyone to push, going the speed of light under those circumstances is nigh-impossible let alone going any faster.
In 1994, physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed a metric for expanding the fabric of space behind an object into a bubble and shrinking space-time in front of the object that resembles Star Trek's Warp Drive.
The theories behind warp drive attempt to circumvent the limitation. While Einstein's limitations in special relativity would apply to an object attempting to go faster than the speed of light, nothing in general relativity forbids space itself from moving faster than light. In fact, Cosmic Inflation Theory says the universe did exactly that after the Big Bang, when for less than a second there was exponential expansion. This is the explanation for the "Horizon Problem." The idea of Warp Drive is the same principles behind cosmic inflation can be used to move a ship from point A to point B faster than light.
However, there are a whole lot of "catches" to this idea.
About two-years ago, Dr. Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center claimed to have made a discovery which made the idea of warp drive "plausible and worth further investigation."
For years, Harold "Sonny" White has been delving into the technical details of a concept known as the Alcubierre warp drive as part of his job at NASA's Johnson Space Center. The idea, put forward by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, suggests that faster-than-light travel might be achieved by distorting spacetime in a clever way.
To illustrate his talks, White has drawn upon computer graphics from Mark Rademaker, an artist in the Netherlands whose work is often featured in calendars and other publications related to the Star Trek saga. Rademaker, in turn, incorporates the ideas from White's work into his graphics.
But there is a really big catch to this.
However, the biggest issue with warp drive is the type of energy it requires. In order to form the warp field/bubble, a region of space-time with negative energy density (i.e. repulsing space-time) is necessary. Scientific models predict exotic matter with a negative energy may exist, but it has never been observed. All forms of matter and light have a positive energy density, and create an attractive gravitational field.
From Popular Science:
Though no one has ever measured negative energy, quantum mechanics predicts that it exists, and scientists should be able to create it in a lab. One way to generate it would be through the Casimir effect: Two parallel conducting plates, placed very closely together, should create small amounts of negative energy. Where Alcubierre's model broke down is that it required a vast amount of negative energy, orders of magnitude more than most scientists estimate could be produced.
White says he's found a way around that limitation. In a computer simulation, White varied the strength and geometry of a warp field. He determined that, in theory, he could produce a warp bubble using millions of times less negative energy than Alcubierre predicted and perhaps little enough that a space craft could carry the means of producing it. "The findings," he says, "change it from impractical to plausible."
White shows me into the facility and ushers me past its central feature, something he calls a quantum vacuum plasma thruster (QVPT). The device looks like a large red velvet doughnut with wires tightly wound around a core, and it's one of two initiatives Eagleworks is pursuing, along with warp drive. It's also secret. When I ask about it, White tells me he can't disclose anything other than that the technology is further along than warp drive. A 2011 NASA report he wrote says it uses quantum fluctuations in empty space as a fuel source, so that a spaceship propelled by a QVPT would not require propellant ... White's warp experiment is tucked into the back corner of the room. A helium-neon laser is bolted onto a small table pricked with a lattice of holes, along with a beam splitter and a black-and-white commercial CCD camera. This is a White-Juday warp field interferometer, which White named for himself and Richard Juday, a retired JSC employee who is helping White analyze the data from the CCD. Half of the laser light passes through a ring—White's test device. The other half does not. If the ring has no effect, White would expect one type of signal at the CCD. If it warps space, he says "the interference pattern will be starkly different."
When the device is turned on, White's setup looks cinematically perfect: The laser is bright red, and the two beams cross like light sabers. There are four ceramic capacitors made of barium titanate inside the ring, which White charges to 23,000 volts. White has spent the last year and a half designing the experiment, and he says that the capacitors will "establish a very large potential energy." Yet when I ask how it would create the negative energy necessary to warp space-time he becomes evasive. "That gets into . . . I can tell you what I can tell you. I can't tell you what I can't tell you," he says. He explains that he has signed nondisclosure agreements that prevent him from revealing the particulars. I ask with whom he has the agreements. He says, "People come in and want to talk about some things. I just can't go into any more detail than that."