Even the fastest humans and spacecraft launched thus far would take many thousands of years to reach the closest stars. Speeds about 75 times faster than this would be required if we hope to make an interstellar trip in less than a hundred years.
To understand the difficulty of interstellar travel, one must comprehend the incredible distance involved. Even the closest star is more than 266,000 times farther away than our own sun. Consider the speed of light. Light, the fastest thing known, takes only 8 minutes to travel to us from the sun, but requires more than four years to get to the nearest star.
A handgun bullet travels at 720 miles per hour, but would take nearly 4 million years to get to the nearest star. The fastest object ever launched into space is the Voyager 1 probe, and it would take nearly 75,000 years to make the trip.
Today’s chemical rockets are far too slow for interstellar travel. To have a hope of reaching the closest star in less than a hundred years, we would have to accelerate a starship to nearly 30 million mph.
Rockets using nuclear fusion or antimatter propulsion could do the job, but they would have to be developed. It is theoretically possible that by warping space, a starship might travel faster than light without violating the laws of physics within its own bubble of space-time.
- Gallery: Visions of Interstellar Starship Travel
- Star Trek's Warp Drive: Are We There Yet? | Video
- The Top 10 Star Trek Technologies
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Karl's association with Space.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork). Before joining Space.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web. He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.