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Mars express: only a three hour trip

IAN JOHNSTON

AN EXTRAORDINARY "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space
travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated
by the United States government.

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is
based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could
potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and
journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a
report in today's New Scientist magazine.


The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that,
according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim
in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust
for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip
into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing
incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would
result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

The US air force has expressed an interest in the idea and scientists
working for the American Department of Energy - which has a device known
as the Z Machine that could generate the kind of magnetic fields
required to drive the engine - say they may carry out a test if the
theory withstands further scrutiny.

Professor Jochem Hauser, one of the scientists who put forward the idea,
told The Scotsman that if everything went well a working engine could be
tested in about five years.

However, Prof Hauser, a physicist at the Applied Sciences University in
Salzgitter, Germany, and a former chief of aerodynamics at the European
Space Agency, cautioned it was based on a highly controversial theory
that would require a significant change in the current understanding of
the laws of physics.

"It would be amazing. I have been working on propulsion systems for
quite a while and it would be the most amazing thing. The benefits would
be almost unlimited," he said.

"But this thing is not around the corner; we first have to prove the
basic science is correct and there are quite a few physicists who have a
different opinion.

"It's our job to prove we are right and we are working on that."

He said the engine would enable spaceships to travel to different solar
systems. "If the theory is correct then this is not science fiction, it
is science fact," Prof Hauser said.

"NASA have contacted me and next week I'm going to see someone from the
[US] air force to talk about it further, but it is at a very early
stage. I think the best-case scenario would be within the next five
years [to build a test device] if the technology works."

The US authorities' attention was attracted after Prof Hauser and an
Austrian colleague, Walter Droscher, wrote a paper called "Guidelines
for a space propulsion device based on Heim's quantum theory".
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