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A Fifth Dimension Could Make Star Trek Discovery’s Spore Drive Physically Possible

There are a few rules in the Universe that seem likely to never be broken. Particles cannot travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum; the entropy of a closed system can never decrease; energy and momentum must be conserved. But if the rules that the Universe plays by are different than we understand them today, many things that appear to be forbidden today may be possible after all.

In Star Trek: Discovery, a new type of technology takes us even faster than warp drive: the spore drive. Instead of traveling slower-than-light (via impulse engines) or even faster-than-light through space (via warp drive), the spore drive enables an instantaneous “jump” from one location in space to another, disconnected place a great distance away. The idea has been dismissed as a massive science blunder, but the right circumstances could take it from the realm of science fiction to real-life science.

The three ways that the Star Trek franchise envisions space travel are as follows:

  • Impulse engines, which is similar to conventional travel: a fuel is used to create energy, which creates thrust by a backward-facing exhaust, propelling the spacecraft forward.
  • Warp drive, where space itself is compressed in front of a spacecraft (and expanded behind it), enabling it to travel through that compressed space in a fashion that’s effectively faster-than-light. In the mid-1990s, theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre created a spacetime where this is possible within General Relativity. If negative mass and/or negative energy exist, this could shift from a mathematical possibility to a physical one.
  • Spore drive, where a network of mycelium spores spread across the Universe allow a spacecraft to instantaneously travel from one disconnected point to another, as though they miraculously teleported.

The way Star Trek: Discovery implements the spore drive may be a bit suspect, but the basic idea isn’t as crazy it sounds.