NASA Jumps on Star Wars Bandwagon

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

Why go see interplanetary travel in the movies when the real thing could be just around the corner? In an 18 May press release, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, talks up its own research on propulsion technologies--"closely akin to the 'hyperdrives' of Star Wars fame," it says--that could someday make planet hopping a reality.

And you thought George Lucas had cornered the market on Star Wars tie-ins. "Laser propulsion and antimatter have long been the stuff of science fiction, and now we're experimenting with them as viable options for space travel," states Garry Lyles, manager of Marshall's Advanced Space Transportation Program. Adds Marshall's George Schmidt, "We're convinced that ... these technologies will likely transform the space travel seen in sci-fi movies into real-life experience."

The space agency didn't actually have any breakthrough to report. And the press statement dutifully notes an important caveat--that traveling faster than light "will ... require overcoming the physical limitations of space itself." Nonetheless, the release, nicely timed with the 19 May release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, scored a PR bull's eye. Officials say numerous TV and print outlets have picked up the nonstory, giving it a little propulsion of its own.

Posted in Physics