NASA has successfully tested a type of drive that could eventually take the concept of "warp drive" from science-fiction to reality, CNET reported.
The experiment, conducted at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, found that an electromagnetic drive, or "EMDrive," was able to function in a vaccuum -- something that even NASA has stated would defy the laws of motion.
The drive works by turning electrical energy into thrust without requiring standard fuel. The electricity is provided instead by solar energy.
According to NASASpaceFlight.com, an engineer with the propulsion research group NASA Eagleworks announced the successful test, touching off a far-reaching discussion about how the drive could violate the law of conservation of momentum, which states that a system's momentum remains constant if it is not being affected by external forces.
While previous EMDrive experiments from researchers in the United Kingdom and China sparked criticism, NASASpaceFlight reported, the results of Eagleworks' trial have not yet been debunked. If the drive becomes a reality, however, it could pose immediate benefits for the International Space Station.
"In terms of the Station, propellant-less propulsion could amount to significant savings by drastically reducing fuel resupply missions to the Station and eliminate the need for visiting-vehicle re-boost maneuvers," the website stated.
NASA touched on the idea of warp drive on its website last month, calling the idea of traveling at light speed "simply imaginary at this point."
"While NASA is not pursuing interstellar flight, scientists here continue to advance ion propulsion for missions to deep space and beyond using solar electric power. This form of propulsion is the fastest and most efficient to date," the agency said. "There are many 'absurd' theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research. But for the near future, warp drive remains a dream."
The phrase "warp drive" was brought into the pop culture lexicon by the sci-fi series Star Trek. One of the films spawned by the franchise, Star Trek: First Contact, credited fictional scientist Zefram Cochrane (played by James Cromwell) with developing it, leading to him making contact with the Vulcan race, Earth's first encounter in that universe with beings from another planet.
According to the fan site Memory Alpha, warp drive "worked by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that enveloped the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that could greatly exceed the speed of light."