A new engine under development at the University of Huntsville with help from Boeing, NASA, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory could cut the time it takes to travel to Mars in half. It currently takes six to eight months to travel from Earth to Mars. This new engine could cut the trip down to as short as three months. And all through the use of dilithium crystals. Every Star Trek fan just peed their pants.
In Star Trek, dilithium crystals are a rare substance that powers their engines to go faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, the real world is a bit more complicated and a bit less fantastic. No faster than light travel for us. Boo.
The engine will be a fusion reactor. According to rocket scientist and engine team member Ross Cortez, “The fusion fuel we’re focusing on is deuterium [a stable isotope of hydrogen] and Li6 [a stable isotope of the metal lithium] in a crystal structure.” Technically, since it’s lithium-6 that means four more atoms of lithium than dilithium, but let’s not quibble with making Star Trek real.
The bottom line is that this would be the fastest thing ever made by humans, twice as fast as the previous engine to hold that title, so it would represent a huge leap forward for space exploration and even space travel.
The most important thing, is when they test this engine (which would have to be built in space to avoid the trouble of moving a fusion reactor through the atmosphere), at some point someone has to yell, “I’m givin’ ‘er all I got, captain!”