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The Enterprise series of Star Trek sees the flight and adventures of Earth's first warp 5 starship. This starship was the result of the "Warp Five program," which is referenced throughout the series (particularly since Captain Archer's own father was one of the main scientists involved in the program, along with Zefram Cochrane).

It seems to me that warp 5 must be a special warp factor of some kind, since a whole program was assembled specifically to achieve that speed and Earth's first deep space exploration mission wasn't initiated until warp 5 capabilities had been realized. I am wondering why warp 5 is such a special speed.

  • Are there theoretical or engineering reasons why achieving warp 5 is particularly notable, as opposed to warp 4 or warp 6?
  • Were speeds lower than warp 5 not practical/useful for a deep space mission of the type that Enterprise embarks on for the first two seasons?
  • Was it a benchmark of achievement that other species used to evaluate the technological development of a civilization?
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    Warp 5 engine: "Warp five technology allowed Humans to travel a hundred times faster than was possible with the previous generation of warp engines that were limited by the warp 2 barrier." – Remy Lebeau Feb 19 '16 at 2:17
  • I imagine that, like the "sound barrier", breaking warp 5 requires major enhancements to the basic Cochran-type warp drive. – Joe L. Feb 19 '16 at 2:22
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Warp 5 (125 times the speed of light) was a major goal because it was considered the minimum speed at which interstellar travel was practical. Keep in mind that even at light speed it takes years to travel between stars. Even at higher speeds such as warp 4 (64 times light speed), real interstellar travel was not considered practical on a timescale of days and weeks instead of months and years. Warp 5 enabled Earth to communicate and interact with other civilizations as events happened without falling behind, which is what made it such a significant goal.

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    Well, if you are traveling at lightspeed, you can visit any star you like instantaneously. It's just that everyone back home would be long dead. But I suppose it is moot since warp factors ignore relativity. – Shamshiel Feb 19 '16 at 3:17
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    Comments along these lines are made in-series when we meet Mayweather's family (with things like, cargo runs take months for them, while the Enterprise can make the same trip in days) – Izkata Feb 19 '16 at 5:45
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    @Shamshiel, I think you need to do a little more research. Light travels at lightspeed. If you wanted to visit Alpha Centauri and you could (only) travel at lightspeed, it would take you 4.3 years to get there. – CigarDoug Feb 19 '16 at 12:03
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    @CigarDoug: No, that's not how physics works. If you are traveling c, you get anywhere instantaneously from your reference frame. Your journey only takes some amount of time from the perspective of an observer. The problem is you can't actually travel at c without infinite energy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation#Space_flight – Shamshiel Feb 19 '16 at 13:03
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    That's irrelevant though, because that isn't how warp tech works in Star Trek. From the perspective of the surrounding space, the ship is actually stationary. It's the bubble of space itself around the ship that is actually moving faster than light. – Timpanus Feb 19 '16 at 13:40
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I believe Warp 5 is crucial to actually being able to achieve significant goals/distance in a realistic/manageable time frame. Anything slower would mean multi-generational ships (like the transport haulers were)

To explain how relevant that may be check out this video where speed is covered very well.

Another way to sum it up is light takes 40 minutes to get to Jupiter. To get to the edge of our solar system: NX-01 takes 7 minutes, NCC-1701 takes 2 minutes, every ship after takes 30 seconds-ish.

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