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How is the FTL drive supposed to work in Star Trek?

In our known universe, people traveling close to or at the speed of light would experience time roughly 1000x slower than people moving at "normal" astronomic speeds. Equivalently stated, people on a spaceship traveling around the galaxy near light-speed for one year, as referenced by a timepiece on their ship, would come back to Earth to find that 1000 years have passed.

This obviously does not happen in the Star Trek universe; traveling at Warp 9, which would be something like 729c, there is apparently no perceived time difference when returning to port. If there were, then if the NX-01 had set out for Alpha Centauri traveling Warp 1, by the time it got there the NCC-1701-Z would probably have been gone for millenia, and human life would either have evolved to pure energy or been annihilated. Even impulse engines can propel a small craft at extremely high sublight speeds, where the effects of relativity would become evident.

How does the Star Trek universe explain the lack of effects of special relativity across the spectrum of FTL transit methods? Or is that just conveniently ignored in canon?

marked as duplicate by dkuntz2, OghmaOsiris, DampeS8N Sep 21 '11 at 14:16

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Suspension of disbelief. – OghmaOsiris Sep 21 '11 at 4:35
  • @DampeS8N : I don't think this should have been closed, as it seems to be a different question entirely. This one is talking about the effects of relativity on superluminal travel, while the other one asks about how ships achieve superluminal speeds. Related, but the question (and answers) are quite different. – Beska Feb 10 '12 at 12:33
  • @Beska you're right, but the asker has no concept of how time dilation effects work. First of all, the drive nullifies the effect, as mbq's answer. Second, say warp 1 to Alpha Centauri takes 8 years because it's 8 light-years away. It would seem like much less to the time-dilated people making the trip, but it would be 8 years for everyone outside the dilation effect. – methuseus May 27 '14 at 20:22
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Well, in fact there is a clear explanation -- warp drive is an Alcubierre-like drive, so the ship feels like it was on rest during the whole superluminal flight.

  • Yes, and this accounts for the fact that the entire is not turned to chunky salsa when the ship accelerates from rest to three times the speed of light instantaneously. – Chris B. Behrens Sep 21 '11 at 14:07
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It is left unexplained just like how there always seems to be gravity on the ship in the absence of gravity in space. The simple truth is that they were plot devices to keep the stories practical. If everytime they had to return to the station they had to worry about the state of mankind after a thousand years, it would quickly become very burdensome to the writers for obvious reasons. Likewise, if all the crew members moved in an anti-gravity environment, it would quickly break their budget, having to film every shot in a plane set which dive bombs to give that anti-gravity effect.

I know that's sort of a cop-out answer, but they never made any attempts to explain it away (though they did mention gravity drive several times), which only leaves this explanation.

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    Did I miss the part of the question that relates to gravity on the ship? Besides which, gravity on the ship is explain by gravity plating, which while beyond our current scientific and technical knowledge is not beyond the realm of possibility. – Xantec Sep 21 '11 at 11:45
  • It's another example of something left relatively unexplained for the purposes of having a decent show. I hardly think that's off topic and it seems to complement my point rather well. Calling it "beyond our current scientific and technical knowledge" in writer's terms is a way to not have to explain it. That's not an explanation in of itself. – Neil Sep 22 '11 at 8:06
  • Calling it "beyond our current scientific and technical knowledge" is acknowledging that script writers are not physicists or engineers. – Xantec Sep 22 '11 at 12:00
  • @Xantec, this is still an "in story" issue is it not? Do we have to prove the laws of physics to determine whether or not the writers really could have been right, despite the fact that they are not physicists or engineers? – Neil Sep 26 '11 at 8:42

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