There are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observed universe, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. Despite the staggering numbers of celestial objects which make up a galaxy, we find that there are still hundreds of billions of miles of empty space between these objects. Or at least, there are billions of miles between systems, and galaxies. So how would a vast galactic or intergalactic empire function when it must oversee the millions of worlds under its control? How can bands of rebels maintain coherency across light years of space? Logistics must be hell when we are limited by the speeds at which we can travel at, specially when we can’t even reach the fastest speed possible – the speed of light. In science fiction, empires have managed to overcome the universal constant. Today we will be looking at three forms of faster than light travel (FTL) in three universes, Star Wars, Mass Effect, and Warhammer 40,000.
In the Mass Effect Universe, faster than light travel is achieved through FTL drives, and through the use of Mass Relays. This technology relies heavily on the fictional element known as element Zero which has the ability to alter the mass of objects, in an event known as a “mass effect”. the mass effect is achieved by applying electrical currents to element zero, where positive currents increase mass, but negative currents decrease it. By increasing the mass effect we can achieve feats such as creating artificial gravity. Decreasing the mass effect allows for faster than light travel through space as we lower an objects mass without affecting the power of its thrust. Through out the Mass Effect universe the use of Element Zero varies from FTL transportation, manufacturing, and even warfare.
The Mass Effect Universe even has their version of “psychic powers” in the form of “biotics” or people who have been in some way exposed to Element Zero, and thus have developed the ability to manipulate mass effects. Through intense concentration, and the use of amps to amplify their power, biotics can affect gravity, create singularities, or tear their enemies apart. The only issue with the use of Element Zero, and it’s mass effect properties is that it creates an electrical build it that must be grounded on a regular basis. In space faring ships, grounding can be achieved by making contact with a planet or it’s electromagnetic field. If a ship does not ground after an extended period of time, it could lead to a catastrophic failure, and the deaths of all crew members. In biotics, the discharge is usually manifested as a small static shock.
The whole premise of FTL technology in Mass Effect revolves around Element Zero and its mass effect though, without it FTL can not be achieved.
Star Wars FTL travel does not rely on a specific element though. Like in Warhammer 40k, it appears that Star Wars FTL tech relies on the use of an alternative dimension for travel across large distances over a short period of time. The alternate dimension is known as hyperspace, and in order to enter hyperspace a ship must first have a hyperdrive. Hyperspace can be entered when a ship is achieving faster than light travel at which point it can slip into Hyperspace. Like with Mass Effect’s mass relays, or Warhammer’s webway, Hyperspace has designated lanes which allow for safe travel through out the galaxy.
Compared to Mass Effect’s FTL tech, Star Wars tech is more efficient in that it allows for intergalactic travel without the need to use additional tech to the FTL drives on the ships. In Mass Effect in order to travel across distance further than a few systems, a ship would need to use a mass relay which would launch them to a corresponding mass relay in the mass relay network. Star Wars Hyperspace lanes seem to allow ships to enter FTL from anywhere in the galaxy, to reach any other location within the galaxy, so long as they have access to the required Hyperspace lanes.
Warhammer 40,000 has by far the most inefficient, and overall stressing FTL travel of all sci-fi, as it requires ships to literally travel through hell. Much like hyperspace, Warhammer’s FTL travel requires that ships pass through an alternate dimension. Ships in Warhammer 40k must travel through the dimension known as “The Warp” which is composed of turbulent psychic energies, and is literally the home of the Chaos Gods and their demons.
Where travel through a Mass Effect mass relay, or through Star Wars’ hyperspace may seem instantaneous, time through the Warp flows differently. A fifteen minute journey may feel as if though it were actually hours, days, even hundreds of years due to how chaotic the Warp is. Warp travel is so dangerous that it is not even guaranteed that a ship that enters the warp will come out of the other side, nor is it guaranteed that a ship traveling through the warp will not be attacked, and boarded buy demonic entities. Despite the dangers, warp travel is an important part of transportation in the Imperium of Man. This is not the only form of FTL travel in the Imperium, as the Eldar use the Webway, and the Emperor was actually developing a human version of the webway. Warp travel is the primary form of FTL travel at the moment, with no replacement in site, unfortunate as Warp travel as recently caused the Ultramarines the life of Captain Cato Sicarious.
With the vast amounts of Science Fiction that has been authored, there are no doubt countless ways creators have envisioned FTL travel. What are some of your favorites? How do they work? Leave your answers down in the comments.