Matt Peckham begins his article at Time.com with a scene from the movie Contact and quickly reminds us that faster-than-light travel--what Star Trek called warp drive--is impossible. "Nothing can travel faster than light, right? To do so would violate the special theory of relativity, which stipulates that you’d need an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a particle with mass to light speed."
As Peckham points out, that's almost true. Eighteen years ago, the physicist Miguel Alcubierre came up with the idea that a "warp bubble" could be created by bending spacetime, moving space around the spacecraft so that it actually gets where it's going at a speed faster than that of light. There was one tiny detail: You would need to convert all the mass of Jupiter to energy to power the thing. That's a lot of mass to store in the trunk.
Now, a NASA scientist, Peckham reports, says tinkering with Alcubierre's scheme could sharply reduce the energy needed. Peckham doesn't give us a lot of detail, but he has fun with the story--and why not?
The story didn't get the coverage I expected. Yes, the idea has been around before. But there seems to be some real scientific content to add to the fun this time, making a nice mix. The most substantial story I found was from Clara Moskowitz at Space.com. She notes that the new lower-energy faster-than-light travel idea would allow travel as fast as 10 times the speed of light.
She does not note that this, as I understand it, is precisely the top speed that the Star Trek warp drive allowed: warp 10. Science fiction often anticipates science, but not usually to this level of detail. That's not as fast as Star Trek's warp 10, which is 1,000 times the speed of light.* But it's fast.
Moskowitz also reports that the scientist behind the new warp drive, Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center, has begun experiments on such a drive in his laboratory.
The news came from a symposium that only a NASA space-nut could devise: The 100 Year Starship Symposium. I'm not easily impressed by stories in which science fiction anticipates science; we've heard so many of them.
But I was impressed by this one.
[*Update: Apparently I was wrong about warp 10 being 10 times the speed of light. If you must know what it is (according to Wikipedia), here you go:
According to the Star Trek episode writer's guide for The Original Series, warp factors are converted to multiples of c with the cubic function v=w(cubed)c, where w is the warp factor, v is the velocity, and c is the speed of light. Accordingly, "warp 1" is equivalent to the speed of light, "warp 2" is 8 times the speed of light, "warp 3" is 27 times the speed of light, etc.]