In 1961 the late author Arthur C. Clarke included in his “Profiles of the future” Clarke’s Third Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
From the perspective of 1961 much of our technology would seem wondrous, but our airplanes, ships and even television sets would be immediately recognized by someone from 1961 for what they were. But hand that same person a Smartphone or a tablet and they wouldn’t know what it was nor have a clue how it worked, and even if they were technically savvy trying to explain how one of those devices worked would be a challenge to say the least.
We have a very good understanding of basic physics, and we are pretty good at using that understanding, that’s why we can make Smartphones… but every once in a while the universe throws us a curveball. In the past few years a new kind of rocket motor has been found, or at least it seems that way. They have found that if you fire a beam of microwaves into a sealed chamber thrust is produced, but according to what we know about the laws of physics that just isn’t possible, it’s like putting an outboard motor in a barrel of water on the deck of a boat and having it propel the boat, it just doesn’t work.
Except in this case it appears that it does, and if the EM drive really does work that means eventually we will be able to fly to the moon in a few hours without using big, noisy, expensive rocket engines. But our theories say this isn’t possible, so of course the scientists are having a wonderful time trying to figure out what is going on.
Update, May, 2018. As of now it appears maybe the universe isn’t throwing us a curveball after all. There has been considerable research on the EM drive and scientists in Germany have come to the conclusion that the measured thrust wasn’t actually coming from the drive itself, it was a reaction between the drive’s power cables and the Earth’s magnetic field.
That’s how science is done. Someone comes up with an idea and if it’s interesting enough other scientists try to disprove it. Really strong theories, such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, stand up to such tests. Other theories, such as the old one of the geocentric solar system, which said the Earth was at the center of the solar system, get proven wrong.
But scientists haven’t given up on the EM engine, researchers are testing the work of the German scientists to verify or disprove it.
In the meantime other researchers are working on how to build a warp drive, yes a Star Trek style warp drive that would enable a ship to travel to another star in weeks instead of decades or centuries. According to math that is far beyond most of us that may actually be possible.
Stay tuned, the future is a fascinating place, and we will be spending the rest of our lives there!