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The solar system isn’t big enough for Harold White—but it’s a start. The 54-year-old physicist has devoted his career to researching advanced propulsion concepts that he hopes may carry humans to the outer solar system and eventually into the uncharted wilderness of interstellar space. Conventional rocket engines are too slow to cover these vast distances on human timescales, so White has focused on more exotic solutions like faster-than-light warp drives and quantum vacuum thrusters that get a boost from space-time itself.

White’s research pedigree may sound like it was cribbed from a mad scientist in a pulp sci-fi novel, but most of his work was done as the leader of NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Physics Lab at Johnson Space Center. The lab, which White christened Eagleworks, was founded in 2009 to explore the frontier of physics in search of the next big breakthrough in space power and propulsion. In December, White left the lab he led for a decade to head up R&D at the Limitless Space Institute, a new nonprofit in Houston working to accelerate the human exploration of interstellar space.

“It seemed like a great opportunity to more purposefully pursue advanced power and propulsion with a little more intensity,” says White. “It was a personal choice and the next step for me to take in terms of my pinnacle objective: enabling human exploration of the outer solar system and other stars.”

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Category: Science