MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Earlier this month, President Trump officially unveiled the name of his vaccine task force.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today I want to update you on the next stage of this momentous medical initiative. It's called Operation Warp Speed.
KELLY: Warp Speed - well, that got us wondering where does the term warp speed come from, anyway?
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Well, the administration official who named the vaccine operation told The Washington Post that initially, he had hoped to pluck something from Greek or Roman mythology. But ultimately, he settled on Warp Speed after hearing scientists themselves use similar terms.
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CHANG: The expression warp speed, though, far predates this task force. It was, of course, popularized in "Star Trek" - you know, the infinite franchise of TV shows and movies. And the idea of a time warp actually popped up in 1950s science fiction before landing in pilot episodes of "Star Trek" a decade later.
KELLY: Now, with the president branding his vaccine task force Operation Warp Speed, the Trekkie community has reacted to the use of what they consider their term.
LARRY NEMECEK: I physically winced, I think.
KELLY: That is Larry Nemecek. He calls himself Doctor Trek. He says the original term warp speed grew out of the writer's desire to have their characters zoom through space faster than the speed of light.
NEMECEK: You can't go faster than the speed of light in a straight line. But the whole idea of warped space, or folding space, is that you fold it. You have a piece of paper. And if you draw a line from one end of the, you know, 8 1/2 by 11 sheet to the other end, that's a given length. But if you fold the paper in half, now you've made the leap from one end to the other just a quarter inch or a half inch.
CHANG: Did you get that? By folding space time, the idea is you could travel fast - very fast. But is warp speed scientifically feasible in space at least? Well, planetary scientist James O'Donoghue is at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. And when we asked him to tell us about warp drives, he was skeptical at first. But he learned that warping might be something different from what some fans believe it is.
JAMES O'DONOGHUE: In fact, the warp drive, as I understand it, works by compressing space in front of the ship. And in the back of the ship, the space is expanded. Digging into this, there was a paper in 1994 which actually says that this is theoretically possible. Unfortunately, you need exotic matter in order to achieve this, which doesn't really exist.
CHANG: Maybe what's needed is, well, a task force to find exotic matter.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE")
GEORGE TAKEI: (As Hikaru Sulu) Accelerating to warp one, sir.
KELLY: Well, as we all wait and hope a vaccine is developed soon, "Star Trek" fan Cassidy Ward is feeling wistful, longing for a time that feels many light years away.
CASSIDY WARD: I wish that we lived in a world that more closely resembled "Star Trek."
KELLY: Alas, we do not, which may or may not stop Operation Warp Speed from boldly going where no task force has gone before.
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