Christopher Nolan on the Science Behind Interstellar: Human Wormhole Travel Could Really Happen
Could Christopher Nolan's Interstellar really happen? Hopefully humanity won't need to face a ravaging famine, but it's possible that the space travel itself could occur in real life. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan discussed theoretical physicist Kip Thorne's heavy involvement with the film and the realism of human wormhole travel.
When asked whether humans can, in fact, travel through wormholes, Nolan responded, "If a wormhole could be brought into existence, it would be possible. It's really one of the only ways it would be possible because the distances involved are so vast. It's one of the tremendous, limiting factors about whether we could ever find other inhabitable planets; the nearest star within our galaxy [involves] thousands of years of travel."
He went on to clarify that this isn't just sci-fi speculation, but based on real scientific research. "Kip's research into the mathematical possibility of wormholes, the fact they can exist, gives you a way that this could happen and was essential to the jumping-off point in the story."
Both Nolan and star Matthew McConaughey mentioned discussing faster-than-light travel with Thorne, with McConaughey saying, "We talked about the bending of timelines - theoretically, how you would go faster than the speed of light." The "bending of timelines" presumably refers to the curvature of spacetime. General relativity does not allow for faster-than-light travel unless spacetime is distorted in such a way that an object is moving faster than light according to a distant frame of reference. Or, in other words, traveling faster than light would inevitably involve some kind of distortion of time or even time travel. We already know that this can be seen in Nolan's film, as recent TV spots confirmed that time is passing much faster on Earth than wherever the astronauts are, which explains why 37-year-old Jessica Chastain plays 44-year-old Matthew McConaughey's daughter.
Finally, Nolan discussed the future of human space travel in real life: "You hear about these things as abstractions, and then you go to SpaceX, and they're building rockets. They're getting out there... My experience of working with this film leaves me at the end thinking that it's not a question of whether we should - I mean, we will. It's part of being human and what we're eventually going to do."
He stressed the importance of space exploration becoming an embedded part of our culture, as it was during the Apollo missions: [Our] generation has grown up with far too little interaction with the idea of leaving this planet, with the idea of getting out and exploring our place in the solar system and then the galaxy and then the universe. In making it seem attainable, you think about it very differently... You have to start examining these things as practical possibilities.
"For the last 35 years, [space travel] really hasn't been a massive part of our culture. And I think now we're ready to get back to the bigger question of getting out there."