Throwing in a little string theory (the current rage among physicists who are searching for a reliable theory of everything) Cleaver said the universe "grew from something a billionth of a trillionth the size of the nucleus of an atom to about the size of a basketball," during its first second. "When it did that, space itself was expanding faster than the speed of light."
Cleaver, who studied under the legendary John Schwartz at Caltech, a leader in string theory, postulated that it might be possible to partially replicate that early second by manipulating positive and negative dark energy, believed to be the driving forces behind the expansion of the universe.
Put positive energy behind the spacecraft, and negative energy in front of the spacecraft, and that should propel the craft along at warp speed.
"Space in front of the ship is shrinking faster than the speed of light, and behind it, space is expanding faster than the speed of light," and that should push the bubble along with the ship inside, "just like riding a wave."
But how do you do that? Not all the answers are in yet, but the Baylor pair theorizes that with enough energy, it might be possible to alter the 11th dimension, a key part of string theory, which maintains that there are far more than the three dimensions we common folk see on earth.
With enough energy, the "space-time dimension" in front of and behind the Starship Enterprise could at least start the bubble on its way, Cleaver suggested.
"The initial energy required would be on a par with the total mass of Jupiter," he said. "If you could convert Jupiter into energy," the bubble could be launched.
But it would probably require much more energy to stabilize the system and keep the bubble moving toward an infinite number of other universes, according to string theory, that are so far away their light has not reached us yet, and thus cannot be seen.
Cleaver admits he doesn't expect to see that happen.
"This is purely a theoretical discussion of how the Alcubierre effect could theoretically be achieved through string theory," he said.
But there's a few more problems. Scientists are at odds with each other over whether string theory should even be considered science.
Many maintain that the theory cannot be proved, or disproved, as far as is known, so it isn't science. Others hold out hope that some very expensive machines in the future may verify, or debunk, the theory.
So the Starship Enterprise is coasting through very thin air, to say the least. Even if it could travel at near the speed of light, it would take more than four years to reach the nearest star beyond our solar system, and hundreds of years to reach very many stars that could have planets with life.
But "Star Trek" is a movie, after all. It doesn't have to be based on facts. Besides, how many Jupiters can we spare?