One of the great science fiction dreams.
The idea of a force that opposes gravity emerged in the late 1800s. Typically, writers imagined devices allowing people, or objects, to hover or to be boosted about. An antigravity principle, known as ‘apergy’, was used to send spaceships to Mars in Percy Greg’s Across the Zodiac (1880). Less romantically, in CC Dail’s Willmoth the Wanderer (1890), an antigravity ointment is smeared on the hero’s space vehicle.
Unsurprisingly, we owe the most famous antigravity device to H G Wells. His First Men in the Moon (1901) ingeniously describes how antigravity shutters made of ‘Cavorite’, a metal that shields against gravity, is used to send rockets to the Moon. And Buck Rogers’ even had an antigravity belt.
Since, according to Einstein, gravity is just curved space, all that’s needed to allow antigravity is to simply bend space the other way. Tricky. For an antigravity device to work, ‘negative mass’ would be needed, an idea only conceivable in a universe of ‘negative space’, which could not co-exist in our own Universe.
Nonetheless, US physicist Paul Wesson and his colleagues are re-considering Einstein. And in 2011, they will launch an experimental satellite to detect ‘negative mass’ . . .