By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/9/2005 7:31:32 PM ET 2005-02-10T00:31:32

To anyone who's ever watched "Star Trek," teleportation is as basic as warp drives and dilithium crystals. But could science fiction become science fact? Is it possible to beam tanks and troops across the globe or behind enemy lines?

To find out, the propulsion research lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio — the same cutting-edge lab that helped bring stealth technology and lasers to the Air Force — commissioned a study.

"We have to be looking well into the future, not just the needs of tomorrow or even next year," says Col. Mike Heil, who directs the laboratory. "We're looking at perhaps 30 years."

The Air Force paid $25,000 to a researcher at a company in Las Vegas called Warp Drive Metrics.

What they got back was 78 pagesof mathematical calculations and diagrams. And after much talk of "wormholes" and "parallel universes," came a conclusion: "We are still very far away from being able to entangle and teleport human beings and bulk inanimate objects," reads page 46 of the report (PDF file).

In other words, says Heil: "The concept of transporting any large amount of matter is highly impractical and looks to be highly impractical well into the future."

Not according to "Capt. Kirk."

"I could lead this whole thing!" jokes actor William Shatner.

Now retired from Star Fleet, he says a transporter, not teleporter, would have great practical use.

"From my house to these studios and avoid the traffic, it would be incredible," says Shatner.

The study's author thinks so, too. He recommends in the report spending $7 million a year to see if it might be possible. NBC News tried to contact Warp Drive Metrics, but the calls were not returned. The Air Force says the program will now disappear.

"The Air Force has made a decision not to invest in that anymore," says Heil.

It's science fiction with a price that's no fantasy.

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