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Inertia negation is a hypothetical process causing physical objects with mass to act as if they were of lower mass or were massless. The effect is the opposite of adding ballast. No such process is known to exist in the real world; if our present understanding of physics is correct, such a process is in fact impossible. There is currently no known material or technology that is able to eliminate or negate the effects of inertia that all known types of mass possess.
According to Newton's first law, "A body will continue in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by a net force". Inertia is the resistance against changes in the motion of an object. Objects within objects each possess their own inertia, and will collide with each other when the containing object is moved.
A device that would be capable of inertia negation is described as being capable of reducing the inertia of both the larger containing object, and of all contained objects within, so as to make changes in motion easier, and to reduce or prevent damage due to internal collisions. The inertia is not absorbed or redirected but simply ceases to have a physical effect.
Antimatter, while being the opposite of matter, has the same kind of inertia, with the forces oriented in the same direction, as normal matter. Thus, storing antimatter on board a vehicle made of matter would not achieve any kind of inertia negation.
Inertia negation in fiction
Inertia negation is a commonplace technology in numerous science fiction series. It is used as an explanation as to why the crew of starships can withstand complex maneuvres or acceleration to FTL speeds.
Notable appearances include the Star Trek franchise. However, here these devices are incorrectly described as inertia dampers; inertia dampers are real devices but they have a completely different purpose.
In the fictional Mass Effect universe dark energy fields are used ubiquitously to modify mass of objects, e.g. of weapon projectiles to allow use of compact mass accelerators in order to achieve higher muzzle velocity, or even negate the mass of entire spaceships in order to enable FTL travel.
Inertial damper as shock absorber
Inertia negation is used to counter the effects of sudden acceleration that would impart structural stresses on star ships when suddenly accelerating to or decelerating with the impulse drive, and which would cause passengers to be thrown against walls and crushed by the inertial effects of the vehicle suddenly accelerating or slowing.
Such a device does not need to negate or alter inertia – a similar effect can be achieved by creating a gravitational field opposing the acceleration of the vessel. Such technology, while still nonexistent at the present time and considered unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future, is by far more realistic than manipulating inertial mass.
- Inertial damper at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki