Project Orion

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AKA the worst rocket idea EVAR.

Project Orion was a NASA “Nucular” rocket propulsion system from the 1950s. Except that nuclear powered, in this instance means nuclear BOMB powered.

The Orion rocket was essentially a nuclear pulse rocket designed to use a series of controlled/directed nuclear detonations for propulsion.

Nuclear reactions are some of the most energetic for any given mass of fuel, and could technically be an ideal energy source for high endurance, long range, space flight applications.

However, used in this fashion, it comes at the cost of some rather horrific radiation related side effects. The movie on the sauce page, give a little humorous insight about the problems, crew member radiation levels, eyeburn etc…

And that doesn’t even cover the environmental effects that a number of sequential, high yield nuclear explosions might occur at ground level after the fact… *shiver* But I suppose it would be better than the entire planet getting destroyed…

Sauce: DRB

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    13 Responses to Project Orion

    1. Getting to the moon cheaply: all it takes is 10,000 nuclear bombs under your ass.


    2. “environmental effects that a number of sequential, high yield nuclear explosions might occur at ground level after the fact…”

      Or you could build in orbit, use chemical rockets to get to a higher orbit, and then light off the pulse drive.
      Orion would be a great way to mine the asteroid belt, and get rid of those newkluler bombs so many are so very afraid of.
      “Sauce” contains an epic fail as well, equating the nuclear pulse drive with a nuclear powered ramjet. Entirely different concepts, sharing only the scary word “nuclear”. Well, that and “propulsion”, I suppose.

      Imagine an automated Orion spacecraft launching from lunar orbit and surveying the asteroids. Imagine the next generation of Orion probes using that data and sending the valuable asteroids back to a more convenient orbit for mining.

      Certainly not the worst idea EVAR … more like a visionary design waiting for an application.


    3. @bfd:
      I’ll grant you that building an Orion in orbit would certainly resolve the ground level radiation problem (though it is rather disturbing that all of the illustrations show only ground based launch platforms).

      However the other thing that bugs me is the mentality that nuclear waste is something we can just chuck “somewhere else” and not worry about it. Radiation is radiation, whether it is on earth or in space.

      The same applies for nuclear waste. We have seen, first hand, the kinds of environmental problems it causes, when dumped locally. And we know even less about deep space that we do about or own environment. Knowing this, it seems grossly irresponsible for us to continue that unhealthy trend in space.

      Besides the obvious disregard for the planet side effects, that is why I think this program phails. It would only make sense if was the only way to prevent the destruction of the planet in it’s entirety.

      The source page does also show a nuclear powered ramjet, though I didn’t get the impression they were equating the two, just attempting to list other forms of nuclear based interstellar propulsion…


    4. Worst idea evar? More like BEST idea evar! Possibly not the best idea for near-Earth travel, but space is big. Really, really, really big. You set off a nuclear bomb in the depths of space, all those lil radioactive particles go flying off at ridiculous speeds, and with nothing to “stick” to, and no gravity well keeping ’em down, it wouldn’t take very long for the radiation from the bomb to have dispersed to a level that it would be indistinguishable from background radiation.


    5. The “horrific environmental effects” are highly overrated. Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson calculated the that the world-wide cancer rate would go up by one for every launch of an Orion craft.
      The proposed Orion craft was HUGE. Approximately the size of aircraft carrier. It would have been capable of reaching any planet in the Solar system within a few months, as opposed to chemical rockets that take 18 months just to get to Mars.
      Everyone should read The Orion Project by George Dyson and quit pissing their pants every time they hear the word “radiation”.


    6. @AgZed: True that. “BAD” words are what hold science back. “IF” this was build in space it could use solorwind to get far enough from our system to light them off BUT people don’t realize that “Empty space” is FULL of BAD radiation. Spliting an atom for energy is what the stars do. hello? did i lose anyone- the sun is NUCLEAR. The sun emits TONS of radiation every second.. what is a tiny blast in nowhere going to do?


    7. The line drawing was from a sci-fi book written in the 80s called “Footfall”. Basically, the earth is being attacked by genetically engineered elephants that aliens took from earth thousand of years before (they “elephants” were intelligent but without creativity). Orion is the story was humanities only great attempt to fight bon ack at their giant orbiting ship, but had to built and launched from the ground under cover to keep from being attacked. Better good science was written into the story, not a bad book at all.


    8. First and foremost, this was not really a specific “project” so much as a number of related plans, ideas, half-baked schemes, and partially worked out ideas all based around the idea of using nuclear detonation based thrust (a useful distinction, since nuclear rockets using fusion or fission as a energy/heat source also exist, and in the case of nuclear battery powered un-manned craft, have already been launched). Some of them are far more preposterous than others. Let’s remember that during that time, some really zany ideas made it onto discussion tables within the U.S. government. I remember hearing about people suggesting artificial harbors be carved into the Alaska landscape using atom bombs, but like Orion, never got beyond the storyboard phase.

      As to whether Orion is a good idea or a bad idea, there are at least two obvious facts. One) a hypermassive, Earth-launched, Saturn-bound craft with 14-20 crew was a pipe dream from the get go, had ramifications the designers never thought of, and would never work. On the other end, since controlled fusion power and antimatter have not exactly become efficient technologies like our most optimistic science fictionists had hoped, the orion drive (or a preposed updated “nuclear pulse drive,” which used more frequent, but smaller nuclear explosions much closer to the ship, capturing more of the resultant energy) is the only likely way we will ever have any kind of interstellar transportation. This is because it is the only rocket technology that has a hope of producing the total thrust per pound of fuel required to get to another star within even a century.

      Hopefully the human race will live long enough that eventually a mission might happen where an Orion engine powered mission will be launched (probably from orbit around Jupiter), and head towards the stars. Myself, I’m going to read some Arthur C. Clarke and hope that we don’t destroy ourselves before we get to Mars.


    9. @reboot: The world wide cancer rate would increases by one? I have a hard time buying that.

      Both Taylor and Dyson were *for* the idea long before they actually did any calculations about it’s feasibility and/or effects.

      People who want something to work often subconsciously skew their own research to make it look better.

      And most importantly, looking back at the fully documented, long term effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is a whole lot of physical, practical and measurable evidence that would indicate otherwise.

      I am not a scientific fear monger. I fully believe that fear of what *might* happen should never be a reason not to experiment with new and sometimes dangerous things.

      However I’m not a blind follower of scientific experimentation for the sake of scientific progress either. There are consequences, positive and negative to every action.

      And I believe every scientist has an obligation to weigh the consequences, and act not in terms of scientific advancement, but in human advancement. There is a big difference between the two.

      In this case, we have volumes and volumes of easily verifiable evidence that contradicts Taylor/Dysons estimation, including and far beyond just cancer rates, and any honest scientist will tell you that calculated theory has nothing on observed reality…


    10. Where on earth did you get the crap about genetically engineered elephants? The Fithp in Footfall are common-or-garden aliens; there is a plot-engine that comes from the fact that they are herd animals; they look similar to elephants but with multiply-branching trunks which they use like a pair of hands; but they do not have a Terran origin.


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