Project Orion – The Atomic Spaceship
The movies below show how the 1958 atomic spaceship would have worked, had not 1960-70s political correctness, political classes, and the then nascent political environmentalism shut the door on real space exploration.
Project Orion: where our space program should have evolved from, and should have gone since the 1960’s …
Except the whole idea is politically incorrect. Why? The novel use of direct nuclear propulsion. “The story of Orion is significant because this is the first time in modern history that a major expansion of human technology has been suppressed for political reasons. – Freeman Dyson, Science, A Journal, 1965; “Death of a Project”
This was the future that could have been, a future with strength and hope – made by extraordinary ordinary men. But it was not to be. In its stead, the political class gave us a future of fragility and fear.
The Orion would have made trips to various planets and other solar bodies – a journey measured in days or months, rather then months or years. The principle works the same as a firecracker under a tin can. Drop small nuclear charge, detonate, the explosive force strikes a plate, propelling the vehicle forward. Notice also the vehicle takes off and lands with conventional rockets.
The ship – crew quarters and so on – shown in the video is 200 feet high, weighs over 200 tons, comes with a crew of 100, has plentiful water supplies – allowing daily hot showers for the crew (and all the other creature-comforts we expect), uses rotation to generate artificial gravity in flight, and takes only days to get to Mars. And, of course, has been technically feasible for decades. See: Phanerozoic Eon – Historical Present for historical context.
Project Orion – a modern version
Also a book (Search Inside feature): Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship – the book by George Dyson
Excerpt from BBC’s “To Mars by A-Bomb” (2003), with footage of the “hot rod” tests and comments by Arthur Clarke and Freeman Dyson.
To Mars by A-Bomb – The Secret History of Project Orion (BBC)
The extraordinary yet true account of a secret US government-backed attempt to build a spaceship the size of an ocean liner and send it to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, propelled by thousands of miniature nuclear bombs.
Beginning in 1958 Project Orion ran until 1965, employing some of the best scientists in the world, including the brilliant British mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson. “Freeman Dyson is one of the few authentic geniuses I’ve ever met”, says Arthur C. Clarke. “Orion isn’t crazy. It would work. The question isn’t whether we could do it, but whether we should do it”.
The film uncovers a contemporary angle to Project Orion. Arthur C. Clarke states that today’s generation are once again serious about going to Mars and that NASA has once more become interested in similar nuclear technology as used by Project Orion in the early 60s.
The film has exclusive interviews with Ted Taylor, who ran The Project Orion and who is also the most legendary nuclear weapon designer of all time; and Freeman Dyson who is one of the greatest theoretical physicists and mathematicians that has lived this century. He calculated the number of atoms in the sun at age 5!
Clarke talks about how he originally wrote the screenplay for Space Odyssey 2001 and he describes how he referenced The Project Orion and its use of nuclear explosives within the plot of the screenplay. However by the time it came to filming, the nuclear references were dropped as Stanley Kubrick had become very anti-nuclear bombs and his special effects team were unable to come up with an idea as to how to visualize the actual impact of the technology.