Sunday Things - nuclear propulsion edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday August 19 2012

While reading up on the oft-mentioned MSL Curiosity and its nuclear-fuelled RTG power supply, I got distracted by some altogether less safe nuclear options starting with the heady days of the Cold War...

No, not MINERVA.
NERVA - or Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application - a programme to develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine, later deemed suitable for a putative manned mission to Mars, and then cancelled in order to avoid the cost of that manned mission to Mars. The test rockets looked terrifying - and of course the Soviets didn't want to be left behind...

Nuclear fallout is someone else's problem.
Project Orion - the mother (and father, and three-headed irradiated child) of potential nuclear rocketry, this would have worked by dropping small nuclear bombs behind the spacecraft, exploding them and riding the resulting shockwave on a gigantic, spring-loaded plate. While it would have succeeded in launching frankly implausible masses into orbit and beyond, it would also have produced plenty of radioactive fallout - though not as much as the nuclear war they were expecting...

All pilots are equipped with Pip-Boy 3000s.
Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion - prior to the invention of the rapid-delivery ICBM, keeping one's nuclear bombs on near-endlessly-flying nuclear bombers seemed like an eminently sensible thing to do. Perhaps fortunately for everyone involved, a test flight with an operational but otherwise unconnected nuclear reactor showed protecting the crew from irradiation was too impractical to warrant further development.

Not developed by the Weyland Yutani Corporation.
Project Prometheus - moving close to the present day, instead of an interstellar mission to disregard sensible quarantine procedures, a bid to combine a nuclear reactor with ion thrusters to send giant, unmanned space probes to the outer solar system. Cancelled, due to budgetary issues. Of course. We did get the solar-powered Juno, currently en route to Jupiter!

Bonus Martian Humour corner:

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inomine's gravatar

1. Orion

Posted by inomine at 2:21AM, Monday August 20 2012

The BBC made a great documentary about project Orion, called "To Mars by A-Bomb". It contains footage of a proof of concept test they did with a rocket powered by conventional explosives. Even that looked suitably mental.

Cargo Cult's gravatar

2. Orion!

Posted by Cargo Cult at 10:58AM, Wednesday August 22 2012

Let us thank YouTube, home of old science documentaries:

"To Mars By A-Bomb - The Secret History of Project Orion"


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