A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘space colonization

[BRIEF NOTE] On the false dream of Project Orion

At The Space Review, in the article “Starfleet was closer than you think” authored by Major Brent Ziarnick and Lt. Col. Peter Garretson, the argument is made that the Project Orion nuclear bomb-powered spacecraft of the 1960s could and should have been made, that our world would now be an enthusiastically spacefaring world.

Today, the United States is in the process of a renaissance of interstellar thought and ambition. In the popular culture, with the discovery nearly every day of potentially Earth-like exoplanets, and popular movies like Interstellar, we are seeing an increasing public interest. And in the technical community, there is new leadership when it comes to actually designing interstellar capable spacecraft, such as DARPA’s 100 Year Starship project, Icarus Interstellar, and the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop.

But we could have been so much farther along. After the publication of George Dyson’s book Project Orion, and a few specials, a lot of people know that in the early 1960s DARPA investigated the possibility of a nuclear-pulse-detonation (that is, powered by the explosion of nuclear bombs) spacecraft.

Most assume the program was cancelled for technical problems, but that is not the case. Few know how seriously the idea was taken by the top leadership of the US Air Force.

Preceding but also concurrently developed with Apollo, this extremely ambitious project had unbelievable payload capability. Where Apollo at 3,500 tons could only put two tons on the Moon, the smaller Orion (about the same total mass, 4,000 tons) could soft-land 1,200 tons (600 times as much) on the Moon, and the larger (only three times as heavy as Apollo, or 10,000 tons) could soft-land 5,700 tons (nearly 3,000 times as much) on the Moon, or take 1,300 tons of astronauts and consumables on a three-year round-trip to Saturn and back!1 The fission powered Orion could even achieve three to five percent the speed of light, though a more advanced design using fusion might achieve eight to ten percent the speed of light.

Most assume the program was cancelled for technical problems, but that is not the case. Few know how seriously the idea was taken by the top leadership of the US Air Force.

Because internal budget discussions and internal memoranda are not generally released and some only recently declassified, almost nobody knows how close Strategic Air Command (SAC) was to building the beginning of an interstellar-capable fleet. Had the personalities of the Air Force’s civilian leadership been different in 1962, humanity might have settled a good part of the inner solar system and might be launching probes to other stars today. We might also have had the tools to deflect large asteroids and comets.

This article was dissected by commenters over at James Nicoll’s Livejournal. Leaving aside the non-trivial technical challenges discussed over there, I would add that not only would fleets of spacecraft propelled by nuclear weapons make Earth orbit unusable for commercial purposes, but simply being able to get to Mars quickly is not enough. Do the life support technologies needed to sustain crews for hundreds of days exist? Is there anything on Mars, or elsewhere, that would actually attract sustained interest even with relatively swift interplanetary travel? I’m skeptical.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2015 at 10:05 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO notes a Toronto vigil for the Jordanian pilot murdered by ISIS.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about friends and age gaps.
  • Centauri Dreams draws from Poul Anderson</a. to consider the far future.
  • Crooked Timber considers trolling.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper wondering why circumbinary exoplanets are so detectable.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at robots: robots which put out fires on American navy ships, robots in China which do deliveries for Alibaba, robots which smuggle drugs.
  • Far Outliers notes Singapore’s pragmatism and its strong military.
  • Language Log notes the language of language diversity.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders about the prospects of the Euro-tied Danish crown.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes the approach of Ceres.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers scenarios for a profitable Nicaragua Canal and notes the oddities of Argentina.
  • Registan looks at Mongolian investment in Tuva, and other adjacent Mongolian-influence Russian regions.
  • Savage Minds looks at Iroquois linguistic J.N.B. Hewitt.
  • Seriously Science notes how immigrant chimpanzees adapt tothe vocalizations of native chimps.
  • Spacing Toronto talks about the need for an activist mayor in Toronto.
  • Torontoist examines the history of important black bookstore Third World Books and Crafts.
  • Towleroad notes many young gay/bi students are looking for sugar daddies, and notes the failure of Slovakia’s anti-gay referendum.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a new Bosnian Serb law strictly regulating offensive speech online.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the collapse of the Russian world, suggests Russia should not be allowed a role in Donbas, argues that a Ukrainian scenario is unlikely in the Latvian region of Latgale and in the Baltics more broadly, and looks at the growth of fascism in Russia.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Anthropology.net notes the importance of anthropological knowledge in understanding the West African Ebola crisis.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at the strange protoplanetary belt of GG Tauri-A.
  • Discover‘s Crux considers requirements for a starfaring civilization.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze points to an apparently young and planet-forming binary star, OGLE-LMC-ECL-11893.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that China and Russia have blocked the formation of an Antarctic marine reserve, notes the ways in which diverse sciences can be used to understand the pre-Columbian Amazon, and notes a simulation of Titan’s ancient climate.
  • Eastern Approahces looks at the Ukraine-Russia gas deal.
  • Geocurrents examines regional divides in Brazil on the basis of the 2014 presidential election vote.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that PReP can prevent HIV infection even on short notice, and observes that the coming out of Apple CEO Tim Cook has been followed by a Russian parliamentarian’s proposal to ban Apple and the taking down of a monument to Steve Jobs.
  • Language Hat links to a beautiful family tree illustration of Europe’s languages.
  • Language Log notes complex translation issues between Cantonese and Mandarin in Chow Yun Fat’s position on Hong Kong.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money does not like Frank Gehry.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a quixotic movement in the Italian island of Sardinia to be annexed by Switzerland.
  • Peter Watts of No Fucking Icons dislikes the political uses of terrorism by the Canadian government.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes a design for a drill that could drill deeply into the surfaces of different moons and notes the return of Chinese test moon vehicle Chang’e 5’s probe.
  • Savage Minds notes an interesting comparative study of Seoul and Baltimore.
  • Spacing Toronto looks at the recovery of Toronto’s lost Tomlins Creek.
  • Torontoist discusses the importance of finding a new police chief for Toronto.
  • Towleroad examines reasons
  • Window on Eurasia notes the need to sustain the survivors of the Aral Sea, and observes the new isolation of Kaliningrad.
  • Zero Geography links to a paper examining the spread of telecommunications networks in East Africa now with the spread of modern transport a century earlier.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Bad Astronomy shares a picture of the astonishingly crowded center of the Milky Way galaxy.
  • blogTO recommends things to do in the Junction and Liberty Village.
  • Centauri Dreans notes an interesting new binary star discovery, one where a hot Jupiter orbits each star.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on further research done of a close brown dwarf.
  • The Frailest Thing notes an interview with spaceflight proponent Elon Musk painting him as a messianic figure, a Moses or Noah.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper suggesting that western Europe experienced growign longevity from an early age.
  • The New APPS Blog notes the intersections of philosophy, religion, and euthanasia.
  • Registan notes the arrival of Islamic banking in the former Soviet Union.
  • Steve Munro notes the return of streetcar service to Queens Quay.
  • Torontoist is skeptical of Olivia Chow’s transit plan, not detailed enough.
  • Towleorad reports on a Russian exchange student in the United States who has claimed asylum and reports on civil unions’ new introduction in Chile.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the weaknesses of the Belarusian economy, observes the linguistic links between Crimean Tatars and various north Caucasian peoples, argues that 1600 Russian soldiers have died, observes Russian belief that China is an ally, and notes that older Muslim communities in Moscow separate themselves from the newer immigrant communities.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait notes a new study suggesting that the star Betelgeuse will go supernova not imminently, but rather in a hundred thousand years.
  • blogTO profiles midtown Toronto’s Merton Street.
  • Discover‘s Crux examines the most suitable potential locations for offworld colonies (Venus, the Moon, Mars).
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper suggesting that binary star systems might actually be better-suited to Earth-like worlds that solitary star systems like our our and links to another speculating about the patterns of light emitted by Earth-like worlds.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes an archeological study suggesting that chocolate was eaten in the Mississippian civilization of Cahokia, and looks at an ongoing dispute over rocket development between France and Germany in the European Space Agency.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Pereltsvaig looks at the ongoing disappearance of the Belarusian language.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the exceptional vulnerability of Scotland’s economy to its banking sector.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw reflects on the movement for statehood in the Australian region of New England in the light of the imminent Scottish referendum.
  • Torontoist notes a survey examining the issues of LGBT people in the Ontario police services.
  • Towleroad notes the lesbian couple married in Iowa after seventy years together.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that the Northern Marianas are the only jurisdiction with a total handgun ban.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the progress of fascism in Russia, considers the consequences of the war for both Ukraine and Russia, and looks at growing concern elsewhere in the former Soviet space about Russia.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO shares pictures of Queen Street in the 1980s.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly considers the idea of a digital detox.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper noting strange occultations of TW Hydrae.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to one paper suggesting plants can grow in simulated (and fertilized) Martian and lunar soil, and speculates Russia will be trying to build a space station of its own or to cooperate with China.
  • Eastern Approaches examines the shaky ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Joan Rivers was an early HIV/AIDS activist of note.
  • Language Hat summarizes a paper suggesting that language death and economic success are correlated.
  • Marginal Revolution considers Scottish separatism, wondering about the sense of either a currency union or a separate currency, and noting the increased possibility of separatism according to betters.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog critiques Mark Adomanis’ critique of Masha Gessen’s article on Russian demographics.
  • Savage Minds notes that, alas, Joan Rivers never majored in anthropology.
  • Torontoist notes that NDP Joe Cressy, defeated in his run for the Canadian parliament, is now running for city council.
  • Towleroad notes the firing of a pregnant lesbian teacher by a Catholic school, and observes the hatred felt by some anti-gay people who would like books celebrating children pleased when their same-sex parents die (among other things).
  • Understanding Society examines the sociology of influence.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy disagrees with Henry Farrell that laissez-faire ideology contributed to the Irish Famine.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian hostility towards the Crimean Tatar Meijis, reports on things Ukrainians think Ukraine should do doing the ceasefire and things Russians think Ukrainians should do (federalize and accept the loss of the east), notes high rates of childlessness in Moscow, and suggests that the Russian victory in eastern Ukraine is exceptionally pyrrhic.
  • At the Financial Times‘s The World blog, the point is made that a Scottish vote for independence would have profound implications worldwide.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams hosts a speculative essay by one Adam Crowl imagining how life could endure for eons beyond the death of stars in an aging universe.
  • The Cranky Sociologists’s SocProf studies the interaction between national identity and team sports in an era of globalization and migration.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper analyzing the connection between a star’s metallicity and the likelihood of it hosting giant planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper suggesting that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by itself lengthens the growing season, irrespective of warming.
  • Eastern Approaches looks at the scandal in Poland following the sharing of Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski’s impolitic words about NATO and the American alliance.
  • The Financial Times‘s The World blog wonders what the jeering of a female politician by her male peers means about gender equity in Japan.
  • Language Hat looks at the languages used in soccer.
  • Personal Approaches’ Jim Belshaw deplores the imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.
  • At the Planetary Science Blog, Bill Dunford celebrates the many achievements of the Cassini probe at Saturn.
  • Van Waffle of the Speed River Journal writes about the return of bullfrogs to his local lake this year, in the context of issues for amphibians generally.
  • Torontoist features trans male Alex Abramovich’s writings about the personal and broader importance of pride.
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