Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Project Orion: Nuclear farts into space

Before the giant Saturn 5 rockets took men to the Moon, the US had an idea called 'Project Orion'. An incredibly ambitious idea. A brilliantly simple idea. An idea that would have left most of the USA glowing green at night, but never mind. 

Orion was an ocean liner sized spaceship, with a massive set of shock absorbers and an armour plated arse. It would have launched from the ground, reaching orbit by simply dropping nukes out the back and riding the resulting shockwaves. That simple.

Well, if you're gonna go nuts with science then go properly nuts.

The dangers posed by radiation were fairly badly understood when the project started -  and in purely mechanical terms the design probably would have worked. In the end the nuclear test ban treaty killed the project off.

But before the end the Orion team had gotten as far as building prototypes powered by regular semtex: