Ah the 1950s. Such a better time of life for the world. DDT and Asbestos were used everywhere, a future was envisioned with flying cars, and the flux capacitor was invented. It was during these simpler times that science realized that Nuclear power was the answer to everything. Before the silliness that was environmentalism, before Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
It was during this time that NASA started Project Orion. What is project Orion you ask? The coolest and fastest way to travel in space (until FTL drives are made anyway). The basic idea behind it was to use controlled nuclear explosions to propel a space ship froward in space. Sounds pretty dangerous doesn’t it? Well like all things of the 1950s, danger was everything’s middle name, if you didn’t have at least a 73% chance of being killed, or a 81% chance of wasting millions of dollars in spectacular explosions, then you weren’t doing proper research. (It’s my opinion that we need to return to those ideals if we as a species are to continue to exist).
Anyway, the concept behind the idea was sound, but the technology to control a nuclear explosion in then methods required just did not exist yet, that was one of the reasons why it was stopped. However, there can be some concern from people about having 1080 nuclear bombs strapped the the end of their tiny little home and rocketing across the solar system at 0.1 times the speed of light. That was the high estimate for speed for manned versions of the Orion, and 1080 nukes was the design for the Super Orion, an 8 million ton ship meant for interplanetary exploration.
It was an ingenious idea because nuclear power is cheaper then chemical to get to space, the only problem is fallout, and there would be tons of it if these rockets were made and launched from earth. Why not launch then in orbit then? The EMP would knock out satellites. The only solution was to launch from the poles, or from the moon or beyond. How do you get this 8 million ton ship up there? Build it in space. In the 1950s though, that wasn’t economically feasible (it still isn’t), so in the end, the whole project was shelved, but shelved is better then scrapped.
They did perform some tests to see if you could propel a man made object with a nuclear explosion, and the tests were successful, so now it’s only a matter of restarting up this research. The space elevator could be completed in as little as 20 years depending on who you listen to, and if we had a few of those, we could totally build one of these in orbit, use conventional explosives to get it to the moon, and then let her loose and go to Saturn, or Mars, or Asteroids.
With an estimated 14,000 nuclear weapons between just the US and Russia, making even small versions of the Orion ship a smart way to get rid of thousands of unused, unneeded nuclear weapons sitting in warehouses collecting dust, and wasting money. It was estimated that we could make it to Mars in a year with these types of ships, and about 100 years to get to Proxima Centairi.
I really think it’s a cool concept, I mean look at these designs. I doubt anything actually made would look anything like that in real life, but it still is an interesting idea. One of the more plausible uses for this technology was to use it to force incoming asteroids and other NEOs out of the way by means of brute force. Slam one of these rockets weighing in at few million tons and you will definitely knock anything out of the way.
Bringing things back to our planet, there was plans in both the US, and the USSR to have nuclear powered bombers circle the globe. The idea behind them was that these bombers would never need to be refueled, and in theory, could circle above the earth as long as needed, always an hour or two away from dropping it’s payload on whatever city(ies) instructed to.
The air force actually did some tests with an engine that was nuclear powered. What is a nuclear powered air craft engine? Well, it’s a modified engine that gets its exhaust from super heated exhaust from the nuclear reactor.
Original tests by the air force were focused on proving that you could shield humans from the radiation from the nuclear reactors in an airplane, because the materials needed weigh a lot, which is something not so important in subs. The process worked, but with the development of ICBMs, the need to keep planes circling the skies 24/7/365 was gone. The program was scrapped, never to be heard from again.
Until now that is. With the rising prices of jet fuel, people are looking towards other renewable energy sources. While wind and solar and hydro power is good for electricity on the ground, it wont really work for an aircraft. (Unless we have some paradox where you use the wind resistance to generate the power for the plane while its moving, but that would be a perpetual motion device that is just way to much for most minds to think of, anyway…)
Nuclear powered aircraft are a thing of dreams, a green way to travel the world, you could have non stop flights from NYC to Sydney, it would still take just as long to get there, because we haven’t come up with a sonic boomless supersonic jet, but hopefully we’ll be able to use our nuclear powered air craft to get that. Then I would have a few of my goals fulfilled.
Nuclear aircraft use a nuclear reactor for their propulsion, so they have no fallout from a self contained intact reactor. Perfectly safe. There’s even measures in place to prevent accidents from happening if the nuclear engine got damaged, or if the plane was about to crash. Now, with the fears of terrorism, I guess there is some reason to not want these nuclear powered planes, but with no risk comes no rewards, and I truly think that we should have nuclear powered everything.
Nuclear energy is a touchy subject, people don’t like it, they are afraid of it, and they don’t understand it. The truth of the matter is that we need to embrace nuclear energy, and all the raw potential there is in it. While it may be a scary technology, there is much to be learned, and gained from it. It was a technology that people thought wasn’t possible, and in a few short years the world was proven wrong. Unfortunately because of mostly irrational fears, we’ve underdeveloped our nuclear technologies.
There are real fears associated with nuclear power, but over the years, those have no real basis in fact anymore. Now nuclear power is safer for the environment then conventional gasoline/fossil fuels. The reactors are much more efficient, small, portable, and cheaper to run. They also have an operational lifespan of multiple decades with proper maintenance. In the right settings the cooling towers of nuclear plants really add to the ascetics of the land. I would have no issues living with towers in my back yard.
And if things go wrong, well just remember this factual quote of mine:
They say the sunsets are beautiful after a nuclear blast
I say, let’s make some beautiful sunsets
There is a scientific reason for that too, it has to do with all the debris that gets sent into the atmosphere, it reflects, and refracts the light from the sunset differently. It’s true, and that is my number one goal in life, see the sunset after seeing a nuclear bomb go off.
When I become rich and powerful, I will have my own personal private fleet of nuclear powered things. And then when the robots take over, if i don’t have a bunker that’s nuclear powered, then I will take my nuclear powered ships into space, and set up shop inside some asteroid.