Fri, 27 July 2007
I mentioned in my Conversation with science fiction author Rob Saywer here a few weeks ago that we might have gotten to Mars in 1965.
Here are some further details, as Freeman Dyson laid them out at the Guggenheim in
In the immediate aftermath of the Sputnik 1 in October 1957, the door was wide open in
Project Orion was one of those projects. Use atom bombs not as weapons but fuel for a rocket to the solar system. The rocket would travel fast enough to get us to Mars in two swift months. With a cargo hold as big as an auditorium.
The project had drawbacks. People were concerned about political fallout that would result from nuclear fallout from the fuel. Of course, in those days - the 1950s and 1960s - nuclear testing was already dumping lots of dangerous radiation into the atmosphere. Orion's contribution to that would have been neglible. But it was too much, politically.
The project also died of competition from Apollo. Politicians had one-track minds in those days - commitment to one space project was more than enough. Orion got an initial green light in 1958, only to be killed by JFK in the early 1960s - the same JFK who set us on a trip to the Moon via Apollo.
Is it too late for Orion to be resuscitated? According to Dyson, its time has passed. Nuclear power is still too slow a propellant for trips to the stars. Laser sails are better for that. And although it still takes four times longer to get to Mars by chemically-launched vehicles today than it would have by the nuclear-powered ship Dyson and his colleagues were building, we've mastered the production of our current chemical ships to the point that it wouldn't pay to go back to Project Orion.
So it's history, now. A moment in time when Dyson apologized to his little boy George that there probably wouldn't be room on the ship for him - Freeman Dyson was that serious about making the trip himself.
A moment in time. A golden opportunity. Lost.
We need to make sure we don't let that happen again.
Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship George Dyson's account of his father's project
And on the need for us to get out into space, far more than we already have, you might also enjoy...
Category:Cosmos -- posted at: 8:00pm EDT