I have just finished to read the last Dan Simmons SF stories "Ilium" and "Olympos" in which a powerfull atomic propulsion system using atomic bombs explosions is described. A friend of mine told me that the system was indeed under studies in the fiftees and sixtees under the name "Orion project", name which is now used for the NASA Crew Exploration Vehicle:
"Orion was also the code name of an atomic Spaceship project [General
Dynamics Corporation/General Atomics] started in 1957 and declared dead
in 1965. A huge ship powered by hundreds of tiny atomic bombs!!! capable
of much greater lift and efficiency than chemically driven rockets.
Orion’s potential performance was stunning (could reach Pluto and return
to Earth inside of a year, or even travel to Proxima Centauri in 44
years at 10% the speed of light).
They hoped to put men on Mars by 1965 and on Saturn by 1970!"
"By using energetic nuclear power, Orion offered both high thrust and high specific impulse — the holy grail of spacecraft propulsion. It offered performance greater than the most advanced conventional or nuclear rocket engines now under study. Cheap interplanetary travel was the goal of the Orion Project. Its supporters felt that it had great potential for space travel, but it lost political approval because of concerns with fallout from its propulsion. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 is generally acknowledged to have ended the project."
I was really sceptic, but it seems to be serious.
Wouldn't it be an interesting way to clear the tremendous (and stupidly dangerous) stocks we have on Earth and send an unmanned spacecraft to the nearest stars ?
(At least, they could be used in a positive manner !!)
I'm aware about the political and ecological concerns about sending safely A/H bombs in space. I remember the trouble caused by the launch of Galileo or Cassini and their RTGs.
Do such kinds of projects still exist nowadays (even if they might not be politically correct) ?