From the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven yearsFrom the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven years, developed what remains the only efficient method of putting large cargoes into space or of sending large scale missions to explore other planets. Their method? Explode nuclear bombs a short distance from the spacecraft and ride the shockwave like a surfboard.
The science & engineering behind it were never shot down, and in fact consistently cited as sound.
The fact that it used nuclear explosions, however, meant that it was both highly classified and politically impractical to use.
The author of this book, George Dyson, is the son of one of the group's founding minds, physicist Freeman Dyson, and some 40 years after his father left the project, George Dyson went about systematically reconstructing how the project began, developed, and died, conducting hundreds of interviews of the surviving scientists & engineers, as well as combing archives and journals for those details which have been declassified (with the amusing result that when NASA reopened studies on the concept in 1999, they asked the younger Dyson for nearly 1,800 pages of Project Orion reports which they could not find in Government vaults).
Project Orion was founded by many of the scientists who were heavily involved in the nuclear arms race following WWII, the big brains at Los Alamos & Livermore who tried to create ever more powerful, efficient, and smaller nuclear warheads. Eventually, they wanted to use them for something other than destruction, and quickly realized that they would make an extremely efficient propulsion source for a spacecraft. A 4,000-ton Orion-style spacecraft was expected to place well over 1,000 tons of payload into Earth Orbit.
These giants of science were no doubt naive in their idealism and optimism, but nevertheless managed to hit upon a vastly more efficient means of leaving Earth's gravity well than all the billions spent leading up to Apollo -- which they correctly prophesied would become a technological dead-end where space development was concerned. If ideas of sending a manned mission to Saturn in the mid-60s or even mid-70s seem far-fetched today, at the time many people were riding the post-WWII high when anything imaginable seemed possible...a state of mind which seems quite foreign to people today.
This book is not terribly technical; no major math is required, and only a very basic understanding of science. It is much more about the power of a few bright individuals left to develop an idea in a nurturing environment and then about the unthinking power of a bureaucracy to stifle something for which it has no immediate use...even if there may be a use for it in the future....more
Falling victim to many of the same biases he rails against other visionaries and scientists for having, Zubrin proceeds to display a zealot's lack ofFalling victim to many of the same biases he rails against other visionaries and scientists for having, Zubrin proceeds to display a zealot's lack of a grounding in reality. The technical bits "proving" that Mars is the place to go in the solar system are amusingly one-sided -- despite the fact that many of the ideas for building habitats within lunar orbit are much more cost-effective if those habitats are allowed to use materials from Near-Earth Orbit asteroids, which are far easier to exploit than Mars, and much less hazardous than the trip to Mars would be.
Moreover, Zubrin displays a lack of basic planetary science in a few places -- by trade he's an aerospace engineer, not a planetary scientist -- with his blithe assumption that if Mars once had liquid water which has since frozen, it'll be a snap (relatively) to unfreeze it, and then Mars will be habitable!!!11oneone. Which rather ignores the whole question of why Mars got cold.
The volume is not useless, but it should be cross-checked with other books on the subject of space exploration, exploitation, and habitation. This is not a one-stop-shop, and Zubrin himself I consider an untrustworthy source....more
This was a fascinating read -- but probably not for everyone. For those interested in how situations shape tools and weapons, rather than how weaponsThis was a fascinating read -- but probably not for everyone. For those interested in how situations shape tools and weapons, rather than how weapons are used, this can be a real treasure as it charts the development of the modern destroyer in American service from the turn of the 20th century until the beginning of the 21st -- essentially the entire lifetime of the destroyer.
The book is chock full of design studies and narrative explaining how and why particular decisions were made about ship design, such as the fact that American destroyers tended to have a much greater provision for fuel, because it was recognized at an early point that they would need to cross long distances if they were to stay with the battle fleet and fulfill their purpose as "torpedo boat destroyers" and the guardians of the battleships. ...more
Tracing the design of aircraft carriers from USS Langley, a converted collier, to USS Nimitz with its nuclear power, this book is a gem for anyone intTracing the design of aircraft carriers from USS Langley, a converted collier, to USS Nimitz with its nuclear power, this book is a gem for anyone interested in how and why ships are designed in a particular fashion. Detailed exterior plans are shown for nearly all American aircraft carriers and much of the political infighting within the Navy about the role of carriers and the abilities which make the "perfect" carrier are covered in this volume. ...more