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If Congress found a half trillion dollars tomorrow for a down payment on a mission to Mars, how would we get there? For more than 50 years, a hard core of rocket scientists has promoted a propulsion system that holds, in roughly equal measure, promise and danger: nuclear.
No nuclear rocket aficionado has been as active as Harold B. Finger, the former head of the U.S. nuclear rocket program and a man whose involvement with the American space program predates NASA’s creation. This week, the 86-year-old Finger will advocate for nuclear propulsion at a space conference in Dallas.
He has written, “the technology of nuclear rocket propulsion was fully demonstrated as ready for flight mission applications… Let’s do it!” Harold Finger is, far and away, the most fascinating rocket scientist you’ve never heard of.
Finger became part of a nuclear group at NACA that tried to figure out how to shield pilots from nuclear plants in aircraft. The group did experiments such as installing a one megawatt nuclear reactor in a B-36 Peacemaker Nuclear Bomber – though it was never used to propel the craft – to see what kind of shielding the crew would require to escape radiation exposure. The concept of nuclear aircraft was eventually scrapped too. The last, best remaining idea for nuclear propulsion was space.
By the time of NASA’s founding in 1958, it was considered possible, probable even, that man would ride a nuclear powered rocket into space and the destination would be Mars. In 1960, Finger was made the manager of the Atomic Energy Commission – NASA Space Nuclear Propulsion Office and he set to work testing nuclear propulsion systems. In an article for Astronautics magazine in 1961, he wrote, “Although we may not be able to overtake the Russians in the race for the moon… I believe we are ahead in the race for manned exploration of the planets.” The reason was nuclear rockets.
Project Orion was a study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft (Nuclear pulse propulsion).
Early versions of this vehicle were proposed to have taken off from the ground with significant associated nuclear fallout; later versions were presented for use only in space.
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations--explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.
Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.
Originally posted by anon72 An account in Annie Jacobsen’s “Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base,” paints an even wilder picture. On Jan. 12, 1965, Jacobsen writes, a Kiwi reactor at Los Alamos was allowed to overheat as a kind of practice drill for a nuclear accident , and eventually burst. A radioactive cloud floated west toward Los Angeles and then out to sea, according to Jacobsen’s book. The Russians argued it violated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. NASA’s official history confirms the test. Jacobsen asked Finger about the test in 2010. “I don’t recall the exact test,” he replied...
...NO wonder they Gov't doesn't want anyone around Area 51. Purposely causing nuke accidents can be a good thing...
Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter
JIMO was to have a large number of revolutionary features. Throughout its main voyage to the Jupiter moons, it was to be propelled by an ion propulsion system via either the HiPEP or NEXIS engine, and powered by a small fission reactor. A Brayton power conversion system would convert reactor heat into electricity. Providing a thousand times the electrical output of conventional solar or RTG based power system, the reactor was expected to open up opportunities like flying a full scale ice-penetrating radar system and providing a strong, high-bandwidth data transmitter.
Using electric propulsion (8 ion engines, plus Hall thrusters of varying sizes) would make it possible to go into and leave orbits around the moons of Jupiter, creating more thorough observation and mapping windows than exist for current spacecraft, which must make short fly-by maneuvers because of limited fuel for maneuvering.
The design called for the reactor to be positioned in the tip of the spacecraft behind a strong radiation shield protecting sensitive spacecraft equipment. The reactor would only be powered up once the probe was well out of Earth orbit, so that the amount of radionuclides that must be launched into orbit is minimized. This configuration is thought to be less risky than the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used on previous missions to the outer solar system.
Northrop Grumman was selected on September 20, 2004 for a $400 million preliminary design contract, beating Lockheed Martin and Boeing IDS. The contract was to have run through to 2008. Separate contracts, covering construction and individual instruments, were to be awarded at a later date.
Originally posted by Hypernova86
A fairly new BBC article discussing Pamelas findings.
I was going to post as a new thread, but search turned this one up.
Can I just ask, since I'm questioning it myself... Where does this leave us with the moon landings? Surely if the Van Allen belt was previously held as the biggest cause for doubt upon the moon landings, then the discovery of antiprotons would only make it all the more unlikely for astronauts to have casually glided on through? I may be wrong but I'm sure one of you kind folk will swiftly boot it in to touch if I'm wide of the mark. .
Jim Bickford would like to acknowledge the numerous contributions from the people and
organizations that enabled or directly contributed to the success of the phase I program. Funding
was provided by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) under a contract administered
by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
As for electrical power, just like all other electric rockets, VASIMR® needs electricity, so questions related to the power source naturally rise to the top. While Ad Astra is not in the business of developing space power sources, the company follows carefully the progress in both of the leading space electric power options: solar and nuclear. What follows is a brief discussion of both.