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To Mars by A-Bomb: The Secret History of Project Orion (2003)

Top scientists want to build a nuclear bomb-powered spaceship to visit Mars and the planets.

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Jaromir Astl ...
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Jeremy Bernstein ...
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Arthur C. Clarke ...
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Ed Creutz ...
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Freeman Dyson ...
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George Dyson ...
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Edward B. Giller ...
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Jonathan Kydd ...
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Thomas Macken ...
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Harris Mayer ...
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Donald I. Prickett ...
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Johndale Solem ...
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Theodore B. Taylor ...
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David Weiss ...
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Top scientists want to build a nuclear bomb-powered spaceship to visit Mars and the planets.

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space | atom bomb | orion | See All (3) »

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26 March 2003 (UK)  »

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£120,000 (estimated)
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Daddy, where's my spaceship?
13 October 2009 | by (Cork, Ireland) – See all my reviews

This is the fascinating story of Project Orion, an interplanetary spaceship designed in the 1950's by a team of top physicists and engineers at General Atomics. Although never built, this spaceship would have been 10,000 tons in weight, 10x faster than any spacecraft ever launched and could take hundreds of men to Mars in a matter of months. The design could have been the base for an interstellar craft which in theory could reach the nearest stars in 40-50years. Compare this with Voyager 2, the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Voyager would take 40,000 years to go the same distance.

The key point about Orion is that it used nuclear bombs as a propulsion system. Despite the obvious destructiveness of nuclear bombs the engineers proved that the concept was practical and economically feasible. However, in order to try to get the billion dollars funds to build it, the project leaders tried to enlist interest the military establishment. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The generals were so keen on Orion that the project turned from a scientific endeavour into a kind of Death Star. President Kennedy's concerns that Orion would provoke a nuclear arms race in space eventually killed the project.

The documentary is centered on Freeman Dyson and his son George. Freeman Dyson is one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians alive today, who was recruited initially in 1958 to give the Orion project intellectual credibility. Freeman's son, George, was a young boy when his father told him he was building a spaceship. He remembers feeling disappointed, because his father would never promise to take him with him into space. In his teens, he fell out with his father, partly because he could never hope to measure up to him in physics. He went to the west coast and lived tree house and built kayaks for a living. Later in life George became a writer and went back to try to piece together the Orion story, before the key members of the project died off. His father would never talk to him about it. George tracked down many members of the project team and gathered thousands of pages of documents and rare footage. Despite the 50 years elapsed since Orion was canceled, much of the project remains highly classified, particularly because Orion depended on a reliable supply of thousands of small and cheap nuclear bombs.

Also interviewed is the late Arthur C Clarke who made the point that if you want to move large payloads around the solar system, the Orion concept is the only way that this is possible. According to George Dyson, NASA keeps an Orion spaceship design available in the contingency that the Earth is ever threatened by an asteroid or comet.

Essential viewing for space-cadets, Orion may yet fly someday.


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