The New Dawn: The Orion Project Spaceship Revitalized

The New Dawn: The Orion Project Spaceship Revitalized

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This episode is brought to you by World Anvil!   Here on SFIA we like to say that if Brute Force  isn’t working, you are just not using enough.   If a spaceship propelled by detonating nuclear  bombs doesn’t count, I don’t know what would.   So welcome to 2022 and the start of our Eighth  Season here on Science and Futurism with Isaac   Arthur, and I am your host, Isaac Arthur.  I thought we should start the dawn of this   new year by looking at the first Spaceship Design  that offered a realistic chance of sending a human   colony to a new solar system alive and intact.  That is Project Orion, initiated in the 1950s, and   we will ask what upgrades and modifications modern  technology might make Project Orion even better.   So we’ll be focused on essentially four things  today. First, a brief explanation of how Project  

Orion works, along with an equally brief tour  of the history of it and some of its sibling   projects. Second, how to scale it up to be bigger  and more efficient. Third, how to scale it way   down to be cheaper and more viable to launch.  And Fourth, some hybrid scenarios, like using   atomic bombs to slow a ship at the destination  but pushing beams or lasers to speed it up.   Now the entire Orion Project revolves around  a few pivotal concepts. The first of those is  

that whether we’re talking fission or fusion or  even matter to energy conversion like antimatter,   the power involved at the nuclear level is  millions to billions of times higher than   what chemical fuels release. As an example, almost  every chemical fuel, or our best modern batteries   for that matter, is somewhere in the tens to  low hundreds of millions of joules per kilogram.   Body fat for instance is about 37 Megajoules per  kilogram, sugar and carbs about 17 megajoules,   gasoline about 44. Whereas a kilogram of uranium  fuel runs about millions times that range, fusion   loosely about ten million, and matter to energy  conversion is roughly a billion times denser than   chemical fuels, at 90 million-billion joules  per kilogram, from Einstein’s famous E=mc².   To bring that into focus, Little Boy, the  bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, released   63 Trillion Joules of Energy on detonation, and  weighed just under 5 tons at 4400 kg, or 14.3   Gigajoules per kilogram. That includes all the  housing and conventional explosives in the bomb,  

which was a very primitive and inefficient device,  and yet it still pushed out 100 times the energy   per kilogram that hydrogen fuel could have,  our most energy dense chemical rocket fuel.   This led to it being seriously contemplated as  a possible spaceship propellant as early as 1946   by Stanislaw Ulam, the co-designer of the  first thermonuclear weapons with Edward Teller,   though the notion had been played with before,  even written about by scifi juggernaut Robert   Heinlein in his 1940 short story “Blowups  Happen” that somewhat predicted fission   bombs before the Manhattan Project even began. This leads to problem two, nuclear bombs are   awesome power sources but give their energy off  way too fast, in a near-instantaneous detonation,   whereas nuclear reactors propel a spaceship by  using their awesome power to either heat up a   gas and shoot it out the back or to generate  electricity for running something like an ion   drive, to magnetically propel an ion stream out  the back or generate a beam of light that acted   as your rocket flame. You obviously lose  a lot of efficiency converting the nuclear   reaction into electricity and have a lot of heavy  equipment you have to carry around for that task,   but an electric ion drive or photon rocket  can make for a very good spaceship.  

Another option would be super-heating  a gas to use as a propellant.   This certainly works to create an engine better  than a classic chemical rocket, but not by as much   as you’d think from those million-fold energy  densities, because the entire reactor and any   exchange materials have to be built from real  materials, which melt at certain temperatures.   It’s hard to get a rocket flame to temperatures  of 10,000 Kelvin if your entire apparatus melts   at 2000 Kelvin. And the hotter the gas, the  faster it pushes a rocket. Nuclear level   temperatures permitting ships to reach fractions  of light speed tend to involve temperatures   of millions of Kelvin, like we find in the  cores of stars where nuclear fusion occurs.  

The smaller the atom or molecule serving  as propellant, and the hotter it is,   the faster a rocket can go by using it. Hydrogen  atoms coming out at stellar temperatures   are something we can produce and something that  lets you make ships propelled by them get up to   reasonable interstellar speeds. Unfortunately  we can’t rapidly produce them inside ships or   reactors without melting them, and we basically  produce them by setting off a nuclear bomb…   which is something you usually would not  want occurring in or near your spaceship,   it tends to void the warranty. This was all well known to scientists   at the time working with the notion of nuclear  reactors on spaceships. There were no treaties   about nukes in space at the time, and we  worried less about radation safety back then.   Nuclear engines looked good but not nearly as  good as a bomb would. See our episode the Nuclear  

Option for more discussion of where the science  led there, with ion drives and photons rockets.   Now Project Orion came later but for the next  decade the notion of using nuclear spaceships got   explored a lot, especially with the development  of the hydrogen bomb, the first of which,   Ivy Mike, massed a huge 74,000 kilograms, 17  times as much as Little Boy, but generated an   incredible 10.4 Megatons of explosion, 700  times more than Little Boy. As a reminder,   many of these devices weigh tons, but we measure  explosive yield in the equivalent weight of TNT,   10,400,000 tons in this last case, many  packed supertankers worth. It can get a   bit confusing at times which is why I  often use joules of energy instead.  

The Mark 21 Bomb design, famous  from Castle Bravo’s TX-21 Shrimp,   would mass a mere 8000 kilograms and have a  yield of 18 megatons, 75 million-billion joules,   1200 times the yield of Little Boy for less  than half the mass of the overall device.   That’s nearly 10 Trillion joules per kilogram of  total nuclear device, a hundred thousand times   better than our rocket fuels. The entire Apollo  16 mission, the most fuel heavy Apollo mission,   came in around 30 trillion joules, or just  3 kilograms worth of that nuclear device.   And since most of an orbital rocket launch’s  fuel is going into lifting its own fuel,   basically a kilogram of a nuclear device would  let you get a modest-sized spaceship to and from   the Moon on one kilogram of bomb. With two obvious problems… first,   detonating bombs in our atmosphere is  politically and ecologically non-viable.  

Since most of a rocket’s fuel is for getting out  of that atmosphere, a chemical rocket and a second   nuclear drive for use further from Earth is less  awesome as an option, though still very handy.   Second, and it’s the big one, we can’t really make  a one-kilogram nuclear bomb and we can’t make it   detonate slowly, over a period of a few hours.  Now we can actually make bombs in that size zone   but we’ll come back to that later. Nuclear bombs  generally are way more efficient the bigger they   are, more energy per kilogram of fuel and device,  making for higher final speeds and by large   margins. The smallest nuclear device ever actually  made, the Mark 54, was a single kiloton device,   weighed only 51 pounds or 23 kilograms, and that’s  only a yield of 180 Gigajoules per kilogram,   better than Little Boy but only about 2% of  Shrimp and other thermonuclear bombs of the   50s. Nonetheless, that’s still more  than a thousand times energy denser   than even hydrogen rocket fuel, and a single  kiloton bomb is a lot more viable as a fuel.  

How does this get done? Inside an atmosphere  you’re trying to ride a shockwave but up in space   your bomb is producing a ton of gamma radiation  which is only getting absorbed by the device, not   the air around it, so there’s no real shockwave,  just a massive release of radiation akin to a   neutron bomb. So you need a great big tough – and  massive – shield behind your ship to protect you   from the radiation and convert that radiation into  kinetic energy. This is where the pusher plate,   or various accordion designs, or front-mounted  parachute designs, come in to absorb the blast,   then convert that violent jerk into a slow push  or pull on the actual main inhabited part of the   ship. Or basically the blast kicks the pusher  plater forward into a giant spring system,   which then slowly relaxes back into  place, and that near instant hit   translates into several seconds of  acceleration up in the crew module.  

We’ll get to ways to improve that, but the basic  idea then is that you detonate the bomb as close   to the pusher plate as you can without breaking it  so as to waste as little of the blast as possible,   and you just rinse and repeat. Closer  is better, and a bigger pusher plate in   width lets you detonate further away while  absorbing more blast, but the plate needs   to be strong too. Operation Plumbbob for  instance tested this concept with a one   ton steel plate pushed by a nuclear blast under  it, after which they never found the plate.   This is where project Orion comes in,  headed up by Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson,   who any channel regular knows the work of, as  he’s a legend on this show, but their project   came in 1958 and five years later ended with the  signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.   That treaty might have greatly aided the mission  of peace, but sadly did a lot to limit nuclear   research. We could devote an entire episode to  just discussing that project and Curious Droid did  

a good video on that topic a few years back. The report released by General Atomics in 1959   offered three basic sizes for Orion spacecraft,  the Satellite, the Midrange, and the Super Orion,   massing 300 tons, 1-2000 tons, and 8  million tons for each. Needless to say   that latter is eye-poppingly large,  8 Million Tons of ship and fuel,   and it is suitable for an interstellar arkship  and is the version most often being referenced,   along with various improvements that were added  later. It’s thousands of times more massive than   the satellite or mid-range, and tends to grab  all the focus from the public and scifi writers.  

Those other smaller versions though tend to be  more of interest for folks actually in the field   because they’re a lot more practical and might  actually get funded in their lifetimes.   Many other in-between sizes of ship were also  proposed at various times, including some designed   to launch from Earth itself into orbit, which are  very economical ways to move a ship from Earth to   other planets using only atomic bombs, but we’ll  bypass those today because while they might   see use on other planets for early colonization  periods, I just can’t see us using them on Earth.   Mind you, launching Orion ships on  Earth is not some cataclysmic event,   but I think we would only be okay with testing,  building, and using these if we were expecting a   cataclysmic event. Like we needed to get people  off Earth to some other world before a doomsday   here occured. This is also essentially what  the Super-Orion design is for, though it   is typically envisioned as being assembled  and launched from Orbit or far from Earth.  

Super Orion designs might permit us to move whole  cities to other solar systems at about 1% light   speed, but we don’t need to move that many folks  or go that fast to get around the solar system,   and Super Orion ships costs on the order of  the entire US economy for a year to build,   at least circa the 1950s. The smaller ones cost  way less and work very well for colonizing our   own solar system from infrastructure on the Moon  and in Earth orbit and Cis-Lunar development.   While tests were done, obviously it didn’t  get built in their lifetimes for the folks   on Project Orion, that 1963 treaty basically  ended the project. Things shifted to more of   a theoretical basis since experimentation was  heavily curtailed. Nonetheless at this point we  

have a spaceship engine and design that could  permit relatively fast missions from Earth’s   orbital volume to other planets and even to  other solar systems. It's not been built,   it's expensive, it's big, but it's all entirely  proven concepts and we have a lot of areas we have   gotten better at in the 60 years since the project  shut down and that’s what I want to focus on.   One big thing folks often argue against is  that since it is nuclear bombs folks will   never be okay with such a ship being built.  I hear where they’re coming from but that’s   a very generation and culture specific viewpoint.  They can be handled fairly safely so long as you   limit the ships to not coming closer to Earth than  Geostationary with actual control of those bombs,   and for the tiny yield ones, even low orbit  unauthorized use is not exactly cataclysmic   though definitely a good reason to have orbital  defenses and intense monitoring in place.  

One option that might help too would  be the Project Medusa approach,   which replaces the pusher plater to the rear  with a giant sail to the front that the nuke   gets detonated in and the ship gets pulled by a  tether. This lets you detonate your nukes further   from the actual planet while the ship is still in  low orbit or even stationary, like it was sailing   off a space tower or orbital ring. Such tethers  could potentially be thousands of kilometers long,   coming in from angles like cords on a parachute.  Folks might feel more comfortable with nuclear   ships in Cislunar space if the detonations  were only occurring above geostationary,   and you could potentially have the nuclear  magazine and launcher kept outside that space too.  

The bombs for use further from Earth could  be sent by railgun from orbit or the Moon to   rendezvous with the ship once it's safely far  from Earth, or even sent as multiple packets.   It's not that I think folks would ever come to  love nuclear bombs and feel safe around them,   it's more that I think we’ll be comfortable using  them constructively when every country has them   and any asteroid miner with the right 3D printer  gear and robots can spit some fission bombs out   without anyone knowing – building nukes in secret  on Earth in your basement is a lot harder to hide.   I am hardly a fan of encouraging nations to  build nuclear arsenals but I generally see the   approach of preventing nuclear proliferation  as a losing strategy in the long term,   though effective currently. If they’re much more  available, then all the fears of their legitimate   use resulting in proliferation are redundant and  you might as well use them for productive ends,   since doing so no longer increases the risk  of anyone getting them for destructive ends.  

There are a ton of productive uses of nukes too,  besides for spaceships, indeed our entire episode   on High-tech Search and Rescue was written on a  dare that I could come up with a valid reason to   use nukes in search and rescue… and I didn’t come  up with a single reason… I came up with four.   So the smaller ones might have a role in  colonizing the solar system and sp let’s   examine improving those first. As mentioned,  Project Orion is the big original project,   but there were a lot of successors who worked  on it without being able to do any testing.  

One is Mini-Mag Orion, or Miniature Magnetic  Orion, from around the turn of the century   that suggested doing fission with a magnetic  field compressing the fissile material.   Normal reactors are slow and nukes are fast  because we rapidly compress the fissile materials   so that every neutron made gets sucked into  neighboring compressed uranium or plutonium to   cause that chain reaction in microseconds. Every  neutron emitter and absorber is closer together,   so virtually every neutron is absorbed and  quickly, this causes the explosion. However,   a magnetically compressed fissile material  might let you bridge that gap between slow   reactor and hyperfast bombs. Most of the  weight of smaller bombs is the conventional  

chemical explosive used to detonate them, and  discussions of minimum critical mass are always   in the context of such implosions. Expected  yields would be as low as 50 gigajoules,   about 4 seconds worth of the power emitted by  rockets during the launch of the old shuttles,   and about a dozen tons of TNT equivalent, rather  than the thousand tons or kiloton TNT equivalent   of the smaller nuclear bombs. You can make  a much smaller orion device and potentially   a pretty efficient one, for a fission-only  version, by being able to bypass all the   chemical explosives and the sizes needed for  critical mass of a conventional nuclear bomb.   Now I love Mini-Mag and would  love to see it get developed more,   it holds a lot of promise as both a propulsion  system and a weapon system and could potentially   be ramped up to creating micro-fusion bombs too,  but development of it is probably not going to get   lots of interest in funding in the near future as  it's not really super-tempting as a power supply.   It also runs parallel to a lot of looks at using  magnetic confinement for fusion too. So I think it  

will get explored but sadly not sooner than later,  it's got a lot of potential. Magnetic confinement   or compression of fusion fuel is also present in  the Project Daedelus and Longshot variations.   Another approach is to use bombs, just make  them a lot smaller. Suitcase nukes are mostly   a myth – the W54 warhead was still 23 kilograms  and easily detectable so not something you’re   sneaking it in a classic suitcase, but we can  make them smaller. We’ve pretty much maxed out  

conventional explosives but nukes are made out of  weapons grade uranium or plutonium mostly because   of cost. There’s more to fission than Uranium-235  or Plutonium-239, as we looked at in the Future   of Fission and its companion episode the Future  of Thorium, and last I checked Californium-252   had the lowest Critical Mass, at 2.7 kilograms,  versus 10 kilograms for Plutonium-239 and 50 for   Uranium-235. Californium-252 only has a half-life  of 31 months and has to be made by first making   Curium from Uranium-238, which is fairly expensive  at hundreds of thousands of dollars per kilogram.   But then you have to turn that curium  into Californium-250 by alpha bombardment,   then into 252 by further neutron bombardment. So  very expensive to produce currently compared to  

U-235 or Plutonium, but that could change. As a reminder, aluminum used to be hugely   expensive, rivaling precious metals, then we made  cans out of it when it got cheaper. One problem   though is that bombs using materials with short  half-lives might not work well for an interstellar   ship, since its bombs will decay before arriving  and thus can’t be used to slow the ship down.   Uranium-233, incidentally, has a critical mass  of only 15 kilograms, which is the reason that   sometimes comes up as a worry in concerns about  Thorium for nuclear proliferation. Certain   technological pathways might make U-233 very easy  to produce and refine, which might make it very   handy as an alternative to plutonium or U-235 for  off world nuclear power and propulsion scenarios.   Now there’s a couple other things that could  make light-weight Orion variations viable   but some also work for the bigger version  too. As an example, the basic pusher plate  

design is a big flat plate on a big huge  spring or accordion system because, frankly,   that is a system which is hard to screw up and  can take a lot of abuse and still work, which is   handy for something you are repeatedly nuking. The  upside of a big metal plate is any of its surface   vaporized off in a given detonation is basically  acting as a rocket flame giving some push too.   Alternatively something more like a piston  head shove by the blast into a cylinder of gas   which compresses and slows it is very susceptible  to pressure compromises and leaks busting out. But  

that is an option, and so for that matter, in the  very big version even larger than Super Orion, is   detonating the bomb inside a big pod of gas that  blasts out the back of the ship as a rocket burst.   As we’ll see when we get to enlarging the Orion  design, at big enough scales even a nuclear blast   is simply no different than the little explosions  in your car engine that drive the pistons.   Incidentally you can use excess bombs as a  normal power source, though most of the time your   best approach is to either recycle the fissile  material into a normal power plant or for fusion,   set the bombs off in enormous underground  cavities that are scaled up pistons basically,   or use a molten salt working fluid to detonate  the bomb in. This concept was explored more in   Project Pacer in the 1970s but I can really only  see it being used in a case like an Orion-style   spaceship moving at about 1% light speed or less  either being used for Oort Cloud settlement or   deciding it needed to stop mid-journey and instead  settle some deep space ice ball like a dwarf or   rogue planet instead of continuing onto a solar  system with a nice sun providing solar power.   I wouldn’t rule that out though, the thing  about Super Orion scale ships is they are   often envisioned as gambles to save  humanity from something ruining our   solar system and some hastily built version  without prototyping sailing through deep   space at half a percent of light speed needs a  thousand years to get to even Alpha Centauri,   so spotting some rogue planet with extractable  resources part way through that journey would seem   very likely to result in a detour and powering  that colony or temporary base on solar obviously   isn’t an option at that point. Whereas it's fairly  easy to dig big underground piston-cylinders   inside low-gravity bodies like a dwarf planet. One other scenario for small ships is antimatter  

catalyzed fusion, which requires a source of  anti-matter, and a way to safely store it,   but if you can produce and store it then tiny  little bits of antimatter can be used to catalyze   much larger fusion explosions, letting you  translate micrograms of antimatter into   multi-gram fusion explosions producing yields that  are still manageable like the MiniMag approach.   For raw efficiency, a pusher plate can also  be replaced with something more akin to a   parabolic dish where the detonation happens at the  focal point of the reflector – this incidentally   lets you use nukes for ridiculously high power  focused communications. It’s not really ideal for   propulsion since the point of the pusher plate  is to absorb the blast while slamming forward,   but a combination of plate and adjacent parabolic  dish could be used to let you gather up energy   released on perpendiculars to the ship’s direction  of motion for other uses, like making electricity.   This also parallels the forward parachute  approach we see with the Medusa variant.  

An awful lot of all this energy is being lost  as heat too, such as in that big spring setup,   and that can potentially be reused for electricity  or even re-emitted somewhat directionally to add   thrust. Heat in space can be moved around a  ship normally by convection and conduction,   big radiator systems, but can only leave  the ship by radiating away as infrared   photons – or visible light if hot enough - and  you may be able to arrange your radiators to   spit more photons out in one direction than in  the reverse direction, providing net thrust.   Now as I said earlier we have contemplated  using nuclear reactors to power light production   as a rocket engine, this is a photon rocket,  and photons of light do indeed have momentum   and can push a ship. This is exactly what you’re  doing with gamma radiation with those bombs and   the pusher plate. It would work even better if we  had a material which reflected gamma rays instead   of just absorbing them but we do not at this time  and I’d be rather skeptical about their creation.   When a photon hits something and gets absorbed,  that object gets the photon’s momentum added to   it, slowing it or speeding it. When instead the  photon reflects, it heads back in the opposite  

direction with the same but opposite momentum,  and the thing it hits will have absorbed twice   the momentum instead. So reflecting photons is  preferable when they come from an outside source   like the sun or a laser or a nuclear blast. Laser propulsion is of interest to us   and we will come back to it shortly as a  means of enhancing a normal Orion drive,   but we do have something called a bomb-pumped  laser, which is basically a single use laser   powered by a nuclear detonation, and which can be  coming as something reflectable rather than gamma   rays. One of perfect efficiency could be dropped  out behind a spacecraft, detonated, and have its   beam hit the pusher plate or sail and bounce  off, which is at least an order of magnitude   better in terms of propulsion than detonating  a bomb behind a plate that absorbs it.   You won’t get anything even close to that  efficiency but for hypothetical discussion   it seems worthy of note, and bomb-pumped lasers  were a major feature of Project Excalibur,   an X-Ray Laser system intended for ballistic  missile defense. X-rays are also hard to  

directly reflect but we have some tricks  that would permit us to use it this way,   and so too, in a big enough ship you could  just do bomb-pumped laser out the back of it,   though firing a laser from a ship as a means of  propulsion does not allow you to reflect it and   gain that extra momentum, which hardly matters  if it's gamma and you cannot reflect it anyway.   Now those pusher plates are slowly losing layers  of material with each blast vaporizing some off   and it being made of layers which raises  some hybrid options. As an example,   a pusher plate made of many layers of graphene  would have something like a billion sheets per   meter of plate thickness, and pusher plates are  definitely things made in meters of thickness,   not thin sheets. However, much as a book can be  thick while paper is thin, we might imagine a   solar sail many kilometers wide, for reflecting  sunlight or outside light beams, that could be   folded up to serve as the much smaller pusher  plate. And these things are both massive affairs   compared to the payloads of their ships so getting  double-duty out of one makes a lot of sense.   A solar sail setup like project Medusa potentially  works well with a pushing laser but a foldable   solar sail that can be squeezed into a pusher  plate after being used could let you push the   ship to far beyond Earth before it began using  its bombs, using solar powered orbital lasers to   create pushing beams, which can also probably be  used to tear that ship apart if the folks on board   start contemplating wicked uses for their bombs  instead of as fuel. Hitting a ship with a beam  

gives you lots of options including ridiculously  high-resolution and high-powered scans of the   space between you and it and nearby, in case  they decided to machine gun their nukes back   home to Earth, and you can just vaporize them en  route back, the bombs, and the rogue ship both.   Nice added safety feature, but instead  we could use that big sail and lasers to   skip the bombs in the first step, accelerating  the ships to a higher speed before using bombs   to either speed up a bit more or entirely to  slow down at the destination. This lets you use   time-sensitive tamper proof detonators on your  nukes too. Indeed you could use a smaller Orion   craft near the end as a vanguard for your Super  Orion Ship to carry a big solar array into the   destination star system to power a pushing laser  to help slow the big main ship or fleet down.   Fleets also offer the option of doing things like  firing a nuclear device out of a rail gun from   one ship to go behind another, if for instance  a vanguard ship was running low on warheads as   it slowed. We explored this and other types  of tandem use approaches, like with lasers,   and with Orion and with Fusion, in our Generation  Ships series, episode two, Exodus Fleet.  

That series talks a lot more about generation  ships, building, flying, and living on them,   and even scaling up Orion style ships to run  on things like artificial novae or supernovae.   Now can we do Orion today? Yes, absolutely and  frankly I think it's past time we modified the   various testing treaties to at least allow  joint testing of atomics for propulsion   off Earth. There’s a lot of reasons, some valid  and some not, for worrying about the safety or   viability of an Orion approach to propulsion  but they are the only propulsion system we   currently have that could definitely be built and  definitely allow us to get to another star system   or do a real full fledged sustainable colony  on another planet in our own system in short   order. It’s also the best approach for  handling dino-killer and bigger asteroids,   especially as one could machine gun its excess  h-bomb fuel into the asteroid in question.   But it can be used for none of those  roles if we haven’t got real hands-on   experimental data and prototyping. All right, to close out for the day,   how big could we plausibly make an Orion-sized  ship these days and how would it run? I’d say a   total crash project of the kind we sometimes  envision if we expected the end of the world   and people unified to work on it might allow us  to throw together something on the smaller O’Neill   Cylinder side of things, running on supplies  of fissile fuel for interior life support,   that could probably let us get a hundred  thousand people off toward a solar system,   or maybe half a dozen scaled down ones of only a  few thousand each sent to multiple solar systems,   combined with solar-powered pushing lasers to  get them moving, to perhaps 5% of light speed.  

In a more controlled fashion, same basic tech  but deployed decades from now when we have a   developed orbital infrastructure and resources  coming in from the Moon and/or Near-Asteroids,   we could probably be launching a few  of these 8 megaton Super Orions a year.   However, let me note that a cylinder  habitat built with some durability in mind   is probably running you about a megaton  per square kilometer of interior area,   and is likely making up only about 10% of  this ships overall mass since you’ve got   the bombs and the shielding and plate and  probably hydroponics in no or slow-rotating   smaller stations. So honestly if we’re talking  an interstellar ark ship intended to bring, say,   10,000 people in suburban style with lots of that  used for ecosystems and zoo space, then think on   an order of a few kilotons of ship per person, and  only a couple thousand folks on a Super Orion.   Those absolutely scale up though, and again  we get better efficiency the bigger our nuke   and the bigger our ship, so my hunch would  be that a Super Orion would be the small   and bargain size for an interstellar ark. Not so  for interplanetary colonies or trading vessels,  

though big mega-freighters trying to bring  Ice in from deep space to Mars for instance   might dwarf even interstellar arks and  you can move big icy bodies by careful   Orion-style detonation of nukes on one too. Will we ever see them? Very hard to say, there’s   an assumption that almost any scenario that gets  us working fusion as a power source would make the   Orion concept Obsolete but that’s not necessarily  true. A big and efficient fusion plant might not   transfer into one than could be used in starship  propulsion or anything small either, but might   be awesome for creating transuranic elements  like Californium-252 on the cheap or for simply   up-gunning your economy so much you could  churn out the ships and bombs to run them.   In either scenario, or if fusion turns out to be  that technology that’s 20 years in the future and   always stays on that distant horizon, then the  Orion Spaceship concept, with some modifications,   is the one that will take us to the stars. And it can do it too, the same nuclear bombs   that scared whole generations into fearing the  end of our world and the twilight of our species,   may hold the keys to humanity seeing the  Dawn rise on a million alien worlds.  

So we are into a new year now and we have some  announcements, notes, and episode schedule that   we’ll get to in a bit but one of those notes  is on just how much information we had to cut   out of today’s script just to get it shortened  enough for a single long episode. Another part   of that though was how many other things came to  mind as I wrote the script and one of those was   that not only can nuclear bombs potentially  take us to new worlds, they can be used to   help us forge them too. And we will be examining  that topic, with a focus on nuking Mars till its   blue and green, at the end of this month. Speaking of forging new worlds though, odds are   good if you’re a show regular you’ve spent a lot  of time daydreaming about strange new worlds and   peoples and maybe tried your hand at writing some  science fiction or fantasy or have played in a RPG   like D&D or modded a video game. If not they are  great ways to spend the winter months, cooped up   inside but with your mind soaring to strange new  worlds of your own construction. But if you have,  

then you probably have had that worldbuilding  effort grow in complexity till you needed notes   and wanted to share it with others, and probably  been frustrated with how much time got spent   organizing those or learning some software to  help develop them, or maybe even lost them.   I doubt it would surprise any show regulars  that I’ve experienced that a lot myself and   always wished there was a good world building  software that was easy to learn and comprehensive,   and when I first saw World Anvil, the  award-winning worldbuilding toolset, I was   both amazed someone finally made that software and  irritated my own gaming group was going on hiatus,   but it didn’t stop me from exploring all the  features like map notes and map connecting,   history, timeline and genealogy building, and  wiki-like crafting options. It’s great for DMs and   folks wanting to let their audience peak into the  novel’s setting more collaboratively as it does   have a free version and also has ways to monetize  your content on platforms like Patreon, Kofi,   or your own storefront, and you can share that  content selectively to keep secret content hidden.   They also have an amazing collection of great  tutorial videos so not only can you learn how   to use World Anvil but so can anyone you’re trying  to introduce to it, though it is very intuitive.   World Anvil offers wikipedia-like  articles for your world setting,   interactive maps, timelines, an RPG Campaign  Manager and a full Novel-Writing Software,   all the tools you’ll need to run your  RPG Campaign or write your novel,   and never lose your notes again! If  you’d like to give World Anvil a try   and let it help you forge new worlds, just  click the link in this episode’s description!   I was mentioning my gaming group going on  extended hiatus a moment ago and I wanted   to give a shout out to my best friend Bill on the  birth of his first daughter Evelyn in December.  

Bill and I served together in the Army  and have been like brothers since 2004,   and us and some other close friends used to  play D&D back then even when we were in Iraq,   and he and I kept that up even when he got  out to college to become a history teacher   and still do to this day. I was contemplating on  that 18 year friendship how much he and a lot of   my other army brothers helped shape this show,  as so many of the concepts and examples I’ve   used in episodes here first got crafted and  honed chatting about those ideas with them.   There are a lot of folks who helped make this  show in one fashion or another, and this episode   in particular is one such example as we have  a lot of forums and groups either directly   attached to this show or loosely affiliated and  one of those approached me around a year back   about this topic and I suggested they might  try writing a collaborative outline or draft,   and they did and it was comprehensive and ran 30  some pages. I didn’t even try trimming that down   in favor of writing from scratch with the paper  fresh in my head and it really drove home to me   how much more we could do on this topic, and also  how grateful I am for getting to work with so many   amazing and talented folks not just on this  episode or this show but down the decades.  

Speaking of more on this topic, we will be having  that episode on Nuking Mars Green at the end of   this month, and one on Nuclear Transmutation in  March that I just got done recording, but we have   plenty more topics for this month beginning next  Thursday with a return to the Alien Civilizations   series to look at the concept of civilizations  going into hibernation. Then we’ll be having   our mid-month Scifi Sunday episode on the classic  scifi trope of Telepathy. After that we return to   Civilizations at the End of Time Series for a look  at the Big Rip, the cosmological model that might   see the Universe torn to shreds trillions of times  sooner than we normally expect things to end.   Now if you want alerts when those and other  episodes come out, make sure to subscribe to the   Channel and hit the notifications bell, and if you  enjoyed this episode, please hit the like button,   share it with others, and leave a comment below.  You can also join in the conversation on any   of our social media forums, find our audio-only  versions of the show, or donate to support future   episodes, and all those options and more are  listed in the links in the episode description.  

Until next time, thanks for  watching, and have a great new year!

2022-01-08 09:39

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