Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weird Wednesday: Orion Battleship

A "small" Project Orion ship
Today's edition of Weird Wednesday features the Orion Battleship.

But first, a little history:

Sponsored by the U.S. Government, Project Orion dates back all the way to the late 1940's and officially began in 1958. The idea was to explode nuclear devices behind a space ship and ride the shock wave forward. 800 atomic blasts later, and you've ridden an atomic hop ball into orbit. Keep it up and you could even get to Pluto and back in under a year - if you managed to stay in one piece.

Switch out the run-of-the-mill fission bombs with thermonuclear fusion bombs (300,000 of them) and you could get to about 10% of the speed of light and reach Alpha Centauri in 44 years.

The project was classified at the time, of course, but George Dyson wrote a book about it called Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965. I haven't read it, but it looks like a fascinating tale of Cold War era retro-future "truth is stranger than fiction" real-life space opera. George Dyson, the son of physicist Freeman Dyson (of Dyson Sphere fame and a lot more,) is also the subject of a very interesting book called The Starship & The Canoe, which I did read when I was a kid. But I digress...

Project Orion was cancelled in 1963 due to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which did away with above ground nuclear detonations. So that was the end of Orion, since you can't get much more above ground than blasting off into space atop hundreds of rapid-fire nuclear blasts.


Maybe it was cancelled because of the Orion Battleship. Taking the concept of Orion to a somewhat paranoid extreme, the Orion Battleship sported nuclear weapons in addition to it's nuclear propulsion: Hundreds of nuclear missiles, actually, and navel gun turrets, and the somewhat absurd-yet-sinister sounding Casaba Howitzer. The Casaba Howitzer turned a nuclear detonation into a directed plasma energy death ray.
Orion Battleship Model from Fantastic Plastic
According to legend, when President Kennedy saw a scale mockup of the Orion Battleship, he was so freaked out by it that he cancelled the whole Orion project.

Now, what fascinates me about things like the Orion Battleship is something that I've been thinking about for a while. I know we are lamenting the fact that NASA no longer has the capability to send humans into orbit, and everybody expected to be able to book a cubbyhole at the Lunar Hilton by now, or at least commute to work in a flying car. But an interesting thing about "the future," especially when looked at as the past, is this: Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we will or should. And conversely, just because we haven't done something, doesn't mean we can't do it.

I'll be expanding on the ramifications of that concept and such things as the future of space flight in upcoming posts. Ha ha, yes there is room for hard SF in the Mythik Universe :)

Sharp eyed readers will notice that I am posting again. Hopefully now that I'm taking Mythik Imagination off auto-pilot my web traffic won't go down ;)

The work load at the cool day job is finally easing up a bit, and I should be able to gradually get back up to blogging speed. I've also got a lot of catching up to do with ya'll.

I'm also working hard to get the upcoming Mythik Imagination books done as well as the myriad of other projects that are now in the queue.

Oh, before I forget, check out Atomic Rockets. It's a totally awesome web site that has everything you could possibly want to know about realistic/retro/future/pulp/any kind of space travel. Lots of cool math (I know, math+cool doesn't usually compute, but it does when you are calculating interstellar travel time,) for those of you that are especially nerdy.

Thanks for reading, and stay Mythik!


  1. Glad things at the day job are finally calming down for you, Jon! It's great to have you back & I'm looking forward to more installments of Mythik!

  2. Hey, Jon! Good to see you back posting. :)

    The Atomic Rockets site sounds cool (hey, one must do one's SF research). I'll have to check that out.

  3. I love weird wednesdays. What a cool idea, a battle rocket. I'm glad they didn't build it though.

    Nice list of movies you're putting into Blu Ray.

  4. Thanks, Lindsay & M Pax! It's nice to be back!

    Yep Atomic Rockets is pretty cool. I'm researching for a hard SF story about an interstellar voyage in the not to distant future. I also found a cool blog called The Rocketpunk Manifesto, which I'll be posting about soon :)

    M Pax, it's been great seeing so many great film makers. I'm inspired to make a little film (ha, well digital video that *looks* like film anyway) of one of the Mythik stories.