Nuclear Rockets and Space Elevators...

I've been meaning to comment on this for days but I've gotten distracted lately...
NASA's going ahead with its Centennial Challenges push to encourage the commercialization of space. I get the tinglies just reading this.

Then I start getting doubts:
Even if the ultimate missions that the prizes are geared toward never come to fruition, the technologies developed in the process will be useful to NASA and others, Sponberg said in an interview prior to the announcement. Beaming energy for a space elevator can also be applied to beaming power from Earth to support a Moon base, he said. High-stress composite materials would be useful in the air travel industry.

This kind of reminds of me Al Gore turning down the Delta Clipper for a next generation launch vehicle because it didn't present enough of a technical challenge. It was like he was kicking a gift horse in the mouth. Better design, better chance of success, hence Al Gore doesn't like it. These prizes stand little chance of being usefull. NASA takes two steps forward and one step back.

I guess given that Congress hasn't fully approved the total amount of money NASA wants to spend yet, these prizes were probably the best ideas they could come up with given the circumstances. But honestly, we can't even get into orbit using conventional methods at a reasonable cost. How do people expect to do it building the tallest man made structure ever made? Space Elevators? Is that technically challenging: yes. So much it stands little chance of success. So by Al Gore standards it's a good waste of taxpayer money.

Then Dyson comes into the fray:
"Keep the space science going," the 81-year-old Dyson advised the agency. And "build the infrastructure" and set policies that encourage private enterprise to enter space.

Dyson worked on the Orion project in the late 1950s. Orion was a parallel program to Apollo. It planned to detonate nuclear devices to launch a spacecraft. "The thing could have flown," he said. The project was dropped because of the now-obvious nuclear fallout problem, he said.

Sure the thing would have. But at what cost? Would it have been any better than conventional rockets? Look at the ridiculous culture of anti-risk at NASA... Imagine how much worse it would be when you start talking about nuclear detonations. Plus Gas Core Nuclear Rockets have been actually tested before and have shown promising results. I would put my money on something that's actually been tested before something that hasn't.

Either way, there needs to be a change in attitude towards nuclear technology - especially when it's used in space - before anything like that would ever happen.

Whether it's space elevators or nuclear rockets, we are so far away from that right know that it's more like science fiction. At least that's the way I see it.

Ok, the rant's over.

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