By Gary Michael Church
From: Project Orion, the true story of the atomic spaceship, by George Dyson
Few people today could tell you what the “41 for Freedom” were. In the late 1950’s the DOD worried over the Soviet Union destroying the U.S. strategic deterrent of nuclear weapons in a “first strike.” Missiles in silos in the Midwest and the majority of the nuclear bomber fleet at airbases were considered vulnerable to being destroyed in a future preemptive launch by the adversary. The solution was a fleet of 41 nuclear submarines loaded with Polaris nuclear missiles. A force of these “boomers” was to be kept at sea and hidden in the depths of the ocean, immune to any first strike.
From wiki: “George Washington left Groton on 28 June 1960 for Cape Canaveral, Florida, where she loaded two Polaris missiles. Standing out into the Atlantic Missile Test Range – she successfully conducted the first Polaris missile launch from a submerged submarine on 20 July 1960.”
Missile Submarines went to sea shortly before I was born. Now, over 60 years later, I am an old man and have lived my whole life with the constant threat of nuclear weapons minutes away from being launched and incinerating millions of human beings. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has kept the world at peace for over half a century, preventing any third world war from breaking out. The price paid for that peace has been an incredible amount of money. The cost of the cold war was mind boggling and trillions of dollars continue to be spent. Eisenhower famously spoke about what could be accomplished for the cost of various cold war toys. However, the worst feature of this peace has not been impoverishment, it has been “launch-on-warning”, which has put civilization at risk every minute of every day for an entire lifetime. The result of a full-scale nuclear exchange has been fairly well worked out: billions would die of starvation, possibly a majority of the human race, caused by, for starters, reduced crop yields from smoke in the atmosphere. The fragile structure of our worldwide distribution system would be wrecked and humanity would enter a new dark age.
A nuclear exchange would not be an extinction-level-event in itself, but it could lead to one in that another event, such as a plague, meteor/comet impact, or super-volcano epic might finish us off. And it goes without saying that a lesser version of any of those could trigger an exchange or destabilize relations and cause a global conflict. A Carrington event solar flare could also lead to a chain reaction resulting in nuclear war and the collapse of civilization. The point being we are in a position right now to direct immense resources at safeguarding civilization. It is no exaggeration to state that a century from now the human population of Earth could be in the process of migrating to space colonies. A century after that Starships carrying frozen humans could be beam-propelled on centuries-long voyages to other stars. These scenarios are what the human race needs to be focused on if we are to survive.
The first step is to begin a second space age using the same device that created the first one: the hydrogen bomb. The dream of removing nuclear weapons from planet Earth can be realized by the superpowers building fleets of Spaceships carrying the bombs months away into deep space. No more launch-on-warning. Not only will the risk of nuclear war ratchet down but a plan to insure humankind survives any natural catastrophes can be put in motion. The same repurposed atomic bombs used to push Spaceships through interplanetary space can be used to deflect asteroid and comet impact threats.
The first “Space Boomer” could be operational just outside of a decade, much like the first human missions to the Moon were accomplished in that time frame. The main requirements pose no real technical challenges. The trillion plus dollars presently earmarked for new stealth bombers, missile submarines, and generally refurbishing our deterrent can be redirected at space. The sequence would likely begin with a constantly evolving Super Heavy Lift Vehicle (SHLV) program of 6 to 8 launches per year. A basic cislunar infrastructure created for utilizing lunar water for crew compartment shielding would start the assembly pipeline. The first “true” Space Stations and Lunar Cyclers would follow leading to the first “true” Spaceship. This first “Space Boomer” would likely use a “soft” Nuclear Pulse Propulsion system based on the “Medusa” concept.
The “hard” Pulse system will come later. Whether such flying saucers can first be sent up in thin discs or “slices” and assembled and really big multi-thousand ton discs later manufactured on the Moon is yet to be determined. The first true Spaceships will likely be based on the concept detailed in the 1991 paper “New Ideas for Nuclear Explosive Spacecraft Propulsion” by Johndale C. Solem. Such a spaceship could be assembled and launched from a Earth polar orbit using the first iteration of the SLS and other launch vehicles but this would not be the most efficient way to proceed except as a demonstrator to show the concept is valid. Without a kiloton plus water shield it would not be a “true” Spaceship. Lifting that thousand tons of tap water into Earth orbit would by itself show why the ice on the Moon is the critical enabling resource.
Thus the name of this blog which I started five years ago.