As a science fiction author, I deliberate on matters dealing with heroes and villains chasing one another through the universe. The scale of  such distances is so vast that authors  side-step the issue and readers just go with it.

However, I’ve often speculated on how we could achieve travel speeds fast enough to get to and from destinations within a lifetime.

The basic concept of propulsion through space is “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

photo credit: Firetrail via photopin (license)

photo credit: Firetrail via photopin (license)

A simple bottle rocket channels the rapid expansion of gases from combustion of gun powder out one side, and it pushes the rocket in the other direction. The same idea holds true for rockets to launch space vehicles out of Earth’s gravity to the moon, and probes to Mars, and beyond. A large problem exists in just escaping Earth’s gravity, which requires between 10 and 20 times the weight of the operational payload in fuel. The next problem is getting the craft from near earth orbit (NEO) on to its destination. The final problem is getting home, in the event of manned space craft.

In 1958, Project Orion was a study to utilize nuclear explosions as a method of “pushing” space vehicles by detonating low-yield bombs behind the craft. It’s findings looked extremely promising and with potential for producing high thrust and high specific impulse, basically a rocket science term akin to miles per gallon for cars.

The idea was to have the operational payload protected by a large, thick “pusher” plate to absorb the impact of the nuclear explosion, and shoving the space craft forward.  It sounds similar to a shock-absorbing shell on the outside of a baseball when it’s hit by a bat. The conceptual design called for explosions happening 30 meters away from the vehicle, every 1.1 seconds. They tried extensive testing on Earth with conventional explosions, and it seemed promising. The death knell for the project was a nuclear test ban in 1963.

However, it was the best idea for interplanetary propulsion at the time, and since. Contemporary propulsion systems severely limit our ability to, once we’re out of Earth’s gravity, get moving to a target planet, then get home. Probes count on the initial “pulse” away from Earth, then coast to destinations, never to return.

What if we were to combine traditional launch propulsion systems for escaping Earth’s gravity (Turf) with nuclear explosions (Surf).

Imagine a surfer off the shore in Hawaii. The surfer can paddle his board just so fast. But then a wave of energy comes along and carries the surfer at the speed of the energy wave. If you were standing knee deep by the shore, that same wave of energy slams you, knocking your face into the sand. The difference? The surfer was already in motion going the direction of the wave.

If we were able to launch our interplanetary vehicle into space via conventional rocket technologies, then, once the vehicle is on it’s way through space and a substantial distance from Earth, set off a low-yield nuclear explosion, not 30 meters away, but a mile or two (or more). Rather than the vehicle being “shoved” (or rather “punched”) by the blast, it is able to “catch the wave” of the slowly diminishing power of the explosion. The space craft picks up the speed of the energy wave just like a surfer. The craft would continue at that speed since there would not be the effects of gravity or resistance with air to slow it down. After the craft stabilizes, it releases another bomb or potentially greater power, creating a larger, faster wave.

Now, would this generate enough speed to make it to our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, in less than 1,000 years? We won’t know until we try. Many other projects have been worked on to create a result similar to the theoretical result of Orion, but none have had the actual technologies to get them off the drawing boards.

The other problem that needs to be considered… stopping at the destination.

What are your thoughts? Share your genius… Like these guys.  DON’T TRY THIS YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!

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