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This essay was originally posted last year and is now back with small changes. Enjoy.

The first decade of the 21st century ended with human space flight nowhere near to fulfilling the predictions made at the beginning of the space age. Not even close. Just as the Vietnam war robbed the space exploration budget, the end of the century found vast public funds, a truly mind boggling amount of treasure, spent on the cold war toys that have yielded guaranteed huge profits for the military industrial complex. Many of these incredibly expensive weapon systems do not work as advertised and very few of them have any application in the present war on terror. 911 did not stop the money flowing to new super fighter planes and missiles designed to shoot down other missiles. The promise of space was in truth sacrificed for the profits of the weapons industry. The expected moon bases and colonies on Mars were never funded and no human being has escaped earth orbit since the last Apollo mission. The underfunded space shuttle completely failed to provide the cheap lift and multi-mission capability that was never really possible to achieve. The showpiece International Space Station is little more than a 100 billion dollar collection of tin cans flying in endless circles.

Over a quarter century wasted and the human race seems in large part to have accepted the end of the space age. Despite a collection of old and new inferior lift vehicles incapable of accelerating a spacecraft to escape velocity, there is endless hype concerning the privatization of space and the bright future these for profit enterprises will bring about. The single point of failure in these schemes is the false miracle of fuel depots in space. These orbital gas stations will supposedly enable all the missions that previously could only be accomplished by a Heavy Lift Vehicles like the Saturn V. Cryo fuel storage and transfer is at this time a myth and has never even been attempted due to the extreme difficulties involved. It is simply a smoke screen to disguise defeat. We are not going anywhere if we stay on this path. The only hope for human space flight is the realization that deep space travel may at any time mean the difference between humankind surviving or disappearing forever. If this truth cannot unlock the vast resources required then we are sealing our collective fate. The Spaceship is the only insurance against extinction. Safeguarding the entire human race is the ultimate military mission, yet is completely ignored by our leaders and the defense industry. The inevitable asteroid or comet impact and the threat of a 100 percent lethal plague are with us right now. We as a species are playing a game of Russian roulette. We truly do not know when, but we know what is coming.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when it is explained that disastrous impacts only occur an average of once every several million years. The key fact never discussed is impacts are random. An impact could occur tomorrow, and again the next day, and it would just be a blip on a curved line representing the immensity of geologic time. No one would be left to exclaim, “WOW! What were the odds of that happening?” In the same way the threat of engineered pathogens is ignored, overlooked, or scoffed at in the hopes it will just go away. Just as there is little than can be done to stop seasonal flu, there is very little that could be done to stop such an airborne plague once it begins. Naturally evolved pathogens always leave a certain percentage of survivors but an engineered virus does not follow that rule. We are led to believe there is no defense, but we are being decieved and there is nothing further from the truth.

Spaceships can intercept impact threats and deflect them with nuclear devices. Spaceships can carry the people and equipment to construct permanent self-sustaining colonies in the outer solar system that will survive any plague on earth. The vital importance of building such craft is obvious. But Beyond Earth Orbit Human Space Flight (BEO-HSF) cannot be accomplished with a few expendable rockets. While complex weapons systems are easy money for industry because they do not have to work, Spaceships are hard money because they must work. Human beings must adjust their worldview concerning what is expensive and what is worth the expense. To understand the difficulty in building one, we must first define what a Spaceship actually is.

The entertainment and documentary film industry has conditioned the public to think of any craft that carries human beings beyond the atmosphere as a spaceship. A better definition would be a vehicle designed to carry human beings outside low earth orbit (LEO) while providing artificial gravity and radiation protection equal to earth. In addition, a ship makes crossings and changes course so a true ship of space would necessarily be able to travel to other bodies in the solar system. Travel to the moon does not qualify as a true crossing to another body due to the short distance compared to other destinations. Such a quick trip can be made without the gravity and shielding required for interplanetary flight. Another feature of lunar travel is the ability of chemical propulsion systems to accomplish these missions. Due to gravity and radiation solutions, a Spaceship traveling deep space has no propulsion option except nuclear energy. While travel in the inner solar system may use solar power for life support and other systems, nuclear propulsion is still required. Due to the lack of inner system destinations, nuclear power, as well as nuclear propulsion, must be included in defining the true Spaceship.

At this point in history the technology exists for only one form of nuclear propulsion; nuclear pulse (bomb propulsion). This fact is generally unknown to the public and is given little serious consideration in the popular press. Nuclear explosions pushing a ship through space does stretch the imagination, but no more than the idea of heavier than air flight did in the 19th century, even into the first years of the 20th. The difficulty in nuclear propulsion is not the engineering. Billions of dollars of classified weapons research would reveal exactly how to build such a system. It is not how, it is how to build and operate the system well away from the earth. Nuclear materials are an environmental hazard without equal. For this reason transporting and assembling the fuel and components of any nuclear power and propulsion system is the first obstacle. It is overcome by virtue of the previously mentioned body that can be reached with just chemical propulsion; the moon.

As with the Apollo missions of the last century, the moon can be reached on a direct trajectory with a Heavy Lift Vehicle. Such a vehicle, using human rated components, an escape tower, and specially packaged fissionables able to survive a launch failure or reentry, is the only practical method. While a worst case nuclear accident in earth orbit is unacceptable, the potential risk of contamination in lunar orbit is acceptable. Thus, the first problem in building a Spaceship is solved. Nuclear power components and the fuel for nuclear propulsion can be transported by HLV to the moon for assembly and preflight testing. The heaviest parts of the Spaceship are the massive pusher plate the nuclear pulse reacts against and the crew’ s massive radiation shield. The Earth Departure Stages (EDS) that boost the moon bound payloads out of earth orbit to their destinations, can be converted into the double hull of the Spaceship crew section that holds the liquid shielding, and also the structural members of the tower assembly used to absorb the shock of the pulse bomb detonations. The moon facilitates one of the two high mass necessities and can eventually supply the other.The first massive component, the radiation shield, can be supplied immediately in the form of water derived from lunar ice deposits to fill a double hull crew section. Until they are locally fabricated, the Spaceship pusher plates, or “pushers”, will have to come from earth by HLV in thin sections one at a time and stacked to form each ship’s heavy pusher.

The HLV at launch with a wide thin disc mounted at the nose and with side mounted SRB’s will be vaguely familiar to many science fiction fans. There is some resemblance to the starship Enterprise. How many such discs will have to be launched and later stacked to build an all up pusher remains to be seen. Eventually monolithic pushers can be manufactured from lunar materials. Until that time the pushers will have to come from earth in slices with multiple HLV missions. Considering the mass and energy involved, the schemes proposing human space flight by way of smaller cheaper rockets and “gas stations is space” are laughable. There is no cheap; space flight is inherently expensive.

A shock absorbing tower structure mounting a massively shielded crew section coupled to a nuclear reactor and bomb storage section, a massive pusher, and a tether system to generate artificial gravity complete the Spaceship. Using the hundreds of tons of water making up the radiation shield for growing bio-engineered organisms can sustain a closed loop life support system with an endurance of several years. A bomb propelled ship can attain velocities far above those possible with chemical propulsion and enable expeditions to the moons of the outer planets. The slug of matter that is superheated by the bomb and converted into the plasma that actually pushes the Spaceship can be obtained in situ from those distant moons in the outer system. By carrying a percentage of bombs without the mass of plasma slugs, speed and range is extended. This method of extending range was proposed in the original Project Orion. Spaceships can also transport thorium reactors, with fuel derived from lunar thorium ore, to these distant moons enabling permanent colonies to be established. Over 100 bodies in the outer system are large enough to anchor colonies.

During powered flight, when the reactor is shut down and both sections of the ship are joined, a tower structure would be used to decellerate the composite section during bomb pulses. Projecting far ahead of the pusher at the end of the tower, the composit ship section at the front would stroke backward like a descending elevator toward the plate. This system would lower the acceleration forces on the crew and equipment to the level of an aircraft carrier jet catapult launch. When coasting, the Spaceship would spit in half and reel out the engineering section and crew section opposite each other on long tethers to generate artificial gravity by spinning both sections around the pusher as the axis. The spaceship’s nulcear reactor can then be run without the need for very heavy shielding due to the several thousand feet of separation from the crew section. When the tethers are deployed for cruising, one half of the tower would fold against the pusher and reel out the tether with the crew section, and the other half of the tower would do the same in the opposite direction with the nuclear section of the ship. seperater lengths of tether payed out from the split tower can be adjusted to balance the two spinning masses. During coast the crew would look out through viewports separated by14 feet of water and view a slowly rotating star field.

Science fiction has instilled the idea that Spaceships and large scale space exploration is centuries away. In fact, we are perfectly capable of colonizing the solar system with present technology. With a single advance in medical technology- the ability to freeze human beings and then successfully revive them- we would also be immediately capable of travel to the stars. Such a cryopreservation procedure violates no laws of physics and is already used on a smaller scale with sperm and ovum. With this in mind another existential threat to humanity must be appreciated at –the risk of the writer being considered paranoid or delusional. Physicist Stephen Hawking has warned of a possible threat from alien civilizations. Indeed, if we lack only a single technological advance to be capable of star flight, alien civilizations could have already made this advance and embarked on missions of colonization to other stars. The danger is that our world was selected for alien colonization many centuries ago. Unlike the dramatic combat found in science fiction novels and movies, the most likely invasion would take the form of comets steered toward earth as a method of sterilization. Just as we are capable of diverting impact threats away from earth, this capability also entails arranged impacts. An advance alien force would probably sanitize the earth of most indigenious life and plant invasive micro organisms from their native ecosystem. When the alien colonists arrive centuries in the future and are revived, they would find a world already adapted to their biology and ready for introduction of flora, fauna, and settlers. This conversion process may be common in our galaxy. The millions of planets now confirmed to exist only increase the likelihood.

From discussing building the first Spaceships and off-world base on the moon, to the subject of preparing for alien invasion seems a fantastical and inappropriate leap. It is no more incredible than the other unbelievable features of the universe- from super massive black holes to past ages on our own world that saw the end of the dinosaurs.

They found yet another reason to build nuclear interceptors to deflect asteroids and comet impact threats.

Sooner or later something is going to hit us. It could be like Tunguska in 1908 and destroy a city instead of a forest in Siberia- or it could be like what hit the Yucatan 65 million years ago.

Except just a little bigger and nothing larger than bacteria will survive. There is nothing written anywhere that says it will not happen tomorrow.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth over spending money on space never seems to cross over to DOD programs where obscene amounts of tax dollars are spent on cold war toys used to fight mountain tribesmen with Kalashnikovs.

For example:

The completed initial aircraft carrier, the first of three in the $40.2 billion program, is projected to cost at least $11.5 billion.

This essay was posted previously last year and removed and has appeared in abridged form in the European Space Safety online Magazine and can also be found on Yahoo voices.

Several dates are cited as marking the beginning of the space age. Sputnik, October 4th, 1957, Yuri’s day April 12th, 1961, and the first successful V-2 launch by the Nazis on October 3rd, 1942, to name a few. Some prefer December 21st, 1968, when human beings first escaped the Earth’s gravitational field on Apollo 8. When studying the events that allowed man to leave Earth, future historians may agree on a date not generally associated with space flight. July 16th, 1945 was Trinity, the first nuclear weapon test. Stanislaw Ulam, a 36-year-old Polish mathematician who helped build “the gadget”, visited ground zero after the test. Ulam later conceived the idea of propelling a spaceship with atomic bombs. Near the end of his life the eccentric genius stated the idea was his greatest work.

When considering nuclear propulsion, it must be understood that space is not an ocean, though often characterized as one. The distances and conditions are not comparable. While chemical energy has allowed humankind to travel across and above the surface of Earth, the energy required to travel in space is of a different order. Water, in the form of steam, was the agent of change that brought about the industrial revolution. Fossil fuel, burned and transformed by steam into mechanical work, would radically change the world in the span of a century. What is difficult for moderns to understand is not only how limited human capabilities were before steam, but how limited they are in the present in terms of space travel. The psychological limits of human beings limit space journeys to a few years. Chemical propulsion is not capable of taking human beings to the outer solar system and back within those crew limits. The solution is a reaction one million times more powerful. Nuclear energy is to the space age as steam was to the industrial age.

Space is not an ocean and this was the correct lesson drawn by Stanislaw Ulam after that suddenly bright morning in 1945. While metal can barely contain and harness chemical energy, Ulam thought outside that box and accepted nuclear energy could never be contained efficiently by any material. However, nuclear energy could be harnessed to push a spaceship in separate events to the fantastic velocities required for interplanetary travel without any containment problems at all- by using bombs. An uncontained burst of nuclear generated plasma could be withstood by a surface momentarily before the physical matter had time to melt.

Sixty years after Ulam’s stroke of genius, atomic bomb propulsion still has no competition as the only available propulsion system for practical interplanetary travel. This fact is almost completely unknown to the public. The term “ISP”, expressed in seconds, is used in measuring the efficiency of a rocket engine and chemical rockets have low ISP numbers but high thrust. The most efficient rocket engines, such as the space shuttle main engines, with a listed ISP of 453 seconds are also among the most powerful. Atomic bomb propulsion, thanks to the billions of dollars poured into star wars weapons research, would have an ISP exceeding 100,000 seconds. While other propulsion systems that use electricity have similar or higher numbers, the amount of thrust is trivial and requires months or years of continuous operation to develop any significant velocity. Considering space travel as not only a speed and distance problem, but also a time and distance problem, low thrust lengthens any missions to the outer solar system beyond crew limits. The thrust imparted by atomic bombs can in a short period easily accelerate thousands of tons to the comparatively extreme speeds necessary and then coast. Unlike an electric propulsion failure, a few dud bombs need not doom a mission or crew.

Though an incredible use of awesome power, the obstacles to employing bomb propulsion are not technical as some of the best engineers and physicists on the planet evaluated and validated the concept. A cadre of celebrity scientists also endorsed atomic bomb propulsion, including Werner Von Braun, who was present as a Nazi SS officer at the first successful V-2 launch, and as an American citizen at the launch of Apollo 8. Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan were also supporters. The first serious work on bomb propulsion was done by physicist Freeman Dyson and weapon designer Ted Taylor on the top secret project Orion. Dyson’s son, in his book Project Orion, refers to the classified star wars project Casaba Howitzer. This device focused most of the energy of a nuclear explosion in one direction. Ted Taylor’s specialty was small warheads and he designed the Orion bombs, aka “pulse units.” The “unclassified” state of the art in nuclear weapons can direct 80 percent of bomb energy into a slab of propellant, converting this mass into a jet of superheated plasma. A pusher plate would absorb the blast without melting for the fraction of a second it lasts and accelerate the spaceship in steps with each bomb. Perhaps the closest experience to riding in an atomic bomb propelled spaceship would be repeated aircraft carrier catapult launches. Instead of the ocean- space, instead of supersonic fighters- a thousand ton spaceship.

Project Orion was canceled due to nuclear weapon treaties requiring international consent for using any such devices in space. A parallel to the failure of atomic bomb propulsion may be found in an examination of the industrial age. In The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, author William Rosen theorizes English patent law was the key enabler of the industrial age by allowing inventors to retain and profit from their intellectual property. The atomic bomb originated with a letter to President Roosevelt in 1939 from pacifist Albert Einstein- who was afraid the Nazi’s might build one first. With the human race living at the bottom of a deep, damp, and easily contaminated gravity well, atom bombs have never been applied successfully to a peaceful purpose. Stan Ulam, who lost most of his family in the holocaust, held the patent on atomic bomb propulsion. In the space age, nuclear weapon treaties and anti-nuclear activism have had the opposite effect of patent law and prevented atomic bomb propulsion from opening up the solar system to human exploration and colonization. Ironically, the nuclear industry is not safe on Earth- but deep space seems designed for it. There are no contamination or waste hazards, no long-term storage problems.

The problems with space travel are more than just the political barriers to detonating nuclear devices. The space industry is ipso facto a nuclear industry. Not only is nuclear energy the only practical source of propulsion in deep space, nuclear radiation generated by supernova and other celestial sources permeate space outside the protection of the earth’s atmosphere. All astronauts are radiation workers. Most, but sadly not all, space radiation is relatively easy to shield against. Many will argue using atomic bombs for propulsion is unnecessary. The presence of a small percentage of highly damaging and deeply penetrating particles- the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic rays makes a super powerful propulsion system mandatory. The tremendous power of atomic bomb propulsion is certainly able to propel the heavily shielded capsules required to protect space travelers. The great mass of shielding makes chemical engines, inefficient nuclear thermal rockets, the low thrust forms of electrical propulsion, and solar sails essentially worthless for human deep space flight. Which is why atomic bomb propulsion is left as the only “off the shelf” viable means of propulsion. For the foreseeable future, high thrust and high ISP to propel heavy shielding to the required velocities is only possible using bombs. The most useful and available form of radiation shielding is water. While space may not be an ocean, it appears human beings will have to take some of the ocean with them to survive.

The water comes before the bombs in human space flight because of the humans. The radiation hazards of long duration human space flight beyond earth orbit are only recently being addressed after decades of space station experience. The reason for this neglect is low earth orbit space stations are shielded from much of the radiation found outside the Earth’s Van Allen belts and magnetic field. An appreciation of the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic radiation, as well as solar events, will put multi-year human missions beyond earth orbit on hold indefinitely until a practical shield is available. While vested interests continue to promote inferior or non-existent technology, dismissing the radiation hazards and making promises they cannot keep, radiation scientists studying deep space conditions are skeptical- to say the least.

In the March 2006 issue of Scientific American magazine, Dr. Eugene Parker explained in simple terms survivable deep space travel. In “Shielding Space Travelers”, Parker states, “cosmic rays pose irreducible risks.” The premise of this statement is revealed when the only guaranteed solution to reducing the risk- a shield massing hundreds of tons- is deemed impractical. Active magnetic shields and other schemes are likewise of no use because while they may stop most radiation, the only effective barrier to heavy nuclei is mass and distance. The impracticality of a massive shield is due to first the expense of lifting hundreds of tons of shielding into space from Earth, and secondly propelling this mass around the solar system. Propelling this mass is not a problem if using atomic bombs, however, another problem arises. Even if the bombs could be politically managed, there is still the need to escape Earth’s gravitational field with all that shielding. Bomb propulsion is ideal for deep space but cannot be used in Earth orbit due to the Earth’s magnetic field trapping radioactive fallout that eventually enters the atmosphere. Not only lifting the shielding into orbit but chemically boosting it to a higher escape velocity away from the Earth is thus doubly problematic. Earth is a deep gravity well to climb out of.

The situation changed in March 2010 when NASA reported Mini-SAR radar aboard the Chandrayaan-1 lunar space probe had detected what appeared to be ice deposits at the lunar North Pole. An estimated 600 million tons of ice in sheets a couple meters thick. Moon water would allow a spaceship in lunar orbit to fill an outer hull with the 500+ tons of water required to effectively shield a capsule from heavy nuclei. This would enable an empty spaceship to “travel light” to the Moon and then boost out of lunar orbit using atomic bomb propulsion with a full radiation shield. Parker’s guaranteed but impractical solution had suddenly become practical. Fourteen feet of water equals the protection of the Earth’s air column at an altitude of 18,000 feet above sea level. This would protect astronauts not only from all forms of cosmic radiation but the most intense solar storms and the radiation belts found near the moons of Jupiter. With water and bombs, epic missions of exploration to the asteroid belt and outer planets are entirely possible. The main obstacles are again political, not technical. Bombs work, water works, and the Moon is in range of chemically propelled spacecraft launched from Earth.

There are other challenges to long duration beyond earth orbit human space flight but the solutions have been known for many decades. Zero gravity debilitation causes astronauts to weaken and permanently lose bone and bone marrow mass. The most practical solution, theorized since the early 1930′s, was investigated in 1966 during the Gemini 11 mission. A 100-foot tether experiment with the capsule attached to an Agena booster was successful in generating a small amount of artificial gravity by spinning the two vehicles. Equal masses on the ends of a tether can efficiently generate centrifugal force equal to one gravity. The concept is to “split the ship” when not maneuvering under power so the 500+ tons of shielded capsule is on one end and the rest of the craft of equal mass is reeled out on the other end of a thousand foot or more tether. Looking out through 14 feet of water, the crew of such a spaceship would view a slowly rotating star field. Long duration missions may last close to half a decade and the only option for providing air and water is to use a miniature version of Earth’s ecosystem. Equipment to enable a closed cycle life support system providing years of air and water is now available in the form of plasma reformers and facilitated by tons of water in which to grow algae or genetically modified organisms. With Earth radiation, Earth gravity, and air and water endlessly purified on board, crews can push their psychological limits as many years and as far out into the solar system as the speed of their atomic spaceships allow.

At the time of this writing, in early 2011, the outlook for human space flight is not encouraging. There are zero prospects for funding a long duration beyond earth orbit mission. Using atomic bombs to push minimum spaceship masses of over one thousand tons around the solar system for years at a time would cost as much as several major U.S. department of defense projects combined. Space flight is inherently expensive; there is no cheap. However, there is a completely valid military mission for atomic bomb propelled spaceships. Planetary protection became an issue in 1980 after the Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico was assigned blame for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Though overshadowed by the cold war, the impact threat remains. Comet and asteroid impacts are also the stuff of Hollywood movies and this is unfortunate in that a grave threat to the survival of life on earth is viewed as fictional entertainment. The impact threat is not science fiction; it is quite real, as the frequent near misses and geologic evidence of repeated extinction events show. Optimized directional bombs used in bomb propulsion could also be employed to deflect comets and asteroids long before they approach Earth.

While the consequences of ignoring the threat of an inevitable tsunami, earthquake, or hurricane are bad, the consequences of ignoring the inevitable comet or asteroid impact are apocalyptic. It is not only random impacts that could strike at any time the human race need guard against. In April of 2010 renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warned of alien civilizations posing a possible threat to humanity. Several large comets purposely crashed into a planet to wipe out the majority of indigenous life and prepare for the introduction of invasive alien species may be a common occurrence in the galaxy. Before readers scoff, they might consider towers brought down by jetliners, the discovery of millions of planets, and other recent unlikely events. It is within our power to defend Earth from the very real threat of an impact, and at this time self-defense is the only valid reason to go into space instead of spending the resources on Earth improving the human condition. Protecting our species from extinction is the penultimate moral high ground above all other calls on public funds. The vast treasure expended by nations threatening each other is not protecting the human race at all. Earth is defenseless. President Ronald Reagan in his 1983 Star Wars speech said, “I call upon the scientific community who gave us nuclear weapons to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace.” President Barack Obama has expressed a desire to reduce the world nuclear arsenal and converting these weapons to propulsion devices would do so. A powerful force of nuclear powered, propelled, and armed spaceships cannot guarantee Earth will not suffer a catastrophe. The best insurance for our species is to establish, in concert with a spaceship fleet, several independent self-supporting off world colonies in the outer solar system. The first such colony would mark the beginning of a new age.

Time line

1939 (August) Einstein sends letter recommending atomic bomb.

1939 (September) Germany invades Poland, World War 2 begins.

1942 First successful V-2 rocket launch by the Nazis.

1945 Trinity, the first atomic bomb is detonated.

1957 Sputnik achieves orbit using a rocket designed to carry an atomic bomb.

1961 Yuri Gagarin orbits Earth.

1966 Gemini 11 mission demonstrates artificial gravity.

1967 Outer Space Treaty restricts nuclear weapons in space.

1968 Apollo 8 crew escapes Earth’s gravitational field.

1980 Chicxulub impact crater revealed as dinosaur killer.

1983 Ronald Reagan gives Star Wars speech.

2006 Eugene Parker explains survivable deep space travel.

2010 (March) Millions of tons of ice are discovered on the Moon.

2010 (April) Stephen Hawking warns of alien civilization threat.


George Dyson, 2002, Project Orion: The True story of the Atomic Spaceship, Henry Holt and Company, LLC

Eugene Parker, March 2006, Shielding Space Travelers, Scientific American Magazine

William Rosen, 2010, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, Random House