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Nuclear Booster Rockets

michael posted about 13 years ago | from the warp-factor-six dept.

Space 377

Logic Bomb writes: "According to the New Scientist, NASA would like to explore replacing its chemical-based booster rockets with nuclear versions. Engineers think it could be the first step towards major reductions in launch costs that would eventually lead to widespread public access to space. NASA is aware that such a project faces massive PR difficulties. As a non-expert member of the public, I can verify that. :-)"

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Re:nuclear waste (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#101669)

Counter points:

Isn't it irresponsible to use a form of energy which creates a waste product which is jettisoned into the larger environment, and known to cause climatological problems?

Isn't it irresponsible to use a form of energy which is known to disrupt ecosystems over a range extending from mountaintop to ocean?

Isn't it irresponsible to use a form of energy where the production of the devices used creates chemically toxic substances in large amounts?

For extra credit, match these three statements with the following:




Mining for uranium is a fairly minimal impact, compared to mining for coal or oil. Consider the amount of energy extracted per unit of pollution. Or heck, per miner death. Go to West Virginia sometime and talk to the folks there that are stuck in Chemical Valley and the surrounding areas... the rates of infant morbidity, birth defects, and mutation should be enough to make anyone swear off of coal based energy forever. Now, if mining for uranium (which is mostly mechanized) reduces those deadly effects, while still producing the same amount of energy... that's a good thing.

Everyone touts Chernobyl as "Why we shouldn't do this", forgetting that Chernobyl was an *awful* design. That's like claiming that we shouldn't use indoor plumbing because the Romans used lead in their pipes. Duh. Chernobyl was a positive feedback loop... something starts to go wrong, it just speeds up the process, and boom. French, US, and Japanese power reactors are negative feedback... anything goes wrong, it stops. Period. This isn't a case of a computer turning things off, but a physical reaction that can't be sidelined, forgotten, or glitched out. (Three Mile Island? Old design - none are still in operation, to the best of my knowledge. Besides, that was a worst case scenario... complete core meltdown. Did it go boom? No. Were massive amounts of radiation released into the atmosphere or ecosphere? No.) Contrast these with accidents at hydroelectric dams, coal fired plants, gas distilleries... suddenly nuclear isn't the whipping boy everyone wants to make it.

Our energy needs aren't going to be solved by any one technology, and all of our options are pretty nasty in one way or another. A balance has to be struck, and spreading FUD about nuclear, instead holding hands and chanting in a circle about how wonderful is, doesn't get us anywhere.

Anytime we extract energy from the environment, we disrupt the environment. Period. The only way I know of to minimally impact the Earth's ecosphere is to move outside it: solar collection stations in space, transmitting their energy back via microwave. (And oh *god* can you imagine the PR nightmare *there*.) Even then, you're going to (somewhat) heat columns of air at specific points in the atmosphere... :/

Nuclear Power != Atomic Bombs (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#101672)

Not all nuclear power is bad or evil. If people really thought that global warming was that bad then we should be building nuclear power plants. I'm sick and tired of every and any proposal to use nuclear energy is greated by howls of protest from the green-freaks.

Re:Nuclear Space Travel Accidents (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 13 years ago | (#101675)

Good post.

The US RTGs are pretty stout, (Radioisotope Thermal Generators), if I remeber right, the Apollo 13 LM that went down in the Pacific went down in a very deep trench.

Here's a link from NASA about the RTGs on Galileo s/ RTGs.html s/ RTGs1.html

As for all the Pu from says on NASA here that "Plutonium-238 decays primarily by emitting alpha particles." I know that Pu is very poisonous...but if it's just casting alpha particles...the radiation danger from it isn't that it? It's been 12 years since HS physics...correct me if I am wrong.

Re:Kinda makes me wonder... (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 13 years ago | (#101676)

I didn't say it was OK.

Although in some instances it's better for all involved to use an atomic weapon than to use conventional weapons. Like the Invasion of the Japanese Home Islands...more lives would have been lost on both sides than were lost by the atomic bombing.

I'd wager that a small tactical nuke from a Minuteman III or Trident C4 on the command and control center south of Bagdad in Jan of 1991 would have been a much smaller loss of life than Operation Desert Storm. And it would have achived the same ends. Elimination of the Iraqi command and control system, and surrender of the Iraqi Army in the field.

Yes...most "modern" atomic weapons are larger than the bombs used in the Second World War. The B-57 and B-61 bombs in US service can have thier yield changed to fit thier role, the yield can be dialed down to a point lower than Fat Man or Little Boy. Modern Atomic weapons are "cleaner" than those used in the Second World War, and in the case of the Enhanced Radiation bomb, much cleaner and less destructive to local infrasturcture.

War is bad, no doubts about that. But the goal of war fighters is to achive an end with the smallest loss of life. In *some* cases an atomic weapon could be better than conventional weapons.

Interesting (3)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 13 years ago | (#101678)

A similar plan bounced around in the US Air Force in the 1950s for both a manned and unmanned nuclear bomber.

The bomber in the 50s, had the reactor core dropped into the exhaust of the jet engines. It looks alot like the picture from the article.

There was a B-36H test bed that had a reactor in it as well. m

The B-36H didn't use the reactor for power but to test the effects of a reactor on an airframe. Flying alongside the NB-36H on every one of its flights was a C-97 transport carrying a platoon of armed Marines ready to parachute down and surround the test aircraft in case it crashed.

"One idea for an operational nuclear-powered aircraft involved detachable reactor modules that could be replaced as needed. In this artist's conception, the pilots were in the section forming part of the tail, which could be detached in cases of emergency."

Theres more on the percived atomic powered bomber programs of the US and USSR over on the Federation of American Scientists website. Not much but some.

There was a big writeup on it in the Air and Space magazine in the early 90s...I have the issue somewhere.

Re:Kinda makes me wonder... (3)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 13 years ago | (#101679)

Where are the Thalidomide kids from the Japanese bombings?

There arn't any. k/ risks90.html

"Much of our information about the effects of radiation comes from studies of atomic bomb survivors in Japan, among whom have been found increased rates of leukemia and cancers of the breast, thyroid, lung, stomach, and other organs (NAS, 1990). Female survivors who received a single dose of radiation from the blast were found to be at the same risk for breast cancer as women with tuberculosis who had repeated fluoroscopy exposures over a 3- to 5-year period. This suggests that in the case of breast cancer--but not necessarily other cancers--repeated small doses over the years may be as hazardous as a single, large dose. The risk, however, seemed to be inversely correlated to the age at exposure to the blast, with no apparent increased risk in women over the age of 40."

"While exposure to low levels of radiation before birth is associated with the development of cancer during childhood, especially leukemia (Bithell and Stewart, 1975), not all researchers are convinced that prenatal irradiation is the cause of childhood cancer. Individuals exposed prenatally during the atomic bomb blasts in Japan do not have higher cancer rates. The current practice is to use ultrasound, rather than X-rays, during pregnancy whenever possible."

"Scientists agree that exposures to sufficiently high levels of radiation increase cancer risk -- slightly. Among the more than 86,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts, "only" about 420 "extra" cancers occurred between 1950-1990. "

I think that Oil gives you Los Angeles, but Anti-Nuclear propoganda gives you bad information.

You've Got To Understand (4)

Amphigory (2375) | about 13 years ago | (#101684)

I see a lot of posts here from people who clearly don't understand the dangers of Nuclear power.

I'm scared of radiation because it does horrible things. It caused Braniac's head to grow and he couldn't even find a toupee after all his hair fell out. It made Dr. Octopus turn evil. It ruined Mr. Fantastic's sex life and made the Thing the fondest desire of all women everywhere. It was even responsible for the spider that bit Peter Parker and ruined his self-centered little life. Worst of all, it created the incredible Hulk, who is still roaming around the southwest wreaking havoc at great expense to the taxpayers.

Given this history, I think its perfectly reasonable to be scared of Nuclear anything, and especially of what will happen when a Nuclear Reactor is exposed to cosmic rays above the stratosphere. We JUST DON'T KNOW what will happen under these conditions!


Re:Nuclear Space Travel Accidents (1)

Glytch (4881) | about 13 years ago | (#101690)

It might be a merciful end to the parents and older siblings of the kids who drag them along to see Mickey, though. ;)

Re:nuclear waste (1)

Glytch (4881) | about 13 years ago | (#101691)

I'm not a nuclear engineer at all, but I thought that I had once heard of a nuclear plant design in which robs containing material designed to stop a reaction were held in place in a grid that would mesh with a grid of fuel rods below them, using (I think) electromagnetic fields. The idea was that if there was an emergency, the electricity to the fields holding up the upper rods would be cut, the rods would drop among the fuel rods, and the nuclear reaction would stop. I'm probably getting some technical detail wrong, but I think I heard about this on a CBC radio documentary. Does anyone know about this?

Anti-nuclear activists (5)

Glytch (4881) | about 13 years ago | (#101693)

(Disclaimer: this comes from an advocate of nuclear power. Add the appropriate block of salt.)

I've often wondered if your average anti-nuclear activist actually understands the physics involved. I'm not flaming, I'm genuinely curious. Through the media, I've seen many protests over the most trivial and safe use of nuclear technology (the Cassini launch comes to mind) but in all those news reports I've never seen an activist give a solid technical reason why they oppose nuclear power. Is that subtle filtering on the part of the media, or are these people genuinely clueless?

American Revisionist Propaganda (1)

winterstorm (13189) | about 13 years ago | (#101713)

Where are the Thalidomide kids from the Japanese bombings? There arn't any. risks90.html

Research sponored and/or conducted by the USA is not a valid source of information about effects of the atomic bombings used in their attach of Japanese civilian targets in WWII. It is suspect as American Revisionist Propaganda.

American Revisionist Propaganda (2)

winterstorm (13189) | about 13 years ago | (#101714)

Although in some instances it's better for all involved to use an atomic weapon than to use conventional weapons. Like the Invasion of the Japanese Home Islands...more lives would have been lost on both sides than were lost by the atomic bombing.

Your statment is fuddle. Dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian target causes loss of life.

Re:Context. (1)

Gumber (17306) | about 13 years ago | (#101724)

Fine words, but there's a thing called acceptable risk.

A good point, but you seem rather blind to the significant risks of fossil fuels (global warming).

Re:Anti-nuclear activists (2)

Gumber (17306) | about 13 years ago | (#101727)

I've never seen an activist give a solid technical reason why they oppose nuclear power.

How about this:

The nuclear power industry failed (miserably) to hit its own engineering targets for cost & safety. They were hoist on their own pitard.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (1)

5foot2 (24971) | about 13 years ago | (#101732)

power plant failures, radiation, power plant waste and the boogy man.

I think Nukes are a great power source, and if we could just send the waste and used up fuel into the sun, we'd have most of the troubles fixed.

Re:, or... (1)

5foot2 (24971) | about 13 years ago | (#101733)

send it to the sun. problem solved,

Re:, or... (1)

5foot2 (24971) | about 13 years ago | (#101734)

scratch that. I was thinking about someting else. Soory for the lame comment.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (1)

5foot2 (24971) | about 13 years ago | (#101735)

I agree, that was sort of my point. There are a bunch of valid issues, then there's the boogy man. Peoples unreasonable fears are more powerful than facts.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (4)

JatTDB (29747) | about 13 years ago | (#101740)

Because stupid people can't get the images of mushroom clouds and Chernobyl stuff out of their heads. Just like when someone hears you work with computers, they think you're an expert with anything that contains wires.

Re:Kinda makes me wonder... (3)

sbeitzel (33479) | about 13 years ago | (#101746)

No. Remember: when you spray a little oil over a town, the dirt gets sticky, everything gets kinda blackened, and maybe you get a few random fires, but that's about it. When you spray radioactive material all over a town, not even that much happenes -- that you can tell right away. Then, a generation later, everybody starts looking like Thalidomide kids, and all the people who've lived there for 30 years have leukemia or tumors, and all the plants and animals start looking really twisted.

Oil gives you Los Angeles. Radiation gives you Lovecraft.

Re:Nuclear upper stage (1)

chill (34294) | about 13 years ago | (#101747)

I've heard of a more practical idea, which is a chemical first stage (surface to orbit), followed by a nuclear upper stage (to achieve escape velocity). The nuclear materials need not be activated until the vehicle is verified to be safely in orbit, which provides a "fail-safe" capability. Furthermore, when inactive, nuclear cores based on Uranium are basically inert, a lot more safe than the Plutonium thermal generators that have already flown on dozens of missions.

"Activated" has nothing to do with it. The main complaint of the anti-nuke people are that in the event of an explosion the Uranium/Plutonium would be blown into a power -- which is unbelievably toxic. It has little to do with the amount of radiation released on use -- which can be shielded.

And I don't know what you mean "activated". Fissionable Uranium is fissionable uranium whether it is on the launch pad or in high trajectory. In powder form it is one of the most toxic substances known to man.

If you mean "start the reaction", then again I would point out that it isn't the reaction that is the main complaint (but will be brought up).

Living in Central Florida, I sort of have a vested interest in not seeing a cloud of plutonium/uranium dust come floating over from the Cape.

(But I do think nuclear powered rockets are a good idea.)
Charles E. Hill

Re:There you go again (2)

chill (34294) | about 13 years ago | (#101748)

I would like to point out that the tendency of rockets to explode is in most cases related to the chemical fuel itself. Remove that (by replacing it with a nuclear booster) and you remove the majority of the explosions.

However, there is still the problem of rockets veering off course and being remotely detonated over the South Atlantic.
Charles E. Hill

Re:Nuclear Space Travel Accidents (2)

chill (34294) | about 13 years ago | (#101749)

It's not the radiation most people are worried about. When you vaporize (like in a big rocket explosion) a whole bunch of Plutonium or Uranium it turns to dust -- and is one of the most toxic substances known to man!

A cloud of that dust wafting over Disney from an explosion over Cape Canaveral is the bigger worry.
Charles E. Hill

Re:Nuclear Waste (1)

glitch! (57276) | about 13 years ago | (#101787)

Well I think it maybe because of the fact most of us believe in the SEY (someone else's yard) theory,

What would be my share? If it meant cheap and clean power, I would be glad to store a couple kilos of waste in my back yard. Seriously. What is the cask size, a few cubic yards? Just dig the hole deep enough and use an indestructible cask.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (2)

doormat (63648) | about 13 years ago | (#101790)

Well I am against it because they want to store those spent nuclear rods in my backyard. 90 miles from about 1.5 million people (las vegas) is Yucca mountain which is the prime site of a nuclear waste repository. =^/ I on the other hand, want to use the serveral mile long tunnel dug into the mountian to launch items into space (electromagnetic cannon).

Re:But what if...? (1)

erpbridge (64037) | about 13 years ago | (#101791)

Yes, Nuclear propulsion for Orbit-to-orbit craft wouldn't screw up Earth's atmosphere.... but how would you get the fuel up there? There's enough people worrying when we say we're sending a small chunk up, but anything that's used for long scale is gonna need a slightly bigger chunk, or multitude of chunks.

Then you gotta worry about those who believe that if you launch within x km of Earth you will be leaving a nuclear cloud for thousands of years, which will slowly drift into Earth's atmosphere and...

(no, I'm not anti-nuke... but I'm looking at both sides of the argument. Nuke propulsion is lighter, but at a cost)

BTW, for those out there who say the word nuclear: It's pronounced Nu-klee-ur, not Nu-Cue-lar or Nu-Q-Lur. Don't believe me? Check the dictionary. aint my address.

I thought nuclear space propulsion was illegal (1)

PenguinRadio (69089) | about 13 years ago | (#101798)

Isn't there a treaty on nuclear powered space propulsion? I know there is a test-ban on explosions in space, but I thought there was also something saying you couldn't have nuke propulsion in space as well.

Thunderbirds are go (1)

PenguinRadio (69089) | about 13 years ago | (#101799)

Thanks for the link to the picture. I now know where the idea for Thunderbird 2 was developed.

Re:Kinda makes me wonder... (1)

Stonehand (71085) | about 13 years ago | (#101802)

Remember that oil *has* been used as a weapon -- both directly (primitive fire-based weapons), and, far more importantly nowadays, as an economic weapon. The Arab nations once attempted to blackmail the United States into dropping support for Israel via an oil embargo, if memory serves, and given how important oil is to our economy (not just transportation -- which affects a HUGE part of it, of course -- but also things like plastics).

Re:Who needs safe rockets? (2)

Bagheera (71311) | about 13 years ago | (#101803)

The drive in Footfall was what's known as an Orion type drive. Basically, putttering into space standing on a series of small nuclear explosions. I understand there were actually experiments done using conventional explosives.

Put the crew and cargo on top of a tower of big shock absorbers, on top of a big solid plate, and set of a bomb underneath it.

The problem with Orion drives is they toss a ton of detonation byproducts into the atmosphere, space, whatever, and contaminate everything in the area. Never mind that your "fuel" is a bunch of nuclear (or thermonuclear) weapons.

The engine in the article seems to be a relative of the Kiwi class engines from the same vintage. Basically a small reactor into which is pumped H2 or He which is heated and vented as reaction mass. This new drive adds an air intake which (it would seem) increase the thrust and reduce the weight of reaction mass needed. The problem with all of them has been contamination.

Nuclear power isn't bad. Venting large quantities of radioactive wastes into the environment IS bad.

The Nuclear Stigma.... (5)

WombatControl (74685) | about 13 years ago | (#101806)

It's sad that even the term nuclear had been so villified in the United States. Environmentalist groups did their best to kill American nuclear power in the 70's and 80's - unwittingly allowing for more and more pollution from smog-emitting coal plants and inefficient natural gas plants. Good luck on NASA pushing nuclear rockets through - look at the trouble they had with the Cassini probe.

Considering that in 1993 then Vice President Al Gore killed both the lithium breeder and fuel pellet nuclear designs after tests showed them to be excellent energy producers and perfectly safe against radiation release, it's clear that the American attitude to anything with "nuclear" in the title is based off irrational fears and half-truths.

Breaking through this ignorance barrier is going to harder for NASA than sending a man to the Moon...

A Rocket a Day Keeps the High Costs Away (2)

Baldrson (78598) | about 13 years ago | (#101808)

"We've taken chemical rockets pretty close to as far as we can," says Robert Adams of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

John Walker, founder of AutoDesk, put the lie to the above quote in his paper "A Rocket a Day Keeps the High Costs Away [] ".

Basically, the problem is operationalizing launches so you can walk down the learning curve the way you do with other industries -- and that means launch frequently. The closest anyone ever came to this was the USSR when it had those big bulky film camera spy satellites that had to be launched once a week. They got the actual operational costs of launch far lower than NASA has achieved, despite all their promises.

If they can solve the accident problem... (4)

mesocyclone (80188) | about 13 years ago | (#101811)

If we are to seriously get into space, we need something better than current chemical rocket technology. Being able to put 45% mass into orbit instead of 10% is a vast improvement.

The biggest real issue is whether the reactor contents could be adequately contained during a worst case accident. If this is possible, and I suspect it is, there is no real danger associated with this technology.

OTOH, the biggest practical issue is whether anti-nuclear hysteria will stop this thing because of the neglible amount of radiation produced at high altitudes when it fires. I am sure that too many people are happier with the amounts of CO2, toxic gases and (at higher altitudes) ozone depletion that is caused by current rocketry than they would be with the pospect of any tiny amount of the dreaded r a d i a t i o n products released into the stratosphere. Perhaps they fear mutation in the UFO's ;-)

Certainly in the US, where most people are innumerate and don't know physics, and Europe, where too many people are ecophobes, this will be the biggest problem.

It takes a lot of resources... (1)

SaDan (81097) | about 13 years ago | (#101812) get a nuke plant up and running. I believe the early nuclear power plants were a losing proposition: It took more money to build and run the plant than it could bring back selling electricity in it's operating lifetime. I don't know if this is true today or not, but it's still something to consider.

I think that we need to start finding ways to really conserve energy. Better building materials, more efficient lighting/heating/cooling, more efficient large appliances, and more efficient power saving on computer systems.

Once we do that, we might find that something like wind/solar/hydroelectric might fit our needs better.

Interested in weather forecasting?

Context. (1)

Paul Neubauer (86753) | about 13 years ago | (#101815)

While "perfection" is impossible, it is possible to get very close and to lower risk. There is no zero risk, even doing nothing has a risk.

The idea is to take into consideration what could go wrong, and assume that everything that could fail, would all do so at once, and design for that. If the worst case failure mode is that a reaction self-quenches with no radiation release, that is 'perfect' for the application. It might still not be ideal, as it could make a mess within a containment structure, but this is far preferable to the failure modes encountered at Chernobyl, Windscale, Three Mile Island, or Brown's Ferry.

As for the 'too cheap to meter', that one will not be true anytime soon (for any means of generation), and as I recall if the speech it was taken from is read fully in context it wasn't that we'd have cheap energy 'tomorrow' but that if we (humanity) worked things right, someday in the distant future our succeeding generations would have that benefit from our work and research.

The waste products are a concern as fission is inherently dirty and I'd far prefer fusion to fission power, but fusion is still 20+ years away... just like it has been for the last 50 years. In 20 years, I expect workable fusion power to still be "20 years away."

Green goo everywhere? (1)

MicroBerto (91055) | about 13 years ago | (#101817)

When rocket ships blast off, they shoot tons of fire and emit tons of smoke from the bottom of the rocket. Are nuclear ships going to then emit tons of radioactive green goo in order to propel themselves??

This shows how little I know! :)

Mike Roberto
- GAIM: MicroBerto

Atomic waste? (1)

nowindowz (92284) | about 13 years ago | (#101818)

Seems like this would be a good way to get rid of atomic wate. Use it in a power plant, when it is used up there, put it in a rocket to blast it off into space. This would solve two problems at once, you get rid of the waste and get a Satellite into orbit. Then once the bird is in orbit, fire the rocket towards the larest atomic reactor in the solar system, and problem solved.

Re:Green goo everywhere? (1)

nowindowz (92284) | about 13 years ago | (#101819)

Did you read the article or just press the reply button?

Re:Benefits? (1)

nowindowz (92284) | about 13 years ago | (#101820)

Something for you to consider. We are going to change conversation that took place in the late 1400's to fit your argument.

Mr. Columbus- I think I have a quicker way to India that could cut our travel time in half. But I need to you to found our voyage to prove this.

Queen Isabella- Gee that sounds like a great idea, but we have this problem with the Moors right now we really need to dedicate 100% of our resource to it. Sorry

Now go find a History book and remove most of everything that happened after 1492.

As you should be able to see, exploration has great benefits; you should not abandon it because you have other problems.

You may not understand it but one the big reasons for space exploration is get a better understanding of how the universe works, have a better understanding of how the universe work we help everyone.

So don't just abandon something because the benefits are not 100% obvious. You never know we could just find the cure for HIV on Mars.

Like Mao said, we just need a little re-education (2)

Argy (95352) | about 13 years ago | (#101822)

"It really requires an education of the public," he says. "If there's an enhancement of understanding about what nuclear is about, we can benefit from that." [George Schmidt, deputy manager of the Propulsion Research Center at Marshall]

I really wonder what NASA thinks the public needs to learn to think this is a good idea. "Radiation is good for you?" "Rockets don't explode?" Maybe he's referring to the immense environmental damage caused by existing launches, which depending on your death model, may in the long run be worse than a few nuclear reactors exploding over the ocean. But I doubt that's what he means by "what nuclear is about."

Who needs safe rockets? (2)

Keelor (95571) | about 13 years ago | (#101823)

I've always been a fan of the rocket in Niven/Pournelle's Footfall [] . They just build a big shield and then throw nuclear bombs beneath it for propulsion. Of course, they're a little more desperate than the US (should) be, as it was the only way to quickly get a whole lot of guns into space quickly at the time.


Re:The Nuclear Stigma.... (1)

BlackStar (106064) | about 13 years ago | (#101829)

One might take this opportunity to ask what all the bio/toxin research does for safeguards. I would expect actually less than that done for a MODERN, properly maintained nuclear reactor. Personally, I'm a lot more worried about some of the wonderous chemicals they come up with getting released into the environment and atmosphere than a nuclear accident on the ground.

A space launch would need more info, but the ground-based reactor fears are a fear of the immediate vs. an inability to comprehend a long-term, cumulative effect of the damage done by fossil fuels.

Re:Benefits? (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 13 years ago | (#101830)

Well, besides the obvious answer, that without the space program none of the technology that allows this conversation would be here ... The computer revolution is directly attributable to NASA's demands for computing power during the Apollo program.

But if that doesn't interest you (i.e., if you're one of those Luddite hypocrites who seem to delight in using Slashdot to denounce technology) try this on for size. If you've been to a hospital at any time during the last ~30 years, you've benfited from the space program -- where do you think all that nifty medical technology came from in the first place?. If you drive a car, you've benefited in ways too numerous to count. If you live anywhere where there's a risk of severe weather, you've benefited, because modern weather forecasting and storm-warning systems simply would not exist without NASA.

Future benefits: space has a lot of room, a lot of raw materials (many asteroids are mountain-size chunks of high-grade ore), no ecology to screw up, and (effectively) zero-gee. This is the perfect combination for making damn near anything we want to, including many things we can't make at all on earth (aerogel, anyone?) without further fucking up the surface of our planet. And biotech works very well in zero-gee for all kinds of reasons, which means we may get a cure for AIDS faster in orbit than we will down here. And cancer, and diabetes, and heart disease, and Alzheimer's, and ...

Of course, for the Luddites, none of this matters. To them, space is a waste of time, nuclear power is eeevil, and the combination is anathema. They'll happily reap the benefits of space exploration, without ever knowing or acknowledging that they're doing so, while fighting it tooth and nail.

I don't know but (1)

Kwelstr (114389) | about 13 years ago | (#101836)

The rest of the articles on that New Scientist webpage look like the National Enquirer of science. Just how credible are this guys? The article seems a bit to sensationalistic to be all true.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (2)

Zordak (123132) | about 13 years ago | (#101842)

This will probably get everybody all up in arms, but Nuclear Weapons are probably even more misunderstood than nuclear power. You say nuke and everyone thinks about those Japanese cities that we completely leveled (we didn't) with those two bombs and mushroom clouds and one bomb will wipe out an entire city and the radiation will contaminate the whole earth for 500 years. None of that is true. The deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki comprised somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the total Japanese deaths from American bombing raids. Hiroshima was hammered, but certainly not leveled (the firestorm did much more damage than the actual blast). For Nagasaki, which got hit in a hilly area, the area of really heavy destruction was somewhere around a mile and a half, and most of the people that were killed were not killed by the initial blast.

It is true that the nuclear testing done in the 50's and 60's was careless by modern standards, but that was mostly because we had a beast on our hands that we did not completely understand, but that we had to keep developing for the sake of our survival. The defense nuclear weapons industry of the 21st century is not the industry of the mid 20th century. The sad truth is that since nuclear weapons have been invented, people have them, and that means we have to have them. Even at that, the trend of recent history has been towards smaller and fewer. Our total number of warheads is a small fraction of what it used to be in the heyday of the 60's. Our big, scary Peacekeeper ICBM's carry smaller warheads (about 300 kT) than the Titans of yesteryear and are much more accurate (we can basically hit a football field with them). They are optimized for hard target kills (taking out the enemies weapons), not for wiping out whole cities. They are terribly destructive, but not the way people envision them. We really are not out to depopulate the whole earth, and I would tell any green freak to his face two things. One, that the only reason he is able to stand around protesting things he doesn't understand is because we have these weapons, and two, the people who work with those weapons and actually understand them are a lot less anxious to see them fired than he is.

Today's Sesame Street was brought to you by the number e

I've got a plan (3)

Lord Omlette (124579) | about 13 years ago | (#101843)

concerning the PR aspect. Let's tell NASA to shut everything down for a year, put the money from their budget into a trust fund, then bring them back online, and then force the entire motherfucking population to go through engineering school. Once the stupid is beaten out of them, they'll be less likely to argue about nukyooler things being bad and more likely to support silly things like, I dunno, making sure people have a way off the planet in case everything shits the bed. Anyone? Agree/disagree?

ICQ 77863057

Re:This is just a con to get billions of tax dolla (1)

kaltan (133872) | about 13 years ago | (#101854)

It would also be lighter and be able to lift a bigger fraction of its starting mass into orbit - perhaps as much as 45 per cent. "With existing systems, it's more like 10 per cent," he says.

This is true, but it DOES NOT MATTER. The 90% of the mass that doesn't make it to orbit is fuel. Fuel is very cheap. The current Space Shuttle uses something like $20 million dollars of fuel to get to orbit (and the vast majority of that is the solid rockets, not the hydrogen). The total cost of a Shuttle mission is more like $1000 million. Even if you could make the fuel free it wouldn't make the shuttle any cheaper.

Hmm, you for get one important thing : if i can get twice the stuff up with one launch, i save one flight, cutting the costs to half of what it was before. They are talking about an increase of factor 4.5 (per launch) thus saving $3500 million ! (1 launch instead of 4.5)

Now that is what i call progress !

Kinda makes me wonder... (3)

pigeonhed (137303) | about 13 years ago | (#101856)

if the first use of Oil was as a weapon, would we have the same sort of public fear over the resource?

What change? (3) (142825) | about 13 years ago | (#101858)

How does Bush getting into office change the public opions of nuclear energy?

The talk about nuclear energy is due to the rise in oil prices and skyrocketing prices of power in California. According to Bush, all we need are more electric wires.

Re:Hmmm (1)

jelson (144412) | about 13 years ago | (#101860)

Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space...

So, they don't want nuclear power in space, do they? What are they going to do ... blow up the sun?

Well yes, of course. From the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the Sun. []

Nuclear is not bad (3)

HenryC (147782) | about 13 years ago | (#101861)

Why is everybody in this country (USA) so against
nuclear power? We insist on using fossil fuels, then complain that we are producing 2 much pollution. But heaven forbid we allow for nuclear energy! Its cleaner than fossil fuel, safer, lasts longer... So honestly, why does the public of our country dislike the idea of a nuclear powerplant so much?

This is just a con to get billions of tax dollars (5)

brucehoult (148138) | about 13 years ago | (#101862)

It's entirely likely that nuclear-powered rockets are the way to go sometime in the future, but trust me on this: NASA has no intention of ever actually putting this into operation. All they want is to get lots of money to study the idea to death and employ engineers to create PowerPoint presentations.

Let's look at some of the claims in the article:

"Nuclear systems give you a chance to reduce your mass and so your overall costs to orbit," Adams says.

This is a missile-builder talking. He's clearly obsessed with one particular engineering measure of "goodness", which is called "ISP". There has been any amount of research in the last twenty to thirty years that shows that maximizing ISP does not necessarily reduce costs. If NASA's current rockets were operating at the lower end of what you can do with chemical engines then he might be correct, but they are in fact several orders of magnitude off.

Nuclear propulsion could allow single-stage rockets to reach orbit - cutting the need for expendable boosters and allowing what he calls "airline-like" access to space.

Chemical propulsion allows single-stage to orbit, if you do it correctly. In fact, NASA has already built several rockets capable of single-stage to orbit operation, but they just haven't used them that way. The second stage of the Saturn V was one of them. Launched by itself, it would have been capable of making orbit with a small payload. It had the necessary ratio of fuel to total mass.

It would also be lighter and be able to lift a bigger fraction of its starting mass into orbit - perhaps as much as 45 per cent. "With existing systems, it's more like 10 per cent," he says.

This is true, but it DOES NOT MATTER. The 90% of the mass that doesn't make it to orbit is fuel. Fuel is very cheap. The current Space Shuttle uses something like $20 million dollars of fuel to get to orbit (and the vast majority of that is the solid rockets, not the hydrogen). The total cost of a Shuttle mission is more like $1000 million. Even if you could make the fuel free it wouldn't make the shuttle any cheaper.

What is important to cheap access to space is to make the vehicles *totally* reusable, like an airliner, not throw-away like a missile. The Shuttle is partially reusable, but it still throws away a huge amount of itself each flight, and has to be totally refurbished -- a process that takes months. Space flight won't be cheap until you can fly, come back down, fill-her-up, and fly again the next day.

Even if that means that 98% of what you leave the ground with is fuel it doesn't matter until you've got total costs down to well under a tenth of what they are today, and maybe closer to a hundredth.

If you're interested in this then I highly recommend that you go and read what the Space Access Society [] has been writing about this stuff for more than five years now.

Re:sweet (2)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101863)

Um, yes, they use chemical rockets up to 30 000 feet. And besides, the nuclear rocket is still blasting several tons of hot air out its ass, so the effect on the animals will be the same.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (2)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101864)

Personally, I'm pro nuclear power... despite some opinions, its safe and clean. The only real concern I have is disposal of nuclear waste, but most modern reactors have been taking good approaches to that (burying miles deep in tectonically stable areas where a bucketful of waste is in a barrelfull of shielding)... all the nuclear waste messes came from the defense industry, who decided that money wasted on cleanup should be better spent on more nukes.

The real concern is a legitamite one - its naive to assume that rockets will be successful, especially since this design does include a chemical base which could explode. Such a system would launch radioactive fuel over a very wide area if it exploded.

Still, this research is important and quite viable - they need to do some serious engineering - only a small amount of radioactive matter is needed for this thruster, so it could be possible to protect it enough that - if an accident occured, a protective casing could keep the fuels from spraying into the air as an aerosol. Still, rocket explosions and crashes are a powerful kind of nasty, so this would be a tough system to design.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (2)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101865)

Wel, they've got reason to be scared, after the past the nuclear weapons industry had. While the power industry had waste being stored hundreds of feet underground where one barrel-size shielding system contained a bucketfull of waste, the weapons industry was a little more relaxed. The American Nuclear weapons industry had lower standards for storing radioactive waste then the average gas station had for the gas tank.

The army did a lot of bad, bad things to a lot of people to make those bombs. It won't be forgotten quickly. Unfortunately, it gave the whole world a mad fear of nuclear waste, which the power industry handles amicably in my opinion.

Re:Nuclear Power != Atomic Bombs (3)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101866)

While I agree with you on nuclear power (here in Ontario they closed down the fission plants and switched back to fossil fuels, the psycho bastards) I have to point out that this is a different issue. The risk with nuclear power is the radioactive waste, the high cost of running a plant, and the risk of accident. Here, the issues are different. Here, the only issue is safety, as this promises to be cheaper, and waste can be jettisoned on an outward decaying orbit.

The risk with Cassini is that an accident on the launch could result in widespread nuclear fallout - the technology their talking about here has the same risk, plus that its less tested and therefore people don't trust its ability not to blow up. And call me paranoid eco-psycho, but widespread fallout sucks bigtime.

Of course, then there were those complete morons who were worried that Cassini would crash land on its Earth slingshot flyby that it makes later on. Umm, earth is a goddamn small target, and its not coming within a million miles of the surface.

Re:I thought nuclear space propulsion was illegal (3)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101867)

Read the article - its not actually nuclear propulsion - its not spraying radioactive material into space, its just using a reactor to superheat normal gasses and use the pressure for thrust.

Re:Who needs safe rockets? (3)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101868)

THis is different from the Footfall thruster though. Footfall was just nukes going off under the ship's ass. This rocket is just using a reactor to superheat gas and release use the superhot gas for thrust - no radioactive material is released. I think.

Re:It Doesn't Bother Me (4)

Pxtl (151020) | about 13 years ago | (#101869)

Okay, lets assume you didn't say Africa and actually picked a place with low (or zero) population, rather then people you just didn't care about - its still risky. First, if it explodes on take off, we're probably not too bad off, but its no fun - remember that volcano a bit back, that resulted in a cold summer? That spread ash over the sky world wide. This explosion wouldn't even be close, but it could still spread the nuclear fuel over a fairly wide area, and some of it could reach the first world (especially if we made our launch site the middle of the Nevada desert or something).

Second is the nastier possibility - high atmosphere fuck-up. These are more rare, like the Ariane 5 prototype and, to a lesser extent, the Challenger (the challenger didn't get that high). There, the ship has made it a long distance and is no longer near the launch site, and could be over civilization. Also, the high atmosphere explosion means that it will take much longer to land, giving the fallout time to spread worldwide. In that case, it doesn't matter where on earth you are, you're still gene-fucked.

Of course, I don't know how much they're using, how risky it is, how bad things could be if it went up exactly. This is simply explaining people's fears. Personally, I'm all for this tech, I think its important to the future of humanity, and could finally get us into orbit. Still, the enviro's are right, this is risky as hell, and even the best rockets have been known to blow up, so I'm not sure if I want this going on.

Re:I thought nuclear space propulsion was illegal (1)

Rubyflame (159891) | about 13 years ago | (#101872)

No, the law is that you can't use nuclear pulse propulsion... even though it's such a damn great idea.

There you go again (3)

fm6 (162816) | about 13 years ago | (#101877)

Deja vu all over again!

This all boils down to the usual arguments for and against fission as a power source, weighed on one side by the tendency of rockets to explode on the lanch pad. I would argue against on the grounds of contamination risks, waste storage issues, proliferation (hard to control access to weapons material when you're creating so much of the precusors), and hidden costs.

That last one is the killer. If nuclear power had ever been nearly as cost effective as it was supposed to be, people would have dealt with or lived with the health and safety problems. But controlled fission is just one of those things that looks a lot simpler on paper than it does in practice. That's what killed it, despite the convenience of blaming everything on kneejerk treehuggers who arrive at the anti-nuke rally in smog-belching busses.

Hey, there's plenty of kneejerking on both sides. If I hear that stupid -- and simply untrue -- cliche about Ted Kennedy's car [] one more time...


Hmmm (1)

ArcticChicken (172915) | about 13 years ago | (#101889)

Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space...

So, they don't want nuclear power in space, do they? What are they going to do ... blow up the sun?

I know that's not the type of nuclear power these people are referring to, but I think it unintentionally illustrates the point that many people don't understand that radiation is not always a product of human activity.

Re:If they can solve the accident problem... (1)

WebBug (178944) | about 13 years ago | (#101901)

Does anyone have any clue at all what would happen if the shuttle crashed into Miami?
Accident risk with a nuclear powered plasma rocket would be no greater at all.
As to damage potential, I don't believe the damage would be of any greater magnitude, it may be less, only the nature of the damage would be different.
Dropping a Nuclear Reactor into downtown (city of your choice) is not a good idea. But, it would be remedialble. And the overall damage for same lift capacity would be far less for sure.
My two cents.

nuclear waste (1)

RatFink100 (189508) | about 13 years ago | (#101905)

when I was 15 our school had an educational visit from some guys from the local (50 miles) nuclear power station. I asked this question "Isn't it irresponsible to use a form of energy which creates a waste product which will be toxic for thousands of years?"

The answer - he suggested that we can store it safely and that in 50 or 100 years maybe we'll find a way to use it safely, maybe we'll have a little slot on the side of our house where we'll put pellets of the waste to fuel our homes.

I never he felt he answered my question adequately and I still don't feel anyone else has.

Re:nuclear waste (2)

RatFink100 (189508) | about 13 years ago | (#101906)

It's not an either/or necessarily. We should be looking to use less power and looking into renewable energy.

Re:nuclear waste (2)

RatFink100 (189508) | about 13 years ago | (#101907)

I agree with you on the whole. I'm not 100% anti-nuclear energy.

The original poster implied there were no downsides to nuclear.

As you pointed out all forms of energy have a downside.

sweet (1)

faeryman (191366) | about 13 years ago | (#101909)

will they still use chemical launches? the article is unclear..

if they wont then this is good news for the critters that live around the launch pad. ever seen the pics of the animals that got blasted by the escaping gasses and flew a few hundred feet, then *splat* on a fence? lol

Fractured Factoid (1)

ErnstKompressor (193799) | about 13 years ago | (#101912)

Somewhat off-topic, but I once read something about one of the most interesting occurrences of atomic radiation in nature. It seems that somewhere in Northern(?) India there is a region with natural deposits of uranium/plutonium/? Small deposits, but enough that when there is sufficient pressure from the mountain's own weight or seismic activity, occasionally there are actual micro-'detonations' with fallout, etc...

File it away somewhere,


challenger? (2)

BurpingWeezer (199436) | about 13 years ago | (#101917)

What happens if we get another Challenger incident? How far will that spread radioactive material? Will it be dangerous? I'm all for nuclear power, but when its moving at high altitude I get a bit nervous. Not because its going to go boom. But because if and when it goes boom it may spew radioactive material all over florida where as standard fuel will simply burn up. I could be wrong but that's what NASA has to convince me of.

Re:There you go again (1)

Deadplant (212273) | about 13 years ago | (#101932)

How can someone who says "Deja vu all over again!" get modded up?

Anyone who says that phrase must be an american or mentally retarded.

for some reason i find this one way more annoying than people who abbreviate "you are" to "your".

2p? (1)

joejoejoejoe (231600) | about 13 years ago | (#101938)


Oil used as a weapon (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | about 13 years ago | (#101939)

While nobody can prove what was in Greek Fire [] , I wouldn't be suprised to hear that it was indeed petrolium.

And it took 1500 years before people started actually using it for other purposes. I better start saving now if I want a nuclear powered motorcycle in 3502...

reminds me of a summer camp song (2)

aethera (248722) | about 13 years ago | (#101948)

While I agree that nuclear power is cleaner than coal (though the lesser of two evils is still evil), all of the people who are saying that with Amercian engineering nuclear power (much less nuclear rockets) would be totally safe...

well this was an old summer camp song....

Oh, they built the ship Titanic, to sail the ocean blue.
For they thought it was a ship that water would never go through.
It was on its maiden trip, that an iceberg hit the ship.
It was sad when the great ship went down.
It was sad, so sad.
It was sad, so sad.
It was sad when the great ship went down (to the bottom of the....)
Uncles and aunts, little children lost their pants.
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Oh the moral of this story, the moral of this song,
Is that one shouldn't go where he does not belong.
For in the good Lord's eyes, you're as good as other guys,
It was sad when the great ship when down.

Repeat chorus

But what if...? (1)

Ignatius_Gunnarsson (262319) | about 13 years ago | (#101950)

OK, so the main opposition would be to radioactive materials potentially being released into the atmosphere... Well, what about orbit to orbit craft? When we get to the point of building really big ships in Earth Orbit, nuclear propulsion would be ideal, since there would be no atmosphere to mess up. Just food for thought...

Re:Benefits? (2)

geomcbay (263540) | about 13 years ago | (#101952)

While I think it is rather terrible that people are suffering and dying of AIDS and many other problems throughout the world, throwing the money from this at those problems won't solve them. The issues of poverty and health care for 3rd world nations are more about politics (and sometimes religion, etc) than simple economics.

Space research is very important for the future. Just look back through history and you'll see that the Earth has been hit with extinction-causing space objects several times in the past. In fact we're just about due to be hit again within the next half million years or so. (Which could be, oh, next year, even, might not be so far away). Learning as much as we can so we can either 1) avoid this, by using our space technology to deflect such objects or 2) get some people colonizing other planets is very important. While it sucks that people are dying and living in poverty I think it would suck a lot more if the entire human race were wiped out by something we could have dealt with if we had properly planned.

Re:The solution is simple ... (1)

Mister Black (265849) | about 13 years ago | (#101954)

You have a good point there. Perception is key. If the public doesn't think of it as nuclear then suddenly it isn't nuclear and thus doesn't have the associated negative baggage.

The solution is simple ... (1)

JonKatzIsAnIdiot (303978) | about 13 years ago | (#101964)

... just don't call them 'nuclear'.

Poor PR Practice. (1)

Martigan80 (305400) | about 13 years ago | (#101973)

Ok with all things set aside, like Russia complaing now that we want a missle defens PLUS nuclear rockets for space travel. Look at some of the quotes in the article.
"But a change in public attitude towards nuclear power would take the heat off NASA,"
Since when did the public start accepting nuclear power? I know Dick and George have changed thier "public" opinon.
"There are some legitimate safety and environmental issues if the spacecraft were to crash during launch,",
I can see this now-at 30,001 feet the nuclear engine kicks in, but an o-ring breaks and air gets into the rocket and BOOM we radiate ourselves and our coast line.

inevitable (1)

nonane (305432) | about 13 years ago | (#101974)

back to the future part 2. first scene, the doctor pulls up in his nuclear powered time machine. he needs more power, so he looks through the Marty's garbage dump for fuel. how long will it be before we can start using a mass to energy converter? is it even remotley possible to start using banana pells, left over food etc and use the mass it contains to convert it into energy? how long before thats possible?

Love the quotes (2)

JediTrainer (314273) | about 13 years ago | (#101976)

From the article: We've taken chemical rockets pretty close to as far as we can

As long as they can keep them short :)

Re:Nuclear is not bad (1)

vertigogears (319440) | about 13 years ago | (#101980)

Contrary to popular belief, nuclear power is not even safe in the aspect of global warming. To mine for all of that uranium needed to produce nuclear power, you are emitting carbon dioxide into the environment. Also, to complicate matters, nuclear power produces some rather dangerous nuclear waste that last for centuries, we still don't know what to do with it (besides shipping it off to another country), and the nuclear industry likes to transport this stuff under some very unsafe conditions (take a look at 73 to see an example of just how unsafe the transportation of nuclear waste tends to be). And what if one of these nuclear powered space shuttles happens to explode while it's in the Earth's atmosphere? Talk about spreading carcinogenic materials on a global scale. And, of course, there's always the risk of creating more nuclear power plants, thus increasing the risk of a nuclear power plant accident. There are other, cleaner sources of energy that need to be researched. Nuclear energy is not the answer.

Re:Benefits? (1)

Marcus Brody (320463) | about 13 years ago | (#101981)

you've benfited from the space program -- where do you think all that nifty medical technology came from in the first place?

They come from space?? Jeezus man where have i been for all my life....

And biotech works very well in zero-gee for all kinds of reason

Give me one.

Is the cost/benifet ratio worthwhile?? Billions of pounds on space travel (which i do admit, does accelerate research in other fields) or billions of pounds on _existing_ drugs to 3rd world countries.

Lets admit it - sometimes money could be spent in better ways (millenium dome anyone?). But, alas, we are greedy: I like technology & science & exploration, and spend much money on it and encourage my government to do the same. But their are definately peoples out their who need it more.

Re:Fractured Factoid (2)

Marcus Brody (320463) | about 13 years ago | (#101982)

Not necessarily offtopic. Valid to the whole is radioactivity a manmade evil? argument.

I don't know about India, but here in the UK alot of houses in Cornwall, which are made from granite, leak radiaoactive radon gas [] . A significant link has been shown between leukaemia rates and living in these houses.

Re:Anti-nuclear activists (3)

Marcus Brody (320463) | about 13 years ago | (#101983)

I partially agree with you: Alot of people fear nuclear power because they dont understand it. Most of the protestors give absolutely no technically valid reason why they oppose nuclear power. However, there are a few who do understand the issues. Unfortunately, they get lost in all the noise....

Lets face it, Radioactive material, when not handled properly, is very dangerous. I work with some radioactive compounds (biological research), and I have a healthy respect for it.

However, some notable people do not. I dont know what the situation is in the states, but BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd) have been involved in numerous [] scandals [] over [] the last [] few years [] . This has not just affected the UK [] either [] . And that scares the shit out of me. And some anti-nuclear campagners.

Re:Nuclear is not bad (1)

Quizme2000 (323961) | about 13 years ago | (#101996)

There is a fear of creating an uranium economy, because spent fuel is hazard for 19,000 years or so. Nasa has been launching nuclear power supplies in orbit for a long time, but in much smaller quanties. But there have been very few disasters with the NASA logo, but it only takes one and they blew that in the 80's a couple of times. There is just to much liability for the general public to accept nuclear powered vechicals.

Nuclear Space Travel Accidents (1)

Quizme2000 (323961) | about 13 years ago | (#101997)

NOVEMBER 1996: Russian Mars '96 space vehicle disintegrates over Chile and Bolivia, likely spreading its payload of nearly half a pound of plutonium. Searchers found no remains of the spacecraft which was believed to have burned up. Eyewitnesses saw the flaming reentry over the mountains in the region. FEBRUARY 1983: Soviet Cosmos 1402 crashes into South Atlantic ocean carrying 68 pounds of Uranium-235. JANUARY 1978: Cosmos 954 blows up over Canada with 68 pounds of Uranium-235 and other nuclear poisons, much of which is thought to have vaporized and spread worldwide. APRIL 1973: Soviet Rorsat lands in the Pacific Ocean north of Japan. Radiation released from the reactor was detected. APRIL 1970: Apollo 13 lands near New Zealand with the 8.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 believed to be still in the spacecraft at the bottom of the ocean floor. 1969: Two Cosmos lunar missions fail. Radiation detected as crafts burn up in the atmosphere. MAY 1968: U.S. Nimbus B-1 lands in the Santa Barbara channel off California with 4.2 pounds of Uranium-238 but was recovered by NASA. APRIL 1964: U.S. Transit 5BN-3 hits the Indian Ocean with its 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 vaporizing in the atmosphere and spreading worldwide.

It's not either-or (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 13 years ago | (#101998)

Nuclear and fossil fuels both suck. Just because you're against one doesn't mean you should be for the other one.

Just becuase these two are currently the cheapest doesn't mean that you shouldn't work towards better technoligies for the future.

Re:Anti-nuclear activists (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 13 years ago | (#101999)

I've never seen an activist give a solid technical reason why they oppose nuclear power.

Here's a technical reason: Murphy's law.

Re:It's not either-or (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 13 years ago | (#102000)

Until then, we shoud climb back into the trees?

No, I didn't say that. What we should not do is just build more coal and nuclear plants and then sit on our asses, congratulating ourselves for a job well done.

We will have to build some more of these, but in parallel, we need to develop better replacemnt technologies.

Re:If they can solve the accident problem... (1)

tlk nnr (449342) | about 13 years ago | (#102016)

The biggest real issue is whether the reactor contents could be adequately contained during a worst case accident. If this is possible, and I suspect it is, there is no real danger associated with this technology.

One problem is that these reactors would work without a primary/secondary cooling system.
You'd have the plutonium/uranium core, and the hydrogen flows around the core and then into the atmosphere. Together with radioactive byproducts.

The article contains a quote from an engineer:
"The idea of deliberately releasing fission products into the atmosphere, even in negligible amounts, is going to be a very hard sell."

I see 4 problems:

  • they need a powerful reactor. They energy density must be far higher than the reactors currently in use. There was a project in the 1960'ies, and they came to the conclusion that they need a 2000-3000 times higher energy density.
  • they need a conventional booster for the first 30000 feet. .
  • the reactor must withstand an explosion of the conventional booster
  • they must convince the public that the radioactive traces that are released in the upper atmosphere are negligable.

Search for "NERVA nuclear" on google.

NMR (1)

novastyli (450003) | about 13 years ago | (#102018)

They even changed the name of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance tomography. They now call it MRI. Nuclear is BAD!

Risks, benefits, responsibilities (2)

hyehye (451759) | about 13 years ago | (#102020)

This is good stuff. Or so it seems on the surface. Faster cheaper access to space! Who in their right mind wouldn't want that?

But here's the catch: if we had another Challenger, the environmental costs could be very huge. The quick answer is that we could modify existing radiation containment technologies, such as supermagnets, and send them along for the ride. The problem with that is the weight of the craft goes up, eating away a good portion of the initial benefit gained from leaving the heavy chemical rockets - and the cost goes back up too. I seem to remember an article in AIAA's mag (expensive subscription, but fascinating) about these issues, and it seemed hopeful - but only over a long stretch of time.

Now here's my question: If, decades ago, we could develop planes like the U2 and the SR-71... why can't we now? The SR-71 is, to put it simply, the most advanced, highest-flying (officially 80,000 feet, more like 120-130k), fastest (mach 3.2 officially, more like 3.9) non-spacefaring thing we've ever taken off the ground. If we could afford it back then (yes yes I know, cold war funding was to all intents and purposes unlimited), if we could design it back then, if we could test it and actually RUN it back then... why the hell aren't we doing bigger and better things now? Why has our aerospace technology, as far as launch and flight are concerned, practically stagnated? There's the old list, including money, time, etc.... then there's the real answer: Aerospace technology is tied to politics, and politics is tied to pleasing most of the people most of the time, and your average citizen these days has no vision, no daring, no courage, no balls. No one will take a chance, no one will stand up (because these days, the one who stands up is the one who is attacked)... everyone is under some don't rock the boat mentality, everyone is terrified of taking charge, taking the lead, moving forward, taking risks. Why? Well, look at NASA: their recent mission failures (the various Mars probes) have drawn a lot of criticism. People forget that the first permanent settlement in America failed (Roanoke Island), people forget the countless sailors who lost their lives or were forced to turn back in centuries past... people want results, and now. As the ET told her, in Contact, 'Small steps, Ellie.. small steps' - but that does not mean to drag your feet, evade the necessities of the day, and pretend that we can afford, and what's more, be satisified with, the methods and results of today. We can't. We're an ever-changing, ever-growing species of curious, intelligent, driven creatures - and today will never be as good as tomorrow might be.

Richard Feynman & Tom Swift, Jr. would be proud (1)

n76lima (455808) | about 13 years ago | (#102030)

Richard Feynman (Nobel prize winning Physicist and team member on the Los Alamos project) proposed this concept and was awarded a patent on it. He was required to turn over the patent to the US Government for $1. He wrote about this in his popular books. Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! qid=994525411/sr=1-3/ref=sc_b_3/002-4882526-314484 8, and What Do You Care What Other People Think? qid=994525411/sr=1-4/ref=sc_b_4/002-4882526-314484 8 The writer(s) of the Tom Swift, Jr. Series used the idea in some of those books for Tom's inventions.

, or... (1)

zenintrude (462825) | about 13 years ago | (#102036)

Manned Ballistic Projectile...

Seriously, there is enough "space junk" out there, without it being nuclear...

Remember SkyLab falling? Yea, imagine that, but radioactive...

Re:There you go again (2)

Kazmat (463441) | about 13 years ago | (#102038)

Yes, nuclear power was shot down because it was not nearly as inexpensive as was promised, but alternate power sources are much more expensive to use in a rocket than nuclear power is.

Nuclear power uses far less fuel: On the ground, this is not really that useful, especially considering the fuel is considerably rarer than fossil fuels. In the sky, however, this is a godsend. In the case of a hydrogen rocket, many thousands of tonnes of hydrogen are used for fuel, and pretty much all that hydrogen has to be lifted off the ground by something else - more hydrogen! This means that for every extra kilo of payload, you need to add a rediculous amount of extra fuel. With nuclear power, fuel is much lighter (in terms of energy density, not substance density), so you can use much larger payloads without having to have huge amounts of fuel.

Nuclear power produces dangerous radiation: True. However, a stationary reactor on the ground is very different to a fast moving reactor in the air. The ground reactor is in close proximity to lifeforms, and will be for a very long time. The reactor in a nuclear rocket will be a long way away from any densely populated area and will pass by any close lifeforms very quickly indeed, so lowering the time they are exposed to radiation.

Nuclear power plants can meltdown: Nuclear rocket power plants will never melt down, as they are not a sealed unit. Cherenobyl melted down because too much pressure built up, in a nuclear rocket, the reactor is open, so pressure cannot build up.

Nuclear power produces nuclear waste: Nuclear waste is mainly produced by power plants that operate for years and years, producing many petajoules of energy. A nuclear rocket will not produce nearly as much energy and will therefore not produce nearly as much waste. As to what they should do with the waste, I think they'd be best off placing it in a large nuclear rocket and firing it away from earth.

Nuclear power is definately a much nicer power source to use in a rocket, but unless NASA can somehow pull the wool over the public's eyes, these rockets will not be flying for a very long time. A shame indeed.

Re:It Doesn't Bother Me (1)

FrostMonkey (463834) | about 13 years ago | (#102039)

I don't think this stuff is risky for enviro or humanity, it's risky for politicians to keep their income.

The Source of the US anti-Nuclear Sentiment (5)

Thomas M Hughes (463951) | about 13 years ago | (#102040)

Based on the limited and informal associations I have with nuclear engineers, most US citizens became afraid of Nuclear power right around the time of the Three Mile Island accident. The feeling I generally get is that the majority of Slashdot doesn't remember three mile island.

Back in the 70's and 80's, Nuclear power was considered the clean solution to all of our energy problems. And they were considered increadibly safe. Until one melted down. Most Americans seem to remember Murphy's Law ("Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong"), and as such, prefer to err on the side of safety. Furthermore, there _is_ a problem with disposing of Nuclear waste. That stuff doesn't just disappear.

In response to a comment I saw earlier about how the first use for nuclear power being a weapon. That really doesn't apply. We detonated the first atomic weapons back in the 1940's. Our Nuclear Power industry was booming in the 60's and 70's. It died in the 80's. People didn't just wake up and realize that this same technology had intentionally killed thousands. No, they were more afraid that it might _unintentionally_ kill thousands more.

Nuclear Waste (1)

wakkotrc (465791) | about 13 years ago | (#102042)

Well I think it maybe because of the fact most of us believe in the SEY (someone else's yard) theory, we don't mind it as long as it is in someone else's yard. People don't like the idea of nuclear waste potentially falling in thier yard. Yes I do realize it has a small probability, but when have you know the news shows to say that? Sensatinolism is all the care about, and nuclear rockets to them are gold. If they were smart they would just use a different name for them. The general public is too stupid to care or notice

Go for Nuclear Power! (1)

MikeShafer (465795) | about 13 years ago | (#102043)

Nuclear is actually a pretty safe source of power, it's just had a rough history. We should most definitely pursue nuclear-powered rockets. If we don't, we might be delayed even longer before daily access to space is a reality. If the Bush administration safely shows the safety of nuclear power to the masses, perhaps resistance will drop. We need an army of experts citing how it's safe, why it's a better source of energy, and how it will propel our nation into the future. The average joe who knows what nuclear power is probably has his doubts.

Benefits? (1)

Areolos (465798) | about 13 years ago | (#102044)

Space is overrated. What is out there? Acorrding to scientists.......99.9% NOTHING. And we spend billions each year on.....nothing? Lets work on the problems on earth first (i.e. kids stealing credit cards and ordering viagra for Mr. Gates ;)

On a serious note, it is harsh that we spend billions of dollars to lose mars landers and whatnot, and yet South Africa suffers from 50% HIV infection. *sigh*

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