nuclear power plants

nuclear power plants

Will nuclear-powered spaceships take us to the stars

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Project Orion has to be the most audacious, dangerous and downright absurd space programme ever funded by the US taxpayer. This 1950s design involved exploding nuclear bombs behind a spacecraft the size of the Empire State Building to propel it through space. The Orion's engine would generate enormous amounts of energy -- and with it lethal doses of radiation. Plans suggested the spacecraft could take off from Earth and travel to Mars and back in just three months. The quickest flight using conventional rockets and the right planetary alignment is 18 months. There were obvious challenges -- from irradiating the crew and the launch site, to the disruption caused by the electromagnetic pulse, plus the dangers of a catastrophic nuclear accident taking out a sizable portion of the US. But the plan was, nevertheless, given serious consideration. Project Orion was conceived when atmospheric nuclear tests were commonplace and the power of the atom promised us all a bright new tomorrow. Or oblivion. Life was simpler then. In the early 1960s, common sense prevailed and the project was abandoned, but the idea of nuclear-powered spaceships has never gone away. In fact there are several in the cold depths of space right now.The Voyager space probes, currently heading beyond the bounds of the Solar System, and the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn are fitted with nuclear power plants. These Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) rely on the natural decay of plutonium to generate heat, which is then converted into electricity. With no moving parts, RTGs are not nuclear reactors and can only generate a few hundred watts of power (the equivalent of a bright lightbulb). But as ambitions for missions deeper into our solar system grow, much larger spaceships propelled by more powerful nuclear generators are back on the agenda. "Orion was a visionary project," says Kelvin Long, physicist, engineer and head of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. "People who are excited about this stuff don't live in the present, we live in the future." Long's immediate future involves helping to design a starship -- a robotic craft that could travel at high speed beyond our Solar System to other nearby stars. A starship travelling at thousands of kilometres per second could reach Mars in weeks, the outer solar system in months and other star systems in years. Long is not alone. There are several other programmes underway, including the 100 Year Starship project backed by the US military research agency, Darpa. Tags: abc breaking news, bbc, bbc football, bbc iplayer, bbc news, bbc news america, bbc persian, bbc sport, bbc weather, bbc world news, breaking celebrity news, breaking election news, breaking late news, breaking local news, breaking music news, breaking news, breaking news alerts, breaking news canada, breaking news headlines, breaking news in atlanta, breaking news in nigeria, breaking news india, breaking news pensacola florida, breaking news plane crash, breaking news story, breaking sports news, business expensive news home media world, christian world news, cnn, cnn breaking news, cnn money, cnn news, cnn news breaking news, cnn news world, detroit breaking news, global news, headline, headline news, health care technology news, hot latest global news, internet technology news, las vegas breaking news, latest breaking news, latest celebrity news, latest information technology news, latest music news, latest news, latest news headlines, latest news update, latest sports news, live breaking news, local breaking news, local news today, msn breaking news, nbc breaking news, nbc world news, news of the world, news report us world, news today news, news updated daily, solar technology news, sports news today, technology news, the latest news, today news, us news and world, us news and world report, us news and world report magazine, us news and world report web site, us news world report, world news, world news daily, wor...