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Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of

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08/20/2011 10:03 AM
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Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of
If Congress found a half trillion dollars tomorrow for a down payment on a mission to Mars, how would we get there? For more than 50 years, a hard core of rocket scientists has promoted a propulsion system that holds, in roughly equal measure, promise and danger: nuclear.

Finger in the early 1960s.
No nuclear rocket aficionado has been as active as Harold B. Finger, the former head of the U.S. nuclear rocket program and a man whose involvement with the American space program predates NASA’s creation. This week, the 86-year-old Finger will advocate for nuclear propulsion at a space conference in Dallas. He has written, “the technology of nuclear rocket propulsion was fully demonstrated as ready for flight mission applications… Let’s do it!” Harold Finger is, far and away, the most fascinating rocket scientist you’ve never heard of.

“A young punk”
Finger joined the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), a precursor to NASA, in1944, when he was “just a young punk” fresh out of engineering school, according to an interview he gave to a NASA historian in 2002 (pdf).

Finger became part of a nuclear group at NACA that tried to figure out how to shield pilots from nuclear plants in aircraft. The group did experiments such as installing a one megawatt nuclear reactor in a B-36 Peacemaker Nuclear Bomber – though it was never used to propel the craft – to see what kind of shielding the crew would require to escape radiation exposure. The concept of nuclear aircraft was eventually scrapped too. The last, best remaining idea for nuclear propulsion was space.

Mission to Mars
By the time of NASA’s founding in 1958, it was considered possible, probable even, that man would ride a nuclear powered rocket into space and the destination would be Mars. In 1960, Finger was made the manager of the Atomic Energy Commission – NASA Space Nuclear Propulsion Office and he set to work testing nuclear propulsion systems. In an article for Astronautics magazine in 1961, he wrote, “Although we may not be able to overtake the Russians in the race for the moon… I believe we are ahead in the race for manned exploration of the planets.” The reason was nuclear rockets.
[link to www.txchnologist.com]
Anonymous Coward
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08/20/2011 10:44 AM
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Re: Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of
Atomic detontation impluse is one form of propulsion, for use in interplanetary space travel.

Another is building a Giga Watt class nuclear fission reactor into a space craft in LEO and using the giga-watt electrical energy output to power ION-Drive propulsion.

The only bad thing is getting the enriched uranium or plutonium up to LEO. One can imagine nuclear reactor fuel rods being scattered all over the place on a launch failure.

But if Uranium is found on the Moon, which the Lunar Prospector probes says that it is there, then the possibility remains of mining the uranium on the Moon, and processing it there into enriched uranium or using breeders to go for the plutonium, and manufacturing the fuel rods on the Moon, lauch failure there would not have the same level of consequences for those on Earth.

What we really needed to have been doing is taking all the remaining US Space Shuttles, and parking them in LEO or boosting them into orbital shuttle trajectories to do a constant Earth/Lunar shuttle orbit. Of just send them 'robotically' into a high Lunar Orbit, to be eventually used for Lunar 'space stations', and stop over points for future manned Lunar missions.
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08/20/2011 10:46 AM
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Re: Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of
Come to think of it, Pebble Bed nuclear reactor fuel pellets might be the better way to go for using a nuclear reactor to generate the mega-watt to giga-watt power for interplanetary ION Drive systems.
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08/20/2011 10:49 AM
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Re: Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of
The nuclear powered space craft, in the mega-watt to giga-watt range is really the beginning of the "boldly going where no man has gone before" adventure. Once the power supplies are in the Tera-Watt range, the ION Drive Impulse Engines begin to take on some of the characteristics of Star Trek's "Impluse drives".

Nuclear Fusion rather than Fission is an even better way to go, provided we really got serious about getting nuclear fusion online -- and quit canceling those projects every time they are nearly ready for real world real time production and application.

WE absolutely have to stop spending money and resources on dumb stupid unwarrented wars.
Dr. House

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08/20/2011 11:50 AM
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Re: Nuclear Space Rockets and the Most Fascinating NASA Man You’ve Never Heard Of
It amazes me that no one taps the natural thermodynamic differences that any object in solar orbit suffers from.

Consider, for example, the International Space Station (ISS).

Without thermal controls, the temperature of the orbiting Space Station's Sun-facing side would soar to 250 degrees F (121 C), while thermometers on the dark side would plunge to minus 250 degrees F (-157 C).

Why is no space vehicle tapping into that difference?

Imagine if you will a spacecraft with pipes running down either side. Through those pipes flows the vessels atmosphere and water.

On the shadow side the temperature of the atmosphere drops.
As the temperature dips below 32F (0C) the water will crystallize and form snow - thus you are removing the water content from the air.

As the temperature drops to around -109 °F (-78 °C) Carbon dioxide begins to solidify, condensing into 'snow'.

This would be a good way to remove Carbons out of the atmosphere, super chill it and cause the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. You can also regulate the humidity, we humans expel water vapor in each breath, even just sitting idle water vapor escapes from the skin.

Pumping water through pipes on the sun side would lead to super heated steam, water boils at 100C (212F). A nuclear power plant, an oil burning power plant, a coal power plant a natural gas power plant - all of these convert water to steam to run turbines. We know how to generate power from steam, we do it every day.

People have been heating water on their roofs for decades now, we know how to tap the thermal energy of the sun here on earth to heat water. In space, without an insulating atmosphere we could readily boil water convert it to steam on the sun side of any space craft. One can generate huge amounts of electricity with a closed steam system using the sun's heat to produce steam and using the shadow side to swiftly cool the water back to a liquid.

Use that electricity to power an ion engine.

[link to www.ask.com] lists ion engines and their propulsion fuels. Theoretically nearly any element can be used as a 'fuel', gasses like oxygen, nitrogen, xenon are used most often due to their natural ability to be charged and 'shot' out the back of an ion engine.

However Hydrogen can be used.

Density of hydrogen in the solar system is on the order of 10^6 particles per cm cubed. Yes I know, that is a very, very low number.

1 cubic meter is 1 million cubic centimeters, this is an area 3.28 feet by 3.28 feet by 3.28 feet.

A 'small' scoop being only 10 meters (32.8 feet) in diameter has an area of 314 meters.

The viking space craft that went to Mars had a maximum velocity of 900 kilometers per hour (about 600 Miles per hour) that means it was traveling 0.25 kilometers per second.

Every second it traveled 250 meters, thus your 10 meter 'scoop' travels through 78,500 cubic meters, or 78,500,000,000 cm^3

Meaning 78,500,000,000,000,000 molecules of hydrogen per second is being collected. While that may seem like a small amount, in conjunction with an ion propulsion unit the return on your collection is huge.

In theory a space craft with a decent collection unit can traverse the inner solar system under constant acceleration all the time, collecting ALL of its fuel from the solar medium.

Such a spacecraft could readily travel to any body within the orbit of Saturn, even able to reach Saturn and its moons.

It could push further out using 'low energy' trajectories relying on more conventional rocketry coupled with water steam produced electricity.

However considering that the temperature of space near Saturn is, in the sun, reaching temperatures of -125F and in the shade temperatures cold enough to liquify nitrogen at 1 atmosphere of pressure, it is only simply a matter of switching from water to nitrogen to power your turbines.

One could travel as far as Neptune using a Nitrogen steam turbine to power it with electricity and still collect enough hydrogen way out there to make the trip back to home.

There is no need what so ever to rely on nuclear power (fusion or fission) to travel in the inner solar system. We could mine the moons of Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn, the Asteroid belt and establish a permanent colony on Mars with Ion space craft tapping into the 'free' solar energy that the sun provides. Heat alone could power our spacecraft without having to collect the solar wind. Collecting the solar wind with a 'scoop' would make the ship totally independent from 'refueling' from the earth.
Sinkhole list:
Thread: Sinkholes Updated 28 Dec 2010
find a sinkhole, add it to this thread, please.

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