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Ryder
Onopa


Crossing
the
Void:
Nuclear
Propulsion
and
the
SF
Dream


Mankind
has
long
dreamed
of
the
stars.
Since
Lucian
of
Samosata
in
the
second
century


CE,
poets
have
wrestled
with
the
epic
scope
of
the
efforts
of
will
required
to
cross
the


immense
gulfs
of
the
greater
cosmos;
a
tradition
that
continued
strong
into
the


beginnings
of
the
modern
industrial
era,
inspiring
the
fictional
interplanetary
ballistics


of
Wells
and
Verne.
It
is
with
the
advent
of
the
Atomic
Age,
however,
that
these
idle


imaginings
have
crossed
into
the
realm
of
plausible
vision,
with
advances
in


engineering
providing
a
rigorous
mathematical
toolset
with
which
to
formally
confront


the
physical
limitations
that
have
thus
far
restrained
human
experience.
Current


chemical
rocketry
techniques
have
laid
a
firm
base
of
space‐oriented
technologies
and


materials,
and
have
allowed
us
a
firm
hold
in
low
orbit,
whence
from
much
more


advanced
systems
may
yet
be
launched.
While
chemical
rockets
have
blasted
man
free


from
the
gravity
well
of
his
birth,
their
limitations
in
terms
of
long‐distance
efficiency


force
the
contemplation
of
much
more
technically
advanced
systems.


Of
all
the
technological
fields
available
to
the
modern
engineer,
it
is
nuclear
energy
that


provides
the
clearest
hope
for
efficient
bulk
propulsion
over
the
vast
distances


required
for
space
travel.

Nuclear
thermal
rockets
offer
a
marked
improvement
in


efficiency
and
performance
over
volatile
chemical
rockets,
and
fusion
ramjet
drives


could
potentially
free
a
vessel
from
ballistic
performance
limitations
altogether.
The


ideal
models
proposed
in
this
framework
are,
of
course,
still
largely
theoretical—

however
the
issue
is
now
reduced
to
the
material
limitations
of
current
technologies;

and
with
a
sound
theoretical
understanding
of
these
systems
it
is
certainly
possible
to


successfully
engage
these
limitations
in
an
organized
and
analytic
fashion.


It
is
not
enough
simply
to
assume
that
a
‘nuclear
rocket’
would
be
the
most
effective


solution
to
the
engineering
problems
limiting
human
space
operations—indeed,


chemical
rockets
have
proven
extremely
effective
at
boosting
small
mass
payloads
into


near‐Earth
orbits.
These
chemical
systems,
however,
suffer
from
dramatic
limitations


in
long‐range
situations,
primarily
due
to
the
fact
that
a
major
portion
of
the
rocket’s


mass
must
be
devoted
to
storing
the
volatile,
high‐molecular‐weight
compounds
that


are
combusted
to
provide
thrust.
Because
of
the
physical
limitations
on
fuel
type
and


capacity,
and
the
practical
considerations
of
payload
size,
these
systems
become


rapidly
impractical
in
long‐distance
or
high‐mass
transport
situations.



Nuclear
thermal
rocketry
is
able
to
circumvent
many
of
these
limitations
by
virtue
of


the
fact
that
it
at
no
point
relies
on
combustion
to
provide
propellant
energy.

In
this


system,
the
aim
is
to
heat
a
low‐molecular‐weight
propellant
to
as
high
a
temperature


as
practicable,
allowing
its
thermal
expansion
to
generate
pressure
that
is
expelled
to


gain
thrust.

Because
a
volatile
propellant
is
no
longer
necessary,
an
extremely
low‐

weight,
inert
fluid
can
be
chosen
(usually
H2),
giving
the
nuclear
system
a
significant


advantage
in
terms
of
thrust
provided
per
unit
propellant
mass.
Similarly,
the


extraordinary
energy
density
of
nuclear
fuels,
compared
to
volatile
combustives,
lends


another
strong
advantage
to
nuclear
thermal
rockets
in
long‐range
circumstances.


In
looking
to
compare
the
relative
performances
of
nuclear
thermal‐
and
chemical‐

based
rocket
systems,
an
effective
measure
can
be
approximated
in
analyzing
the

ballistic
ground
range
(a
function
of
burnout
velocity,
the
true
measure
of
rocket


performance)
of
vehicles
with
equivalent
dead‐load
weight);
moreover,
if
the
ballistic


ground
range
is
extended
to
the
semi‐circumference
of
the
Earth,
the
rocket
achieves


free‐fall
orbit,
and
the
range
becomes
solely
a
function
of
dead‐load
weight.
This


analysis
clearly
demonstrates
that
for
larger
values
of
rocket
weight
and
higher


ballistic
ground
ranges,
nuclear
thermal
rocket
systems
outperform
chemical
systems,


though
for
low
ballistic
trajectories
chemical
systems
remain
optimal
even
for


relatively
high
payload
weights
(Bussard,
p.77).


As
such,
nuclear
propulsion
technologies
would
seem
to
be
ideally
suited
for
large‐

scale
movement
in
space,
allowing
mankind
to
circumvent
many
of
the
material


limitations
that
chemical
rocket
science
has
engineered
to
the
brink
of.
However,
this


statement
is
deceptive;
while
the
theoretical
limitations
of
nuclear
systems
could
far


exceed
current
technologies,
the
practical
limitations
and
inefficiencies
of
such


systems
can
prove
particularly
onerous
to
analyze.
Nevertheless,
in
order
to
build
a


workable
technical
model
such
analysis
remains
absolutely
crucial.


Thermal
rocketry
relies
intrinsically
on
the
utilization
of
a
well‐chosen
working
fluid


for
propellant.
As
such,
its
effectiveness
is
largely
dependent
upon
the
thermal


absorption
characteristics
and
molecular
weight
of
the
substance
used.
For
optimal


ballistic
performance,
an
ideal
propellant
should
have
both
a
low
molecular
weight
and


a
low
point
of
vaporization—to
minimize
the
weight‐load
of
the
rocket
and
maximize


the
thermal
reactor
energy
converted
to
working
vapor
pressure.
For
these
reasons,


liquid
hydrogen
is
clearly
the
preferred
working
fluid
in
such
systems.
Of
course,
there

are
a
number
of
practical
limitations
associated
with
the
use
of
such
‘ideal’
propellants.


Because
the
propellant
storage
can
never
be
completely
isolated
from
the
thermal


environments
of
the
larger
rocket
system,
a
fraction
of
the
propellant
is
inevitably
lost


to
premature
vaporization.
This
fractional
loss,
αν,
is
governed
by
Eq.
1;



(Bussard,
p.49)

Equation
1



























































































Upon
inspection,
this
fraction
is
clearly
time
dependent
for
any
potential
fluid;


however,
it
is
also
proportional
to
the
fraction
of
the
input
heat
contributing
to
useful


vaporization
(fv),
which
is
larger
for
hydrogen
than
any
other
propellant,
due
to
its


extremely
low
boiling
point,
and
inversely
proportional
to
the
propellant’s
heat
of


vaporization,
similarly
a
blow
to
liquid
hydrogen’s
optimality.




To
effectively
speculate
as
to
the
performance
of
nuclear
thermal
rockets,
it
is


reasonable
to
consider
the
theoretical
power
output
of
a
nuclear
rocket
reactor,
Pr,
as


per
Eq.2:


Equation
2

 (Bussard,
p.58)



This
output,
though
in
part
correlated
to
the
heat
of
propellant
vaporization
(Hv),


which
is
low
for
H2,
is
primarily
related
to
the
maximum
particle
exhaust
velocity
(Vmi).


This
is
fortunate,
as
hydrogen’s
low
boiling
point
means
that
a
large
portion
of
the


input
thermal
energy
is
converted
to
kinetic
exhaust
thrust,
meaning
that
power


output
efficiency
is
in
fact
highest
for
hydrogen.
As
a
result
of
this
relationship,
liquid


hydrogen
remains
clearly
the
optimal
working
propellant
in
thermal
systems,
despite


its
drawbacks.

In
terms
of
the
nuclear
reactor
itself,
the
primary
concern
is
to
provide
even,


consistent
power
to
the
rapid
heating
of
cryogenic
propellant.
While
the
reactor
is
a


remarkably
effective
heat
source,
the
immense
energies
must
be
significantly
mediated


in
order
to
manage
any
practical
work
output.
The
nucleonic
kinetics
of
the
reactor
are,


in
fact,
quite
similar
to
comparably
powerful
nuclear
generators
used
in
standard


terrestrial
setting,
allowing
feasibility
considerations
to
preclude
exhaustive
inquest


into
reactor
engineering.
Once
criticality
has
been
established,
engineering
analysis


turns
naturally
to
the
nature
of
the
thermal
absorption
mediator
used
to
translate


radiation
energy
into
a
useful
thermal
gradient.


To
maximize
effective
absorption
and
minimize


heat
loss—at
best
to
inert
structural
components,


and
at
worst
to
premature
vaporization
of


propellant—this
thermal
shielding
should
encase


the
reactor
core
as
thoroughly
as
possible,


allowing
proximal
heat
exchange
with
the


propellant
being
pumped
along
the
moderator.

A


general
schematic
for
such
a
system
is

NOZ2LE

diagrammed
at
right
(Fisneth,
p.18).

NEARED

FIGURE I. NUCLEAR ROCKET ENGINE SCHEMATIC.

The
geometry
of
the
reactor
core
is
a
central
issue
in
designing
a
lightweight,
compact,


sturdy
and
mobile
rocket
generator.
Mathematically
speaking,
homogenous
core


structures
are
the
most
straightforward
system
solution
to
the
design
constraints,


functioning
essentially
as
a
solid
fuel
cylinder
of
varying
fissile
density.
By
balancing


the
internal
moderation
effects
and
insulating
the
core
with
neutron
reflector
shields,


V
2200 2400 2gO0 3200
71MPE MaTUa| _)
FIGURI 2. PROJECTED ENDURANCE OF RIACTOR FUELS.

7
it
is
possible
to
optimize
the
neutron
flux
for
thermal
utilization.
Unfortunately,


practical
analysis
demonstrates
that
for
most
general
systems,
the
weight
of
the


required
reflector
shields
proves
excessive
for
ballistic
transportation
use.
On
the


other
hand,
while
heterogeneous
core
structures
prove
much
more
difficult
to
assess


quantitatively,
they
dramatically
reduce
the
critical
mass
requirements,
and
can
be


made
to
operate
almost
entirely
on
thermal
neutrons,
whereas
comparably
sized


homogenous
cores
very
nearly
qualify
as
fast
reactors
(Bussard,
p.221).
For
this


reason,
heterogeneous
cores
consisting
of
fuel
bundles
arranged
within
a
larger


moderating
matrix—itself
encased
within
a
reflector—are
almost
universally


preferred
when
considering
rocket
applications
of
such
technology.
Moreover,
the


astounding
progress
made
in
numerical
computation
over
the
past
half‐century
has


rendered
the
difficulties
inherent
to
the
nucleonic
analysis
of
such
complex


heterogeneous
systems
much
more
approachable.



Of
course,
the
energies
released
by
nuclear
fission
are
all
but
unusable
initially.


Radiation
is
released
across
a
wide
range
of
energies
and
timeframes,
as
the
initial


burst
of
kinetic
fission
fragments,
gamma
rays,
fast
neutrons
and
neutrinos
are


absorbed
and
scattered
by
nearby
atoms.
Excited
secondary
nuclei
further
complicate


the
process
by
delaying
rerelease
of
radiative
energy,
yet
still
eventually
contributing


to
the
full
criticality
cycle
of
the
larger
system.
For
all
practical
purposes,
the
energies


released
in
β‐decays
and
neutrino
emissions
can
be
excluded
from
analytical


consideration,
as
they
are
particularly
unlikely
to
interact
with
the
propellant
(β‐

particles
being
mostly
absorbed
by
proximal
moderator
atoms,
and
neutrinos
having


virtually
no
reaction
cross
section
over
distances
as
small
as
the
scale
of
a
ballistic

rocket).
As
such,
engineering
assays
generally
focus
on
the
effective
capture
and


thermalization
of
γ‐
and
neutron‐emissions.


Heating
by
way
of
kinetic
neutrons
principally
involves
neutron
slowing
in
a
mediating


matrix,
whether
by
scattering
collisions
or
nucleonic
absorption.
While
there
is


typically
a
consideration
of
the
fission
cross‐section
in
such
cases,
the
moderator


material
should
be
chosen
from
the
array
of
non‐fissionable
nuclei.
In
addition,
most


secondary
heating
effects
resulting
from
photon,
β‐particle
and
α‐particle
production


reactions—
(n,p),
(n,β)
and
(n,α)
respectively—can
be
practically
ignored.
While
the


heating
effects
of
caused
by
absorption
of
γ‐rays
resulting
from
neutron
capture
are


somewhat
more
significant,
they
remain
a
second‐order
effect
and
can
reasonably
be


included
in
the
error
margin
of
these
engineering
estimates
(Bussard,
p.230).
Because


energetic
transactions
are
only
significant
for
neutron‐nucleus
collisions,
it
makes


sense
to
maximize
the
potential
for
such
a
collision
to
occur
by
choosing
a
moderator


material
with
a
larger
nucleus,
i.e.
a
larger
atomic
number.
As
the
reaction
system


progresses,
the
moderator
matrix
will
continue
to
increase
in
temperature,
until
that


heat
is
either
appropriated
to
the
vaporization
of
propellant,
siphoned
away
by
coolant


systems,
or
the
moderator
and
reactor
suffer
critical
meltdown
of
structural


components.



In
general,
for
most
moderators,
the
neutron‐heating
density
is
on
the
same
order
of


magnitude
as
the
γ‐heating
density.
However,
in
interactions
with
heavier
structural


materials
(i.e.
lead,
steel)
the
interaction
cross
section
for
γ‐rays
is
much
higher
than


for
neutrons,
which
must
be
taken
into
account
when
analyzing
the
effects
of
escaped

radiation
on
the
larger
rocket
system.

In
terms
of
heating
energy,
because
the
γ‐

emissions
occur
across
a
wide
spectrum
of
energies—from
~100
ev
to
10MeV—
the


photon‐matter
interactions
to
be
taken
into
consideration
vary
considerably
(Bussard,


p.223).

Above
energies
of
~5
MeV
in
dense
materials,
electron‐positron
pair


production
reactions
dominate,
resulting
in
the
physical
absorption
of
the
photon


energy.
Below
this,
down
to
the
½
to
3
MeV
range,
this
is
superseded
by
Compton


scattering
interactions,
which
involve
the
kinetic
collision
of
photons
with
atomic


electrons.
At
lower
energies
still,
photoelectric
absorption
takes
precedence,
resulting


in
destruction
of
the
photon
and
the
creation
of
energetic
loose
electrons.
Obviously,


the
wide
range
of
emitted
energies
profoundly
complicates
optimization
of
propellant


heating
and
minimization
of
escaped
radiation.
Again,
fortunately,
the
incredible


advances
made
in
computer
analysis
have
opened
this
area
to
practical
simulation
and


concerted
inspection,
allowing
systems
to
be
designed
without
much
of
the
crude


guesswork
that
went
into
early
attempts
at
constructing
nuclear
reactor
drives.


While
it
is
essential
to
the
nature
of
this
topic
to
analyze
the
capture
and
utilization
of


useful
radiation
energy,
it
is
imperative
that
such
analyses
also
address
the
issue,


arguably
more
significant,
of
protecting
potential
crew,
cargo,
and
essential
structures


from
dangerously
energetic
escaped
radiation.
Since
the
typical
operating
power
of


most
rocket‐grade
reactors
is
on
the
order
of
thousands
of
megawatts,
it
is
clear
that


lack
of
proper
shielding
would
be
biologically—and,
likely,
structurally—catastrophic.


However,
radiation
shields
are
extremely
heavy
and
unwieldy
in
reality,
being


essentially
thick
slabs
of
incredibly
dense
material,
which
can
confound
practical


implementation.
Fortunately,
since
such
rocket
systems
are
designed
for
operation

outside
the
Earth’s
atmosphere,
there
is
little
concern
of
dangerous
radiation


backscattering
off
of
the
surrounding
aether,
so
the
shield
can
ideally
be
reduced
to
an


area
blocking
direct
line‐of‐sight
to
the
reactor
from
the
inhabited
compartment,


which
should
itself
be
placed
as
far
along
the
rocket
as
possible
away
from
the
reactor


core
assembly.


It
should
come
as
no
surprise
if
the
diversity
and
complexity
of
the
physical
systems


outlined
thus
far
appear
intensely
intimidating
from
a
practical
engineering


standpoint.
Certainly,
when
Bussard
and
DeLauer
first
conceived
these
models,
in
the


late
1950s,
they
balked
at
the
enormity
of
the
issues
facing
system
control
and


integration.
Once
again,
it
is
extraordinarily
comforting
to
be
considering
these
same


issues
from
the
other
side
of
fifty
years
of
furious
development
in
computer
science


and
automation,
as
many
of
the
problems
that
confound
direct
algebraic
analysis
are


fairly
straightforward
when
broken
down
numerically,
a
feat
requiring
powerful


electronic
computers
to
be
feasible
in
realistic
time
scales.
Even
with
these
powerful


methods
at
hand,
the
task
is
a
daunting
one,
and
problematic
in
the
extreme.
The


immense
knowledge
base
required
in
order
to
any
produce
any
useful
innovations
in


this
field
effectively
restricts
development
to
massive,
organized
engineering
efforts,


underwritten
with
government‐sized
budgets.



Luckily
for
Bussard,
the
US
military
was
willing
to
commit
their
resources
to
testing


some
of
his
models
physically,
with
the
Rover
NERVA
(Nuclear
Engine
for
Rocket


Vehicle
Application)
tests
on
the
KIWI
model
series
of
reactor
engines.
Between
1955


and
1973,
Bussard’s
team
at
the
Los
Alamos
National
Labs
constructed
and
assessed

four
distinct
nuclear
reactor
rocket
prototypes.


The
first
series
of
the
four
systemic
projects,


producing
the
eight
KIWI
reactors
(KIWI‐A

r

i- -

through
KIWI‐B4E)
over
a
period
of
five
years
in


the
early
‘60s,
refined
the
technical
knowledge

V
/

base
for
working
with
hydrogen
propellants
in


thermonuclear
environments.
A
cutaway
of
the
 T

heterogeneous
solid‐core
KIWI–B1B
is
shown,
at
 t

L.,.
? ,
-

right
(Fisneth,
p.40).
Each
reactor
test
concluded
dramatically,
with
critical

_'zGul_z 18. CUT_,irAY D_G OY THZ I_3EWZBIB.

complications
ranging
from
thermal
buckling
of
fuel
lines,
to
the
rapid
ejection
of
 34

shattered
fuel
rods
from
the
reactor
housing,
to
the
catastrophic
detonation
of
the


building
housing
the
pressurized
hydrogen
fuel
reserves
(Fisneth,
p.44).




Although
the
systematic
implementation
of
sustained
thrust
nuclear
rockets
proved


difficult—even
dangerous—
Bussard’s
research
with
the
Rover
test
program
did


manage
to
establish
much
of
his
theory
as
physically
sound,
and
only
marginally


beyond
modern
materials
limitations.
Among
other
findings,
reports
from
out
of
Los


Alamos
showed
no
significant
interaction
between
rocket
reactors
placed
next
to
one


another
(Fisneth,
p.72),
demonstrating
that
nuclear
rockets
could
easily
be
clustered


together
to
maximize
thrust;
much
in
the
way
modern
chemical
rockets
are
designed.


Even
as
advances
in
applied
computing
begin
to
render
nuclear
thermal
rocketry


systems
a
more
plausible
reality,
one
cannot
help
but
notice
and
lament
the
limitations


inherent
to
their
design
principle.
Assuming
optimal
performance
from
every

component
involved,
the
ballistic
performance
of
any
rocket
is
critically
bounded
by
its


dependence
on
energetic
fuel
and
propellant.
In
the
case
of
nuclear
thermal


propulsion,
the
rocket
will
be
limited
in
its
maximum
range/velocity
by
either
the


depletion
of
fissionable
fuel
or
the
exhaustion
of
propellant
reservoirs.

For
this
reason,


although
nuclear
rocketry
systems
are
far
more
effective
over
long
ranges
than
their


chemical
counterparts,
they
are
unlikely
to
provide
the
ultimate
means
of
crossing
the


cosmic
gulf.


It
was
with
this
motivation
in
mind
that
Bussard
continued
his
theoretical
assays
into


the
1960s,
entertaining
the
concept
of
fusion
powered
nuclear
spaceflight.
While


fusion‐powered
thermal
rockets
alone
would
provide
significant
improvements
over


fission‐based
models,
due
to
the
much
higher
energy‐to‐mass
ratio
of
fusion
fuels,


Bussard
extended
his
theory
several
degrees
further.
Seeking
to
free
a
vessel
from
fuel


capacity
constraints
entirely,
he
outlined
systems
to
exploit
the
natural,
omnipresent


reserves
of
interstellar
hydrogen
for
fusion
energy:
a
theoretical
construct
still


popularly
known
as
a
Bussard
ramjet.





Although
the
model
proposed
is
much
further
beyond
current
means
than
any
type
of


nuclear
thermal
rocket,
it
still
relies
on
a
theoretically
sound
basis
of
engineering


principles.
Bussard
recognized
that
the
ubiquitous
interstellar
medium,
thinly


distributed
neutral
and
occasionally
ionized
hydrogen
at
concentrations
of


approximately
10‐24g/cm3
(Smith,
ucsd.edu),
could
be
viewed
as
a
vast
reservoir
of


potential
energy.
Because
fusion
of
hydrogen
(or
similarly
small)
nuclei
results
in


daughter
atoms
with
higher
binding
energy
per
nucleon,
there
is
an
exploitable
release

of
energy
in
such
reactions.
The
issues
of
concentrating
a
useful,
reactive
mass
of


hydrogen
fuel
from
the
vast
volume
it
would
encompass
in
its
diffuse
state
can
be


addressed
by
projecting
a
large
electromagnetic
or
electrostatic
ion
scoop
in
the


forward
direction
of
the
vessel,
allowing
protons
to
be
funneled
in
to
reactive


pressures
and
energies.



Such
a
craft
could,
in
theory,
accelerate
indefinitely
through
deep
space,
without
any


need
to
carry
any
fuel
mass
onboard.
While
there
are
admitted
difficulties
to
the


mechanisms
proposed—such
as
the
relatively
low
proton‐proton
fusion
rate—they


have
been
addressed
to
varying
degrees
of
satisfaction
by
the
utilization
of
more
exotic


fusion
energy
cycles.
If
sustained
fusion
rates
can
be
effectively
sustained
and


confined,
and
the
energies
redirected
as
rocket
exhaust,
the
Bussard
Ramjet
would
be


free
from
all
ballistic
constraints
short
of
the
speed
of
light.
Moreover,
even
in


accelerating
gradually
over
large
timeframes,
significant
fractions
of
the
speed
of
light


can
be
achieved
at
no
initial
energy
cost
to
the
vessel’s
base
of
departure.



Science
fiction,
as
a
body
of
literature,
has
come
into
being
largely
due
to
a
prevalent


desire
to
experiment
philosophically
with
the
technological
unknown,
and
the


emergent
science
of
nuclear
space
propulsion
is
certainly
no
exception
to
this
scrutiny.


Nuclear
rockets
have
been
central
to
SF
since
the
Pulp
Fiction
era,
though
generally


being
addressed
with
at
best
superficial
attention
to
scientific
detail.
The
dawning


Atomic
Age
gave
technical
resolution
to
the
grandiose
imaginings
of
these
forbears,


and
Golden‐Age
writers—such
as
Heinlein
and
Clarke—
gave
serious
treatment
to

Bussard
ramjet
technologies
as
a
non‐FTL
transportation
standard,
a
convention
that


has
remained
popular
through
to
the
modern
day.



As
the
realities
of
these
technologies
become
apparent,
it
is
clear
that
the
cavalier


recklessness
typically
associated
with
the
stock
characters
of
Space
Adventure
is


unlikely
to
ever
have
a
place
in
practical
space
travel;
these
technologies
are
to


complex,
the
energies
too
immense
to
be
allowed
out
of
the
hands
of
anyone
but
the


excruciatingly
well‐trained.
Yet
at
the
same
time,
the
vast
potential
offered
by
nuclear


propulsion
is
such
that
even
the
most
rigid
quantitative
analysis
ends
up
tempered


with
wonder
at
the
sheer
spectacle
of
it
all.
With
this
leap
to
the
stars,
humankind


enters
a
dramatic
new
tension;
even
as
man
transcends
the
spatial
limitations
of


planetary
space,
he
becomes
existentially
tied
to
the
technologies
of
this
escape.




The
ramifications
of
this
new
relationship
between
human
intent
and
mechanical


reality
are
explored,
to
striking
effect,
in
Poul
Anderson’s
1970
novel
Tau
Zero.


Anderson’s
narrative
follows
the
scientific
expedition
of
an
experimental
Bussard


ramjet,
the
Leonora
Christine,
as
her
crew
of
scientists
and
technical
specialists
embark


on
a
long‐distance
interstellar
mission.
Disastrously,
the
ship’s
drive
mechanism
is


damaged,
and
the
crew
finds
themselves
unable
to
halt
the
ship
from
continued


ramscoop
acceleration.

With
this
blow,
the
Leonora
Christine
is
cast
further
and


further
away
from
its
origin—both
in
space,
as
speeds
in
excess
of
.99c
are
achieved,


and
in
time,
as
the
crew
experiences
the
pronounced
effects
of
time
dilation.
Anderson


brilliantly
weaves
technical
science
and
human
emotion
as
the
characters
struggle
to

resolve
their
identity
as
cognizant,
rational
scientists
with
the
absurdly
surreal


predicament
they
have
embroiled
themselves
in.



In
short,
although
nuclear
technologies
offer
to
open
the
greater
cosmos
to
human


experience,
such
systems
can
only
be
approached
with
rigorous
analyses
and
highly


educated
caution.
Nuclear
thermal
rockets
provide
significant
efficiency
gains
over
the


crude
combustives
used
currently,
and
hydrogen
ramjet
technologies
may
someday


free
man
entirely
from
the
material
limitations.
Though
these
models
remain
largely


hypothetical,
emergent
high‐speed
computing
technologies
are
beginning
to
unravel


much
of
the
difficulties
inherent
to
experimental
analysis.
Even
so,
the
vast
energies


involved,
and
the
immensely
complex
nature
of
such
mechanical
systems
require
that


man
be
explicitly
prepared
to
accept
the—often
cataclysmic—consequences
of
failure


before
attempting
his
first
great
leap
to
into
the
stellar
abyss.














Works
Cited:

Bussard,
R.W.,
DeLauer,
R.;
Nuclear
Rocket
Propulsion


1958
McGraw
Hill

Finseth, J.L.; ‘Rover Nuclear Rocket Engine (Final Report)’
1991 Los Alamos National Labs/NASA
Smith, G.; ‘The Interstellar Medium’, http://cass.ucsd.edu/public/tutorial/ISM.html
1999 University of California, San Diego

References

1.
Bussard,
R.
W.;
"Galactic
Matter
and
Interstellar
Flight,"


1960,
Astronautica
Acta,
6,
179‐194

2.
Bond,
A.;
"An
Analysis
of
the
Potential
Performance
of
the
Ram
Augmented

Interstellar
Rocket."


1974,
Journal
of
the
British
Interplanetary
Society,
27,
674‐688


3.
Jackson,
A.:
"Some
Considerations
on
the
Antimatter
and
Fusion
Ram
Augmented

Interstellar
Rocket,"



1980,
Journal
of
the
British
Interplanetary
Society,
33,
117‐120

4.
Anderson,
Poul;
Tau
Zero

1970,
New
York:
Lancer
Books


5.
wikipedia.org
(‘Bussard
ramjet’,
‘NERVA’)