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Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965 (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 27 Feb 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (27 Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140277323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140277326
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.6 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 722,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Briggs on 30 Jun. 2003
Format: Paperback
The life of this US military research program on nuclear propulsion rockets is well documented in this book. The author is the son of the physicist Freeman Dyson, one of the main guys involed in the project. The book has clearly been a labour of love for the author, containing many interviews with his father's former colleagues and carefully referencing many of the their research papers.
My criticism of the book lies with the editing. The structure of the book is not very logical for the reader. As a historical account, it is certainly not chronological. It jumps around, following the topics as brought up by the interviewed scientists. So there's a lot of repitition of the core material and the book could have been shorter. Also, the 'techie' language remains in the book in all its glory. Some of it is eloquent, some quite crude.
But I forgive the book for all this. It's not a text book on the subject, nor yet another diluted popular science book. Instead it's scientists reminiscing about their lost work on an ambitious space exploration project which was terminated before its dreams could be realised.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 30 reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
They were planning to tour the Solar System 14 April 2002
By Jeffrey P. Bezos - Published on
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who dream of visiting the outer planets, seeing Saturn's rings up close without intermediation of telescopes or charge-coupled devices, well, we pretty much *have* to read "Project Orion." In 1958, some of the world's smartest people, including famous physicist Freeman Dyson (the author's father), expected to visit the outer planets in "Orion," a nuclear-bomb propelled ship big enough and powerful enough to seat its passengers in lazy-boy recliners. They expected to start their grand tour by 1970. This was not pie-in-the-sky optimism; they had strong technical reasons for believing they could do it.
To pull this book together, George Dyson did an astonishing amount of research into this still largely classified project. And, maybe because he's connected to Orion through his father, the author captures the strong emotion of the project and the team. Highly recommended.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A halted U.S. project to put mankind on other planets 25 May 2002
By Amazon Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Project Orion is a remarkable story of a handful of dedicated scientists who devised a plan to put people on other planets--decades ago. Not science fiction, but science fact: government funds were allocated, concept drawings and bills of materials devised, propulsion tests carried out--all in top secret.
Decades later, the Project is still shrouded in mystery and would have stayed that way if it weren't for the dogged efforts of George Dyson to carefully research the events and piece the story back together; a daunting task, since top secret information is inaccessible and some Project Orion documents may have disappeared forever.
Like Dyson's previous book "Darwin Among the Machines," Orion is provocative on many levels: in additonal to being an important historical testimony, it makes the reader wonder how many significant projects have been shelved and where space exploration would be today if Orion had gone forward. Incredibly, Orion scientists didn't have the luxury of microcomputer technology, yet they dared to dream big and translate those dreams into action.
Read this book and you may find yourself asking, in the words of Wordsworth, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
To any who have ever wondered "What if". 19 Jun. 2002
By Wayne Smith - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Imagine a spaceship 135 feet in diameter, and 10 stories tall. Imagine it weighing 4000 tons. Bet that doesn't sound too impressive. If this were a normal chemical rocket, only about 10 tons of this would make it into space. Now just imagine for a moment that there was a way to allow over 3500 tons of this ship to make it to orbit. This is possible, if a ship were to launch nuclear bombs as fuel. This is known as Project Orion.

George Dyson's new book is the source for information on Project Orion. Unless you are willing to undergo extensive primary research, a total of 6000 pages worth, or you have connections among the staff of the former Project Orion staff, then you can't find a better source.

The book starts with the Day Sputnik was launched. This was an inspiration to a great many Americans, not the least of whom was Ted Taylor. From that day onward, Ted became fascinated with finding a way to build a space ship of his own. This path would lead him to probably the most controversial design for a spacecraft ever, and probably one of the greatest "What If" statements of all time, his path led him to Project Orion.

George Dyson does a great job of bringing the key points of the history of Project Orion together in one place. He covers virtually ever aspect, including nearly a dozen different designs for Orion, information on it's design to the best degree publicly available, and interviews with most of the living former Orion staff. He also covers many of the potential problems, including the shock absorbers, fallout, and many more.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has looked at the stars and wanted to be there. It is also great for people who want to study physics, anything nuclear, space travel, or even a bureaucracy. But perhaps most of all, I recommend this book to any who have ever wondered "What if".

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Real-Life Science Fiction 4 Jun. 2002
By Robert Carlberg - Published on
Format: Hardcover
George's father Freeman was one of the scientists on the Orion project (first publicized in Freeman's 1979 "Disturbing The Universe"), so you know his information is pretty good. The project itself sounds pretty wacky, using atomic bombs dropped out the bottom of a spaceship to propel it, but these were the days right after Sputnik (1957-1959) and the U.S. was desperate to get in the space race any way we could. To everyone's amazement, the assembled team of young, talented Manhattan Project scientists worked out a feasible design, and if it hadn't been for certain political considerations, it might have been built. But the military didn't want their bombs used for space travel, and a Test Ban Treaty was signed, and anyway people got kinda nervous about exploding lots of A-bombs in the atmosphere.
What's interesting about the design is the size of the ship. Whereas conventional chemical rockets require 1000 tons of propellant for every ton of payload, the Orion was just the opposite. The bombs would be very compact, and because the nuclear explosions would ablate (wear away) the pusher plate and the ship had to absorb the impacts within livable limits, the ship had to be huge. A crew of a thousand in a ship the size of an office building was envisioned. How different our space program would have been if exploring the outer planets were easier than visiting the moon!
As with his previous book "Darwin Among The Machines," George Dyson writes fluidly, making highly-technical concepts seem almost within grasp (a trait he inherited). We'll never know, I guess, how close Orion came to being built since most of the work on it is still classified under the Stategic Defense Initiative directed-energy weapons research.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I was Surprised How Good this Book Was 28 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
George Dyson has turned in a suprisingly literate and interesting history of a forgotten part of space history. Some of the technical issues he describes (opacity, abalation, computational codes) have more than likely never been covered in a mass market text, due to their complexity and security classification.

He makes it all readable.
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