- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Allen Lane; 01 edition (6 Jun. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0713992670
- ISBN-13: 978-0713992670
- Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.3 x 22.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 501,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship (Allen Lane Science) Hardcover – 6 Jun 2002
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Like cheap, shiny space suits and bug-eyed rubber monsters, nuclear-powered spaceships such as described in Project Orion today seem like little more than laughably naive 1950s science fiction tropes. It might have been otherwise--and still could be. George Dyson, son of supergenius physicist Freeman Dyson, wrote Project Orion to share some of his father's amazing research with the world. Much had been kept secret for years, but Dyson's unique insider status permits great depth and breadth on this important tale.
Conceived in the wake of Sputnik, Project Orion was a true vision of 50s engineering: a huge 40-person ship powered by hundreds of tiny atomic bombs, capable of much greater lift and efficiency than chemically driven rockets. Struggles between NASA, the military, Congress, and other parties doomed Orion, but Dyson has gathered hundreds of documents and interviewed most of the researchers and engineers who worked together, trying to reach "Saturn by 1970". His knack for storytelling makes the book a quick, delightful read; even the staunchest anti-nuke activist has to admit that lighting a cigarette off a parabolic mirror facing a bomb test is pretty cool. By the end of the 20th century, technology had caught up with the vision of Orion--it's considered one of our best bets for long-distance space transit. Whether or not that could ever happen politically, Project Orion is a compelling exploration of scientific imagination. --Rob Lightner
Top Customer Reviews
Orion is one of the great 'might-have-beens' of the Cold War, had it gone ahead, Man could have landed on Mars in the early 1970s and we would have lived in a World more like that of '2001' than that of 'Full Metal Jacket'. In the end, the project died a death; unloved by the government it was finally condemned by the nuclear test ban treaty.
The book is concisely written, but it fails to convey the excitement of such a huge and ambitious project. There is very little sense of the awe it must have invoked, which can make it somewhat dry reading.
I also knock a point off for the lamentable illustrations. There are no glossy plates which means that none of the pictures are terribly sharp, and some pictures are very poor indeed. There are a number of declassified diagrams from the 1950s with little or no explanation, whilst others lack any context whatsoever. This type of book would really have benefited from high quality graphics.
I recommend this wholeheartedly if you are interested in space travel; you probably will never have a better history of the Orion project. Casual readers might find it a little hard going.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is written in a very entertaining way without skimping on details, from the conceptual stage to the final blueprints all is covered. George Dyson isn't afraid to go into the details and he does so with clarity, putting him firmly in the camp of great scientific historians like Richard Rhodes.
If you are interested in space exploration and/or nuclear energy than this book is simply a must have, it is also a great testament to the times when scientist and engineers where allowed to think free and big, back when big engineering was the name of the game and the stars seemed to be within our grasp. Today we might look back at it and think it was madness, but a time will come again when grand ideas like this can be developed.
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