August 16th, 2004

Nuclear Spinoffs MarsBlog

I’m reading the last few chapters (the technical appendices, really) of To the End of the Solar System, James A. Dewar’s political and technical history of the nuclear-thermal rocket programs of the 1950s-1970s. The primary focus of the book is on the political maneuverings which brought the projects (Rover, NERVA, etc.) into being, sustained them against political opposition from various quarters, and finally killed them off even though they had achieved successes beyond even the most optimistic predictions. The book is worth reading as a parallel history to the continuing story of the ISS and Shuttle programs, as well as for insights into the political origins of the failures of other Big Science projects over the years. Chapter 16, however, deserves special attention for what it says about the unintended consequences of the NTR projects, and what they suggest may come of the Vision for Space Exploration should it actually bear fruit.