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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Atomic Starships and other hobbies

I've been thinking a lot about DARPA's current study of Project Orion, the 1957 vintage atomic pulse powered starship. Funding to build it is a question, manpower and know-how to build it is a question. Orion has been sitting on a back launch-pad for 54 years for these and other considerations. We have the technology. We just need the budget.

The budget isn't small. The best estimates for Orion are somewhere around $25 billion, about the same as the entire Apollo program. As of this spring we will have 7 billion people on this planet. That's $3.57 a head, just under a penny a day for one year, before cost overruns.

There are, right now, collective building and restoration projects for all kinds of seagoing vessels, from sailing ships to WWII era military craft to submarines. These are being built, restored and sailed by volunteers. They're being funded by private donations and bake sales.

Devoting hundreds of hours of one's life to restoring an old sailing ship, or an old liberty ship, is hella cool. How much cooler would it be to spend that energy building a freaking starship?

Why wait for the government to find funding for Orion? Why not just get some interested people together and start building the damned thing? It would be slow, at first. But no slower than the pace at which it has already been built since 1957, which is no pace at all. Get someone like George Dyson (or hell, Richard Branson!) to manage the project, and then as funds are raised to build it bit by bit, build it bit by bit. Those who have a useful skill-set can donate a little time to the project as they can. There are lots of NASA and JPL alumni running around looking for work right now in the wake of the Constellation closings, maybe some of them would be interested. There's no special rush, let's just build it as well as we can and as fast as we can, and get on with it.

There used to be a bumper sticker which read "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." To hell with governments. We, ourselves, can hold bake sales, car washes, benefit concerts and a whole lot more to raise revenue to build a ship which will travel to the nearest stars. If we roll up our sleeves, we can build this thing.

Pandora awaits.

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