Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Which Orion is that?

It now looks likely that NASA have chosen Orion as the the name the new Crew Exploration Vehicle and possibly for the entire programme leading up to America's return to the Moon. That said, I'm currently under the impression that, officially at least, the name for the programme is still Project Constellation.

The name is liable to cause a great deal of confusion. Although the is already an American rocket named Orion, the main source of confusion will be the original Project Orion, the first engineering design study of a spacecraft powered by nuclear pulse propulsion, undertaken by General Atomics in the 1950's and 60's. The original Project Orion is well loved, and despite critics, is treasured as one of those "what if?" moments in history by space activists around the world.

George Dyson, son of physicist Freeman Dyson who amongst many other notable things worked on the original Project Orion, has written a book about the project; "Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship" (US/UK) which I'd recommend for anyone that wants to learn about the original project and to find out why NASA's choice of name for their return to the Moon is such a disappointment to those of us following the manned spaceflight programme. We'd wanted, hoped for, so much more...