When you get into space, you're going to need some kind of drive to make moving around easier. If you can't get Artificial Gravity to work your Reactionless Drive, perhaps you need to look at something simpler. Preferably with lots of explosions. You might consider implementing an Orion Drive, an old project that was thought up during the Cold War. Explosive Propulsion meets nuclear weapons, you've got the potential to move much larger ships than normal. The researchers working on this project tended to include things like barber's chairs in their ship designs just to emphasize how much mass they could move. A basic Orion Drive is composed of a Cool Ship, a large armor plate, and enough high yield weapons to set it in motion. They don't necessarily have to be nuclear, but they need to have the equivalent explosive power. A common variant is to have the explosive material be smaller pellets of frozen deuterium-tritium mix, which would then be induced into nuclear fusion by a laser; this is essentially an H-bomb without having to use an A-bomb to set it off. While this may all sound like madness, scale-model tests with conventional explosives have established that the design is perfectly workable. The main obstacle to actually building one of these is the logistics of lifting the components into orbit, since for reasons that probably need little elaboration, nuclear detonations inside the planet's atmosphere are depreciated these days. A common form of harder scifi propulsion systems. See also Explosion Propulsion.
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Anime and Manga
- On several occasions, in the UC Gundam Series, some types of Propulsion systems are called "Nuclear Drives", for example the propulsion systems of the AXIS Asteroid.
- Atomic Robo has an Orion Drive based ship appear in Volume 6. Developed in secret, its planned launch is the driving force of the plot to kill Robo, as its launch would cause enough radioactive fallout to wipe out all life on Earth, leaving Robo as the last survivor, who would then almost certainly chase after it.
- The rocket designed by Professor Calculus in the Tintin comics, "Destination Moon" and "Explorers On The Moon", is propelled by slow-detonating nuclear fission explosions. The engine is made of "calculon", a silicon-based material that was invented by Calculus to withstand the radiation and extreme heat created by the explosions. The rocket also has chemical-fuelled rocket engines so that it can take off and land without polluting the surroundings with deadly nuclear fallout.
- In Footfall, humanity uses a ground-launched Orion drive spaceship in a last ditch effort to fight off the invading aliens, as it's the only way to get sufficient firepower into the orbitals. A crew member of the Archangel Michael memorably described liftoff:
God was knocking, and he wanted in bad.
- Troy Rising by John Ringo: Troy, a massive battle station ten kilometers wide made from a hollowed-out and inflated asteroid, adds an Orion Drive so that it can get to the Portal Network and go crush enemy alien fleets. Upon first seeing the Troy come through the gate, the aliens think it's been hit, only to suddenly realize it's actually the drive.
- Orion Shall Rise, by Poul Anderson: has this as its central premise.
- The Land Of Crimson Clouds by the Strugatsky Brothers: the scientists build a semi-spherical spaceship whose inner surface is covered with a super-mirror that reflects everything and is somehow able to use the momentum of light, of all things, for propulsion. So basically, when a nuclear explosion takes place under the super-mirror, the spaceship flies forward. Let's leave the physics of it at that.
- King David's Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle: inhabitants of a planet that is to be re-admitted to the Empire plot to build the spaceship based on an Orion project concept in order to qualify their planet as a higher-developed, Class One Imperial world. However, this craft uses non-nuclear explosives.
- The Stone Dogs by S.M. Stirling: Orion spacecraft are created during an arms race between the Domination of the Draka and the Alliance for Democracy, and used by both sides in their explorations of the solar system and as warships. The drive itself features as an improvised weapon in the book, being used to keep other ships at a distance.
- The Shiva Option: A Starfire novel by David Weber and Steve White: an arachnid homeworld is destroyed by converting several asteroids into Orion-drive starships and launching them at it.
- Anathem by Neal Stephenson: features a spacecraft that travels between different dimensions and uses an Orion-style propulsion system. This ship, the Daban Urnud, is discovered by observing the nuclear explosions used to modify its orbit.
- Olympos by Dan Simmons: describes an Orion-style spaceship, designed by the Moravec machine race to emulate 21st century human technology.
- Tricentennial by Joe Haldeman: featured the Daedelus (or John F. Kennedy, or Leonid Brezhnev - apparently spaceships are also prone to renaming), which was powered by nuclear bombs.
- Marooned In Realtime by Vernor Vinge: bobble technology makes this method of travel safe. Toss a timed nuke out of a spaceship, then activate a short-lived (and totally indestructible) bobble. The nuke will explode, shoving the bobbled ship away.
- Cepheide the 1981 anthology by Tais Teng describes a ship with Orion propulsion as one of the most primitive and wasteful methods of interstellar flight, still only achieved by a tiny minority of all intelligent races in the universe. The ship is said to be the last relic of an unknown race exterminated by the dominant YiYiki (descendants of the humpback whales).
- John Varley's Eight Worlds series:
- In The Golden Globe, the wreck of an Orion spaceship is converted to an interstellar starship.
- Steel Beach sets several scenes near or within the bulk of the "Robert A. Heinlein," the aforementioned Orion-style ship, which was built and then abandoned when humanity lapsed into apathy for stellar exploration.
- The Hive by Chris Berman: involves the use of a ground launched Orion spacecraft by the People's Republic of China in a gamble to reach an alien artifact in orbit between Jupiter and Saturn before the crew of a spacecraft built by the United States and Russia can reach it first.
- Ark by Stephen Baxter: a starship Ark One is built to save a small group of people as Earth drowns under a global flood. It launches and performs the first phase of its mission using a version of Orion. This version is ground launched though owing to the situation (the entire planet is about to drown anyway) environmental concerns are set aside.
- Manifold: Space, also by Stephen Baxter, has the main character piloting an Orion craft to a large blue ring situated just outside the Solar system.
- Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965 by George Dyson is a non-fiction book about the real research into Orion drives (see the Real Life section below). Dyson is the son of Freeman Dyson, who was involved in the project.
- In the Great Ship universe by Robert Reed, the Orion Drive (referred to as a bomb drive) is a common form of propulsion where anti-matter or fusion rockets are too expensive or delicate. One of the main characters of Marrow, Pamir, was the captain of a liner equipped with an ancient bomb-drive.
- In Daniel Keys Moran's The Long Run, the main character (Trent) in orbit around Luna is being chased by the bad guys. The pilot of his ship says that he is sure that they can get away, Trent says "Good", the pilot replies "Not really, it involves the Orion maneuver". Trent replies "Oh, no" to which the pilot responds "Oh, you have heard of it...".
- The basis of the space program in the Eldraeverse, launched from a remote desert site to keep the fallout as low as possible.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky": features a generation ship, constructed out of a hollowed-out iron asteroid, propelled using "Orion class nuclear pulse engines" in which fission bombs were detonated in shafts. It appeared to have been traveling for about 10,000 years, and had traveled about 30 light years on its own power.
- Virtuality: Phaeton (Earth's first starship) is propelled by an Orion drive.
- In an episode of Space: 1999 titled "Voyager's Return," there was a nuclear pulse-drive probe called Voyager One. The dangerous nature of its drive is a plot point.
- Mentioned in Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, as one possible design for a ship capable of crossing interstellar distances, along with the Daedalus (see below).
- In the National Geographic Channel special "Evacuation Earth" project Ark chose an Orion Drive for their Generation Ship as the only feasible means of reaching another system. A private rival project attempted an antimatter drive, but it exploded on the launchpad.
- The namesake Generation Ship in the miniseries Ascension is (ostensibly) powered by this.
- Alpha Centauri, the sleeper ship is propelled by an Orion-type drive (probably the laser-fusion variant), the shield of which fails (almost certainly due to sabotage—the ship's captain was also assassinated at the same time) when the ship is almost at its destination, causing the passengers on the colony ship to splinter into factions.
- Orion drives are available in a Game Mod for Kerbal Space Program, one of which was developed by the man behind the Atomic Rockets science fiction site, who detailed the struggles of coding one. On his first test fire of the drive with a 15kt warhead, the force of the explosion caused the command pod to blow off the top like an cork on a champagne bottle. When he changed the code to try to prevent this, the pod shot past the speed of light on the first test fire.
- Aurora (4X), Nuclear Pulse Drive is the second tier of researchable engines. Subverted as its no different than any other engines including Antimatter drives.
- Cracked.com mentions it in their article about space travel here.
- Orion Drive ships are used by all three major factions (the British Empire, the Russians and the Chinese) in the "Monarchy World" Alternate History by Tony Jones. They are launched from zones in each empire which were already radioactively contaminated by earlier nuclear disasters, so further contamination doesn't matter so much.
- Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. The military calls them in to investigate the theft of components to an Orion Drive. Kevin immediately deduces that it's a nuclear bomb.
- Project Orion, the Trope Namer, which actually happened — although they never went full-scale for obvious reasons. The project eventually got canceled by an international treaty banning nuclear explosions in space.
- The treaty only actually bans nuclear weapons in space. Peaceful uses of nuclear explosions are not ruled out, which will be good news if we ever have to move any asteroid out of Earth-colliding orbits...
- Project Daedalus, which was a conceptual design thought up by the British Interplanetary Society, which wasn't worked upon since it's not yet possible. Instead of bombs, it would use a less hamfisted approach, with lasers being focused on small deuterium-tritium pellets to create small fusion detonations - a process which is indeed being studied as a means of peacefully harnessing fusion energy - but the basic idea of using pulsed explosions remains the same.
- Project Longshot, which was basically Project Daedalus if it were (A) allowed to decelerate on the way in to Alpha Centauri, and (B) more realistic about the difficulties of using engine power to run its own electrical systems.
- Allegedly, the unexpected firing of a 900kg steel lid from the top of a nuclear test chamber into the sky at 60km/s was inspiration for some of the Orion design. If it survived its flight it would have been the first (and only) nuclear launched man made object in space. It probably burnt up before it exited the atmosphere though.
- The Medusa spacecraft design, brought to you by the same folk who dreamed up the Daedalus above, was a 90s update that was effectively a nuclear sail. The design would be lighter and more efficient than an Orion-based ship.
- Lew Allen's Balls were the original inspiration for Project Orion. They were used to test the effects of point-blank nuclear blasts on various materials. Stainless steel balls within a few feet of the detonation point of small test nukes were found, with minimal damage, embedded in the desert floor thousands of feet away. (This began a chain of reasoning about using the shock wave from a nuke as a source of propulsion that ultimately produced the Project Orion proposal.)