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In OTL, a nuclear propulsion project from the 1950's called Project Orion was in development. It would have used nuclear explosions to power a spacecraft, faster and more efficiently than chemical rockets. Lack of funding slowed the project and it was finally canceled due to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 (hereafter referred to as PTBT), which banned nuclear explosions in space, in the atmosphere, and underwater. What would have happened had Orion reached its potential?
Point of Divergence
In 1963, as the Soviets and Americans were preparing to sign the PTBT, and the architects of Project Orion faced a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: promoting nuclear powered spacecraft to the increasingly nervous USA and Soviet government officials. There was a desire for a fully nuclear powered vehicle among Orion scientists, however a compromise was reached. Standard engines would bring the spacecraft to space and nuclear power would take over once the ship was far enough from Earth for the fallout to be within an acceptable level. Thus, on October 12th, 1963, the PTBT went into effect, allowing the use of peaceful nuclear explosions over height of 100 kilometers.
November 10th, 1963- Orion scientists begin work on a new phase of development, with reduction of fallout and creation of fail-safe mechanisms as the main goals. It is decided that all launches will take off shore of Greenland, about 30 kilometers from Thule Air Base.
- months after the assassination of Kennedy and mounting worries of nuclear holocaust brought about by the Cuban missile crisis the Soviets order the construction of a nuclear spaceship based on project Orion. This is causes america to rush into it first. Now both USA and USSR give more funding for project
- a teenager named Alex begins work on a modification on the ship
- the ship causes controversy as the Saturn V program is cancelled fear of radiation is gripping the public only for scientist to refute such claims with videos of conventional rockets launching the ship before the actual explosions
- problem of EMP from explosions is fully realized. Some small nuclear bombs are detonated in space to test EMP minimization mechanisms
- the ship begins design and partial construction phase for a mission to mars in 1969 as bomb concerns are dealt with in a variety of ways. Alex Hammond publishes his thesis on the the usage of fusion and not fission as fuel...improving their efficiency as well as reducing fallout to near zero...it is planned that after bit of developing it will be used as the fuel...historians consider this to be the beginning of the pax-orionis which leads to earth having a true golden space age
- after few months testing US scientists notice that it is nearly impossible to produce fusion bombs small enough. They decide to use normal fission bombs. Bomb size is about 0.04 kilotons for first "Prometheus-class" Orions
- a classic alien invasion film known simply as The Invasion is released, and it ends with humans using the Orion ships to take out the alien weapons base on the moon by sending soldiers and the film cuts to many years later as the main protagonist played by Charleston Heston is raising his children on mars. this film would be praised for its storytelling...but the films pro-Orion stance is what is considered the films greatest contribution. as it is credited to the youths enthusiasm for the program
- 19.3: First spaceflight of Prometheus I. Because it is only test flight, ship don't use it's own engines. First stage was slightly damaged by violent vibration. Top height is 320 Km
- two new test flights (vibration problems solved) before 22.8, when it's time to the first orbital flight (with crew of four). Ship orbits Earth eight times and lands without problems. Top height 6000 Km. the mission is a success and the economics are proving to be very cheap (compared to our timeline)
- 5.10: First flight of Soviet Orion-style spaceship named "Korolev". Launch site on New Siberian Islands
- more test flights by both sides
- 27.1: Outer Space Treaty is signed (one year before than OTL). It bans any territorial claims and weapons of mass destruction in space (Orion-projects nukes are not weapons so they are still allowed)
- March: Prometheus I flies to lunar orbit and back. Two probes called "Surveyor 1" and "Lunar Orbiter 1" is deployed
- tests of new life support system
- an Orion ship lands to Moon with 10 astronauts, the mission is a success and gives people the confidence in Orions safety and economics. Edward White is first man in lunar surface
- a army of crude robots is designed by Orion scientist to survey the martian surface and air to see if martian soil can grow crops, these robots are sent to Mars with conventional rocket launched on an Orion ship Prometheus I. The mission is a disaster because due to the robots very limited abilities they go offline in a matter of weeks. However important data is recovered and will serve man well
- "Korolev" lands on moon with 19-men crew
- United states second Orion ship explodes during it's maiden flight. Nine dead, tons of plutonium fall onto Arctic Ocean, safety measures are added and the public relations team succeed in soothing fears
- decontamination project in Greenland and Ellesmere Island. Large amounts of plutonium founded and recycled
- Alex Hammond is awarded for his work on the safety measures
- moon base discovers water on the moon decades before our timeline
- large moon bases from both Soviets and Americans are growing more common.
- Israeli agents steal two nukes from Soviet factory near Novosibirsk. Soviets keep it secret
- electrodynamic tethers deployed in space
- space tourism is a serious possibility as the economics of Orion dictate "bigger is better"
- American moon base reaches 100 men
- Prometheus III makes successful first flight. Soviets launch new ship, too. It's named "Gagarin"
- economic uses for space travel is becoming a serious discussion
- 30 astronauts are selected for the mars program for a long training period
- 2001 a space Odyssey is released directed by Stanley Kubrick to the same acclaim as our timeline...however Discovery has a small Orion engine reducing the trip time significantly although having no real bearing on the plot
- Israeli government announces nuclear arsenal...the origin of these nukes and their connection to Orion are a mystery until 1995 due to the Soviet cover up
- Alex Hammond and George Dyson fly to the moon base to train the 30 men and women to explore Mars, as an army of scientists are going to the moon to use it for study for space colonization. Space stations in high orbit and Earth-Moon L1 point are becoming bigger
- exploration of space is being replaced by the settlement of space as the "Gagarin" launches a torus shaped space capsule that imitates gravity to L1 point. orbital settlement designs are submitted by many groups. the most popular are that of O'Neill (who began his work much earlier due to space enthusiasm)
- one cosmonaut is killed by small explosion in Soviet Moon base
- some space tourists flight to American Moon base. 1-month trip costs million 60's dollars
- closed-cycle life support systems are tested in Moon bases
- both Americans and Soviets launch spaceships to Mars at same day: 30.3. Prometheus I have 16 astronauts and "Gagarin" 14 cosmonauts on board...the ships take four months to get to Mars
- in July ships reach Mars, sadley there is the horrid sandstorm at the landing site. Americans wait, but Soviets land ignoring risks. However, they have luck and can place red flag on red planet few days before landing of Prometheus I
- great amounts of ice is founded below martian surface
- international bomb storage is placed to L1 point. Now spaceships can fill they bomb magazines before going to outer space missions, allowing bigger payloads
- scientists discover that there has been oceans and oxygen-rich atmosphere in Mars billions of years ago. Alex Hammond speaks about "terraforming" as far future project
- moon bases start to grow their own food
- 300 people live now in space...but soon that number will grow fast
- a historical photo is taken of American astronauts and cosmonauts together saluting towards the camera
- small probes launched to near-earth asteroids to survey possibility of asteroid mining and using them to create space settlements. Water discoveries are the icing on the cake, heralding the birth of the space economy
- building of mass driver starts on moon. It will be used to send moon rocks to space for construction of space habitats. Experimental thorium mining for nuclear plants, that will power the mass drivers
- studies begin to increase the speed and efficiency for Prometheus for a outer planets mission
- first African American in space
- while nuclear pulses are basic propulsion method, development of other methods continues. Prototypes of ion engines, solar sales and NERVA:s are tested in space
- specific impulse of Prometheus is regarded as too low for very long missions. Increasing it seems to be difficult, but not impossible
- Launch of Prometheus IV
- Americans land on Phobos and Deimos
- Prometheus III heads to Mars to found first base there...Prometheus IV will handle further missions to the red planet until V
- construction begins on first orbital settlement
- New Soviet spaceship "Tsiolkovsky" is launched
- Spin-off technologies of space leading to an economic boom ... giving space more funding
- von Braun goes to space despite his health
- November: Prometheus I and "Gagarin" return to earth after successful Mars mission
- Pioneer 10 and 11 are launched towards outer planets
- Soviets send "Korolev" to 13-month Venus-mission with crew of nine Soviets, two Americans, one Briton and one Pole
- Superconducting shields are being developed for colonization as radiation from the sun is a worry..."Moon city" is leading this research with its growing team of scientists
- mass driver is fully built, speeding space colonization
- space population approaches 1500 people after Orion efficiency has been improved
- while "Korolev" is on Venusian orbit, big solar flare hits it. It have no magnetic shields so 3 men dies to radiation sickness. Probes are still dropped to Venus atmosphere
- many space probes launched to solar system
- ten-men Mars base established
- "Tsiolkovsky"'s pusher plate breaks on lunar orbit. Americans save crew and plate is later repaired in space.
- Dyson gives Ted Taylor and Alex Hammond the "space pioneer award" on Luna for their work on Orion project
- return of "Korolev"
- mysterious sabotage in Thule Space Center
- super-conduction technology develops. It looks possible to build some kind of cargo mass driver in Earth in future
- Prometheus IV launched to Mars with international crew
- the british interplanetary society research project Daedalus for an interstellar mission, its research will also contribute to the improvement of the orion design
- building of 5000 people O'Neill "Island One" starts
- return of Prometheus III
- Thule space center criminals caught after one of them tried to sell conventional weapons on American soil ... to reduce his sentence he turns in his contemporaries.
- Orion ships for tourists are being designed
- research for new propulsion method called VISTA, which can get to mars in 30 days and carry a 100 ton payload
- international project starts to build 1800-ton Orion ship in Moon for future outer planets missions ... Bombs will be sent from Earth
- first child born on the Moon
- both Americans and Soviets launch now Orion's from Thule, because it's better than Soviet's old Faddeyevsky Cosmodrome and is nearer to Magnetic pole
- first asteroid mining company goes in business as Island one construction is proving to be very promising...the company is called "planetary riches"
- a book written by Alex Hammond and Dyson is titled, "how the human race stopped worrying and loved the atomic spaceship" becomes a massive bestseller.
- Island one construction crew switch to asteroid and Moon materials to reduce colonial dependency on Earth
- Orion team begins work on reducing the price per pound for Orion to even lower levels as well as its speed
- Vista project begins to test the engine, it is a success although it is unable to be used to launch from surface
- new ways to cheapen Orion are being suggested by many scientists.
- Island one construction is inspiring many projects for the mining of materials in space
- 1800-ton "Moon Orion" is build and named "Gargantua"
- building of Island one is nearly completed. First people move to Island
- July: "Gargantua" is launched towards Jupiter. It will arrive in 1977 ... it has a crew of 30
- Arcadia base in Mars reaches self-sufficiency
- Alex Hammond is given a cameo in a vague film in production that will become a classic as in our timeline ... Star wars
- Vista is making headway as the Orion crew begin to consider using its engines for interplanetary distances
- space population reaches 5,000 and growing
- research for nuclear bomb-solar sail hybrid spacecraft called Medusa begins
- star wars released and is just as much as a hit as in our timeline if not much bigger
- mass driver research approved by congress
- Orions are launching more as they send more people and equipment to Moon and Mars and the nearly complete Island one
- Island ones uses are expanding as it is made into both a settlement and a transfer station to other parts of the solar system...it will construct orions in orbit
- testing of Medusa in space...It looks like it can have specific impulse over 300 Km/s and it doesn't need heavy pusher plates or shock absorbers
- after 17 months the Gargantua arrives, discoveries like water on Europa, rings and others are making headlines
- Gargantua lands on Callisto
- it is decided that "Generation 1" cargo mass driver will be built on Earth as an international project...upper end will be on top of mountain Api, Nepal
- VISTA secures a contract for people and cargo transport on Island one
- landing on Ganymede
- space solar power initiative will soon power half of America and Europe
- astronauts are now launched to Mars in a new spacecraft that uses vista engine...it arrive to Mars in 50 days
- Gargantua heads back to Earth
- plans made for floating airship-base in upper Venusian atmosphere
- population of Island one is 80 percent finished
- 75 people in Mars
- planetary riches reserves its headquarters on Island one for mining operations to begin
- mass driver is well under construction
- microfossil founds on Mars make headlines all over the world...It is not yet known are those ancient microbes evolved in Mars or came from Earth via panspermia
- Gargantua lands on Moon after Jupiter voyage