Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Archive for the ‘Carl Sagan’ Category

Project Orion

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Whilst browsing the videos on Dr. Buzzo’s YouTube channel, I came across a nice one – a segment from Carl Sagan’s legendary television series Cosmos talking about interstellar spaceflight, and the technologies we could use to achieve interplanetary manned spaceflight.

Now, maybe I just read too much Carl Sagan works, but I happen to get a little bit passionate about such things.

Now, something important to note: Every technology, with one single exception, that of a large enough solar sail, that has ever been seriously considered or developed by humanity as the means to send a manned spacecraft beyond our solar system, or even to the outer part of our solar system, utilizes some form of nuclear engineering as its energy source.

But nuclear engineering – fission reactors, fusion reactors, or bomb-like nuclear pulse propulsion – does give us the means to do it, where no other energy systems can.

A spacecraft capable of manned interstellar travel would, in my opinion, be the most fantastic triumph of human engineering ever devised. Something fantastic, at the limits of human imagination. And such technology already exists. We simply lack the political fortitude to use it.

It’s quite depressing, almost, to note that we have the means to travel to other stellar systems, and colonize and live there, in all likelihood, well within a human lifetime, but we do not. Not because our science precludes it, our our technology, or our vision, or our intelligence, or our wealth preclude it, but because politicians preclude it.

Now, after watching this video, I happened across another very, very good video on YouTube:

This is a recent-ish TED talk given by George Dyson (son of the notable British-American mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson) about Project Orion.

The video he mentions – of the very successful experiments with the scaled-down models powered by chemical explosives – is here:

Very, very cool.


On the trail of Caldicott, 10 years on.

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I recently discovered this webpage, which makes for very interesting reading.

I always wondered what B.L. Cohen would have to say about Caldicott’s claims.

The more objective, informed people are exposed to Caldicott’s work – the more they’re all saying exactly the same things.

Mark the dates – Caldicott and her friends have been making the same arguments, the exact same hyperbole, for the last ten years.

We’ve made the same arguments against it, and we’ve seen the same lack of sensible response. All the while – the inevitable meltdowns, the epidemics of cancer and death, the four horsemen of the nuclear powered apocalypse have been on our door step for the last 10 years…

…Where are they?

Were Strontium-90, Americium, Caesium-137 and so forth really released in the Three Mile Island accident? Well, the Kemeny commission report says nothing of the sort, but if Caldicott and her colleagues are so damned sure, then go to Pennsylvania with a shovel, take the soil, and perform gamma-ray spectroscopy, and publish the empirical data in their books. If I was in the United States, I’d be doing just that, and posting the data for the world to study and reproduce.

That’s how we find out; with this thing we call the Scientific Method. With this tool, we vanquish the impossible, as Caldicott’s friend Carl Sagan once said.

On that note: I have the deepest respect and admiration for the late Carl Sagan. Every thinking person fears nuclear war, and every technological nation plans for it. Everyone knows it’s madness, and everyone has an excuse.

Carl had, as many of us have, great respect for Caldicott’s tireless work on nuclear weapons policy, nonproliferation and disarmament. But would he tolerate this perversion of science? This complete disregard for the tools and philosophies of science, in favour of an agenda of political rhetoric? What would he have to say to Dr. Caldicott, today?

Written by Luke Weston

December 6, 2007 at 7:32 pm