2063 A.D.

2063 A.D. was a book published in 1963 by General Dynamics Astronautics. The book asked politicians, military commanders and scientists to speculate as to where humanity would be, a hundred years hence, in the great push towards space.

What really caught my attention in this book (besides its being a great piece of typography; I’d love to get my hands on an original) are the frequent references to nuclear propulsion of future spacecraft.

By 1963, General Atomics had already been working for several years on an engineering design study called Project Orion, initiated by Ted Taylor, to theorize about and test the plausibility of using controlled nuclear explosions to propel a spacecraft.  (The famous theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson was recruited to work on the project; his son George wrote a good pop-science/history book about it a few years ago.)  The study, while having some success, ultimately ended due mainly to safety concerns over nuclear fallout from the vehicle’s exploding atomic fuel.

However, the interesting part to me is the timing involved.  The 2063 book was published in 1963, the same year that the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed by the U.S. and the Soviets.  Since the treaty effectively banned any atmospheric nuclear detonations, it was arguably the death knell for Project Orion, and a barrier for any further practical study on the subject.  So why, then, all the predictions of nuclear spaceflight?  I can understand the enthusiasm for such future technology, but here you have politicians and military commanders who had to have a pretty good idea of what was going on politically with such a significant international treaty (i.e. no more nukes in space).  Yet they contribute their wistful notions of the practical uses for a forbidden technology a century hence.

Should we chalk it up to their confidence in the basic good of mankind, and a belief that such treaties would someday not be necessary, freeing atomic “bombs” to be used to better ends?  Or are those predictions simply the visions of steely cold warriors, intent on the American domination of space at any cost?

The full text of the book, made from scans of an original, can be downloaded here.

(via Paleo-Future)

posted 4/17/08 at 4:15pm to Geekery, Science! · 0 replies · »

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