Starfleet Deferred: Project Orion in the 1962 Air Force Space Program

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B. Ziarnick (2015), JBIS, 68, pp.17-25

Refcode: 2015.68.17
Keywords: Project Orion, Air Force, history, interstellar, budgets, space program, nuclear pulse propulsion

Project Orion, the Cold War American program (1957-1965) studying nuclear pulse propulsion for space applications, has long interested space enthusiasts for what it was and what it might have been, but it has long been believed that neither the United States government nor the US Air Force took the program very seriously. However, recently declassified US Air Force documents shed more light on the classified history of Project Orion. Far from being ignored by Air Force leadership, through the efforts of the Strategic Air Command, Air Force leaders like General Curtis LeMay were convinced that Project Orion should be funded as a major weapons system. The high water mark of Project Orion was the 1962 Air Force Space Program proposal by the Air Force Chief of Staff to devote almost twenty percent of the Air Force space budget from 1962-1967 to Orion development before the program was cancelled by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force under pressure from the Department of Defense. This paper details the history of Project Orion in the 1962 Air Force Space Program proposal, and concludes with a few lessons learned for use by modern interstellar advocates.

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