Project Onion was a clandestine attempt to subvert news by injecting a satirical parody website into the interwebby thing all the kids keep raving on about and make it appear like a real sensationalist lie infested rag such as the Murdoch Press. No... wait. That's the Onion. What were we supposed to be talking about here? Oh yeah. Project Orion was a nuclear spaceship proposal from the 1950's back when American presidents routinely used plutonium on their peanut butter sandwiches and Ford's car the Nucleon sat waiting on the production floor for a reactor small enough to fit in its engine compartment. It is still there but the tyres have flattened.
Orion was named after the astronomical constellation also known as the hunter. Probably because from the get go the Orioneers were hunting for funding to maintain their research. For some crazy reason nobody from the airforce to the newly formed NASA wanted anything to do with a rocketship that fired atomic bombs out of its ass. The concept was simple enough in principle. It spat out nukes like an atomic bomb machine gun in its wake. These bombs would then drive a pusher plate nailed onto the back of the vehicle. Using a conventional rocket chamber to try and "contain" a nuclear detonation had been dismissed as impossible. Physicist Professor Ulam summed up the engineering challenges of containing a nuclear blast quite succinctly in his letter to the team leader Freeman Dyson in august of 1954 with the eloquent words "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MINDS???". The force of the shockwave against the big ass pusher plate would then have been softened by a shock absorber system slightly bigger than a blue whale. This in turn would push the vehicle proper carrying its crew of praying astronauts to space in a single stage. Either that or blow up in spectacular fashion scattering hot radioactive metal across the central united states.
Watching an orion launch
Watching an Orion launch from its proposed site in Nevada would have been an amazing event except for the minor inconvenience of having ones eyes burned out of their sockets and body riddled with cancer inducing heavy particles of radiation. If it was possible to witness such a lift-off (say from a nuclear bunker 1000 miles away with darkened glass coated with 3 inches of tar) you would see a 10,000 ton behemoth rising off the desert floor creating its own aurora. A beautiful spectacular vision, just prior to radioactive fallout burying you forever.
Orion compared to conventional rockets
The lift capacity and travel time of an Orion compared to ordinary big firecrackers like a Titan rocket is compelling. Science writer Jerry Pournelle once said that an Orion could reach Pluto and back inside of a year. Something that takes todays slowpoke rockets decades. Why the vehicle would come back he didn't explain. Seeing as the crew would be dead from radiation exposure and the trail back full of exploded bomb schrapnel with no pilot to swerve around the debris it would probably be much more fun to crash it into Pluto and see what happens. Hey, we've messed up our own planet. Time we started on the rest.
Would it have worked?
How the fuck would I know?