Science Fiction and Adventure

The Hive, Red Moon, Star Pirates, and Das Bell



Let's face it.  If you are going to travel through a hostile, unforgiving and deadly environment, you really want to spend as least amount of time as possible doing it.  Space beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is the most unforgiving environment I could think of and yet, when we consider a possible manned mission to Mars, we are talking about placing astronauts and cosmonauts at risk with transit times of a year or longer.  This is because we have abandoned the very promising technology of nuclear propulsion. The idea that we can continue to use chemical rockets for manned missions anywhere beyond the moon is just asking for trouble.  Traversing the space between Earth and Mars for example, using chemical rockets, that is a rocket engine that burns fuel and oxidizer, is a tedious exercise that will expose the crew to solar flares, micro meteors, and the potential for mechanical failure of the ship or psychological breakdown of the crew. However, there is a better way to get there.  In my novel The Hive, an Earth mission to discover the nature of an alien artifact in deep space, must rely on resurrected technology from the late 1960s.  This is NERVA or Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application.  Here, instead of half the rocket's fuel tanks being occupied with liquid oxygen needed to burn the fuel in the other half of the tanks, the NERVA rocket uses no oxidizer.  Instead the fuel (in the case of The Hive, liquid hydrogen) is shot through a solid graphite core nuclear reactor, to produce many more times the thrust of a chemical rocket motor and more importantly, longer burn times, to achieve speeds far greater than any chemically fueled space vehicle.  This means a transit time to Mars measured in weeks or at the most a couple of months, as opposed to a year or longer.  Not only is the crew less at risk for some catastrophic failure in space, but they can take more equipment, carry more people and stay on Mars longer than with any chemical rocket powering the expedition.

Drawbacks:  The NERVA engine requires a nuclear reactor that would be launched into space on a conventional rocket. It would then be assembled with other components in space and mated to a spacecraft.  Launching a nuclear rocket from Earth would be impractical since the exhaust is radioactive.  Launching the reactor would be difficult from a public relations standpoint.  An example of this was the fear mongering by uninformed groups of individuals who vigorously protested the launching of the Cassini probe to Saturn as the probe was powered by a small plutonium generator. However, in The Hive, no such caution is taken when faced with the possibility of the end of humanity.  Here and now, we must also face the end of our species or at least the slow decline of it if we do not leave our planet and exploit the riches of space.  The only way this is possible is with nuclear power.  I hope that The Hive, in some small way encourages those with dreams of space exploration and colonization to reopen this closed chapter of rocket propulsion and reexamine the nuclear rocket engine.




The Big Bang:  The second means of getting there.


Imagine a spacecraft as big as a naval destroyer sitting on top of a huge hemispherical plate, mounted to it by enormous shock absorbers and you have Orion.  How do you move such a monster?  With the most powerful force currently known to man: a nuclear explosion.  

The concept of Orion was first considered in the late 1950s when scientists such as Freeman Dyson saw no technical drawbacks to launching huge spacecraft by exploding nuclear bombs behind a reinforced plate.  Actual models were tested up until the mid 1960s in space but using chemical explosives.  Everything was in place to open an era of inter- planetary exploration and incredibly, almost fifty years ago, interstellar exploration, for an Orion powered craft, using enough nuclear bombs for propulsion could in theory reach ten percent of the speed of light, enough to get a probe to Alpha Centuri, a system consisting of two sun-like stars a little over four light years from Earth.  However, the Treaty of Outer Space in 1967 banned the use of nuclear devices in space and hence, caused the cancellation of Orion.  Of course, you would not actually want to launch an Orion from Earth as you would be setting off a series of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere.  For practical purposes the Orion must be built and launched in Earth orbit.  Again, you have the thorny issue of bringing up dozens of nuclear bombs, the fuel for Orion, into Earth orbit.  However, a nuclear bomb is a very difficult thing to set off unless you choose to.  I believe that it would be possible to build and launch an Orion from Earth orbit safely.

In The Hive, the Chinese, desperate to reach the alien artifact ahead of the US/ Russian/ European Union alliance build and launch an Orion from the Gobi Desert:

The Gobi Desert, Near Lop Nor, South of the Chinese-Mongolia Boarder:


               In the secret test complex near the Mongolian border, it was exactly twelve hours later than in Washington DC.  Five minutes into President Austin’s speech the four walls of the fake ore processing building fell open like a child’s house of cards, revealing the huge spacecraft that was half hidden in the construction pit created for its assembly.  Jang Wu sat with members of the military, the Chinese Communist Party, and with the others who had overseen the building of the Chairman Mao.  They were twelve miles from the launch site in a reinforced steel and concrete block house watching the digital numbers count down to zero. Instantly Jang Wu could see from the screen the great gouts of flame as the six strap-on solid fuel rockets fired, straining to lift the massive craft from the ground.  Under normal circumstances any one of the six powerful solid rocket boosters could hurl a spacecraft into orbit.  Here, all six would barely lift the Chairman Mao a thousand meters into the air.  As the craft passed the one kilometer mark, the exhausted boosters arced out and away from the craft. The Chinese ship seemed to hang in midair for just a second, as a spherical one hundred kiloton nuclear bomb exited out of the deployment port in the center of the great steel plate.  In a heart beat, the freezing blackness of the Gobi Desert became a blinding sea of white hot light.  For a moment, Jang Wu thought the Chairman Mao had been vaporized in the explosion directly beneath it until less than four seconds later another white hot detonation split the sky, only this time many thousands of meters higher.  Then another, higher still, until twenty one nuclear bombs had been expended propelling the spacecraft with enough energy  to escape the Earth’s gravity and slide into a trans-lunar orbit,  Jang Wu smiled with pride.  Finally the world would truly know the power and determination of the People’s Republic of China.  China would now lead, and the world would have to follow.


Chris Berman


Visit The Hive at: