A diagram from the January 1963 story depicting a nuclear-powered rocket.
It’s Thursday, meaning it’s time to dig through the Nuclear News archives for another #ThrowbackThursday post. Today’s story goes back 60 years to the January 1963 issue of NN and the cover story “Review of Rover: A nuclear rocket” (p. 9), which reviews the first phase of the nuclear rocket program from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Some quick digging online uncovers a lot of information about Project Rover, most notably, a short 20-minute film on the LANL YouTube page that reviews the project (Historic 1960s Film Describes Project Rover). The description of the video notes that the project was active from 1955 to 1973 and led to the design of multiple reactors suitable for testing, including Pewee 1, and that NASA has a modern nuclear thermal propulsion project based on the Pewee design. So it seems fitting to revisit Project Rover, given that there is today a lot of renewed interest in nuclear propulsion for space exploration.
The opening line from the January 1963 article seems to ring true today— “Provided the U. S. continues her space efforts, nuclear-powered rockets are inevitable”—although that probably didn’t seem likely to the nuclear community after the country’s attention shifted from the Space Race to the Vietnam War in the early 1970s when Project Rover was canceled. The introduction to the article lays out the argument for a nuclear-powered rocket and provides a review of the program since its launch in 1955.
The full article as it appeared in 1963 is reprinted below, but don’t forget, all ANS members have full access to the Nuclear News archives that has decades of great content about all topics on nuclear science and technology. Happy reading!
Nicholas Spivey, left, an SRNL mechanical engineer, and Kurt Gerdes, director of EM’s Office of Technology Development, use virtual reality simulation of an EM worksite during meetings held at the IHMC in Pensacola, Fla. (Photo: DOE)
For the first time since forming in 2020, more than 40 members of a Department of Energy team met in person to evaluate technologies, including exoskeletons and wearable robotic devices, that could be adapted to the cleanup mission of department’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), helping improve the safety and well-being of its workers.
A view of Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)
The National Nuclear Security Administration announced that, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it intends to prepare a site-wide environmental impact statement (SWEIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts for continuing operations of the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years. The SWEIS will also analyze the environmental impacts of legacy waste remediation being done by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management at the site.
Chemist Kevin Gaddis has adapted components of a high-pressure ion chromatography system to withstand the extreme conditions of a hot cell. (Photo: ORNL/Carlos Jones)
An Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher has built a device that can speed up the separation of the medical radioisotope actinium-225 from irradiated thorium targets and withstand the high-radiation environment of a hot cell. In July, ORNL announced that Kevin Gaddis, a chemistry technician at the lab, had built and tested a prototype and was working to secure a patent for a device that cut separations time by 75 percent.
Left: The University of Texas at Austin SBD Challenge team: from left, Michael Butero, Matthew Frangos, Daniel Gutierrez, and John (Jack) Whelan. Right: The University of Rhode Island team: from left, Jay Macchia, Sean Babin, and Peter Tillinghast. (Photo: NNSA)
The National Nuclear Security Administration's Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control has been partnering with national laboratories and universities to introduce engineering students to the field of international safeguards. Safeguards ensure that nuclear material and facilities are not used to illicitly manufacture nuclear weapons, the NNSA noted in a July 27 article.
Nicholas Thompson of LANL helps set up the neutron clustering measurements at the Walthousen Reactor Critical Facility at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Schenectady, NY. (Photo: LANL)
A statistically predicted tendency for neutrons produced inside fission reactors to form in clusters can cause asymmetrical energy production that is counterbalanced, at least in part, by the spontaneous fission of radioactive material in the reactor.
The Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)
The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, which provides independent federal oversight of Department of Energy weapons facilities, has reported that low-level radioactive and other combustible waste is accumulating in the basement of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4), and that housekeeping and waste management in the PF-4 basement have been a continuing challenge.
The Mexican spotted owl, which finds a home in northern New Mexico’s canyons and forests, is a threatened species that the DOE strives to protect. Photo: Don Ulrich, taken in Flagstaff, Ariz.
To protect a treasured ecological species of northern New Mexico, the Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management and its contractor N3B this month began their annual task of modifying legacy waste cleanup activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory ahead of the Mexican spotted owl breeding season.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the owl as a threatened species in 1993, when population numbers were decreasing drastically due to the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of their habitat.