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Frozen Orbit is about NASA’s first expedition to the outer planets, prompted by the discovery of a top-secret Russian spacecraft, Arkangel, abandoned at Pluto around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you’re wondering how in the world they could have pulled that off given the state of technology, well…who else but the Soviets would’ve been ballsy enough to build an Orion-style nuclear pulse drive?

USAF Orion Spacecraft Concept (Credit: NASA)

If you haven’t heard of Orion (and it’s most definitely not the current NASA project–it’s actually a travesty that they’re using the name for what is a decidedly less ambitious program), the concept is simple:

  1. Build a spacecraft with a really big plate and shock absorbers.
  2. Detonate a nuclear bomb behind said plate.
  3. Keep detonating nuclear bombs until the spacecraft has reached a measurable fraction of light speed. And make sure you’re pointed in a safe direction.

The Air Force studied this back in the 1960’s, as did the British Interplanetary Society in the 70’s. Neither group was able to convince their governments to fund them, despite its potential to open up the solar system to us (and possibly even interstellar travel within a human lifetime). Frozen Orbit postulates that the Russians were enamored enough with the concept (and didn’t care about the cost in either rubles or environmental damage) to actually go through with it. Why no one ever heard of it, and more importantly why they never came back, is the crux of the story.

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