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Saturday the 6th, Mrs. Fungus and I attended the annual Fungal Vale Christmas parade. We started by going to our church and having the "Souper Supper" (soup, drink, dessert, and it's pretty good) and then set up lawn chairs on the sidewalk to watch the parade.
It was cold outside, cold enough that I'd wished I'd worn another layer of clothing, even though I was wearing my parka. Still air was bearable, but once the wind began blowing--well. We'd originally intended to amble around afterwards and look at the various things that were going on, but we were both too cold, so we just went home.
The parade was about the same as it always was. It's a fun event, anyway, and we finally got to go to one together. That was very, very nice.
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During some downtime at work over the past few days I've been spending a little time here and there researching nuclear engines.
When younger I had some ideas about using fusion power to heat air, and using the resulting thrust to propel an air vehicle. My original thought was that it would work very well.
A month or so ago, though, I revisited those thoughts, and realized that I might be wrong. When you burn a hydrocarbon fuel (which jet fuel is) you're breaking a relatively large molecule into small pieces and releasing a lot of binding energy in the process. The exothermic reaction does make things hot, but--I wondered--how much thrust could you get if you were merely heating air, as opposed to burning fuel?
Well, it turns out that the heat given off by burning fuel is the prime mover, so to speak; it makes the air expand and that's what makes things go. The burned fuel may add to the expansion, but without it you still have perfectly acceptable thrust.
The government experimented with nuclear jets in the 1950s and 1960s. The idea was to put a nuclear reactor between compressor and turbine, replacing the burner cans and tons of jet fuel with a relatively compact (though heavy) power source. The ground tests apparently went rather well.
With a nuclear reactor providing your heat source, you can pretty much stay in the air indefinitely. That was the attraction, but it's just not feasible with a fission reactor, for a whole bunch of reasons.
In this sort of application--where you are heating air by passing it through a nuclear reactor--you really do need to worry about contamination, and fusion is tons cleaner than fission. There would be some radioactivity present but it would be minor compared to what you get from a fission reactor when all is said and done.
So my idea would work, after all. If, that is, we had practical fusion power.
Once I was satisfied with that, I started looking into zero point energy. Specifically I wanted to try to get an idea of how you would build a propulsion system around zero point energy lasers.
...but what I got was a bunch of "free energy" horseshit interspersed with antigravity and perpetual motion nonsense, and every time I thought I'd found a link with some meat to it, instead it turned out to be half-ignorant pseudo-physics. (Okay: if you say "rate of speed" while explaining something to me I tend to disqualify what you're saying, because you might as well be saying "rate of rate" or "speed of speed" since the two terms mean the same thing.)
During my perusals of various pages on nuclear propulsion, though, I came across an excerpt from an out-of-print novel (name forgotten, unfortunately) which looked like it'd be a pretty good story. It was about a guy who was a doctor aboard an interplanetary spaceship (or the moon?) when a solar flare hit, and some people died because they couldn't get to shelter fast enough. I wouldn't mind reading that book.
Another thing on the same page had a rather long quotation from Heinlein's "Green Hills of Earth", which further illustrated the potential perils of using fission to move spacecraft. Heinlein believed (or seemed to) that nuclear power was the only sensible way to do that, but then again he was writing SF before nuclear power was actually in use.
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I think everything has calmed down now, so I'm going to try to get some sleep.