Broadcast 2825 Open Lines

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Guest:  Open Lines with Dr. David Livingston; Topics:  Nuclear rocket propulsion, chemical rockets, SpaceX Mars travel times & much more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,   Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See

Welcome to our Open Lines program with listener driven discussion topics. During the first segment of the 2 hour 18 minute program, our first caller was our long time friend and frequent guest on nuclear topics, Dave Ketchledge.  Dave told us about his visit to the Las Vegas National Atomic Testing Museum ( and coming face to face with an operational NERVA nuclear rocket engine!  Dave described the engine for us, talked about the special control rods it used, Boron 10, and said it was capable of around 800 ISP. He provided comparison stats with other known successful rockets including the shuttle rocket engines and the Saturn 5.  Dave also said the engine was still usable.  We then discussed policy, economic, and leadership issues which seem to prevent us from going forward with developing nuclear propulsion.  Since this is a frequent Space Show topic, I drilled Dave on why we don't seem to move forward, especially since for more than a decade we have been talking to nuclear rocket proponents and we know its possible and there is certainly interest in doing it.  Some of the reasons Dave and I talked about included a lack of commercial markets for nuclear propulsion, the lack of political leadership, fear of anything nuclear, and poor economics given the absence of a commercial market.  During Dave's call, several listeners asked him questions.  Another topic he brought up was the need for a nuclear rocket to go beyond the Moon.  In the context of his comments, I asked him about the Mars travel times suggested by Mr. Musk when talking about his Mars plans, noting that Musk will be using a very large chemical rocket.  Don't miss this discussion.  Toward the end of his call, I asked him about life aboard a nuclear submarine given his duty in the navy.

In the second segment, we started off with a call from Dr. Jurist who wanted to comment on some of the things Dave talked about.  Not only did John talk about technical issues with proposed nuclear propulsion, he addressed the suggested Elon Musk Mars travel times using chemical rockets and he explained why he was skeptical about significantly faster travel times.  Don't miss what he said.  Let us know your thoughts with comments on the blog.  I asked John some more questions about his work on the acoustic signature issues for very large rockets.  John went over the issues concerning this matter and explained why this is an important challenge to overcome and why it may be very hard to overcome.  John then talked about the lack of leadership for nuclear propulsion and the poor education we have for science and STEM that feeds into the nuclear fear issue. I referenced a current U.S. News and World Report article ( that summarized the U.S. decline in math, science and reading capabilities when compared to other countries.  If we are to improve education in science and STEM subjects plus others, the U.S. has lots to do to improve our educational system.  If we want future forward thinking leadership, it has to start with early education and things do not seem to be improving.  Education is key to advanced technology policy and usage, including the development of nuclear propulsion.  That said, even with much needed improvements in our education system, the facts remain that there is no commercial market at this time for nuclear propulsion and since space seems to continue onward, including exciting planetary missions, all of which use chemical rockets, there is likely not going to be a public sector push for this more costly technology at this time. Note the regulatory cost issues for anything nuclear that Dave mentioned in his first segment call.   The Space Show will continue talking about nuclear propulsion but we realize it will be really hard to get beyond rhetoric at this time. 

During the conversation with John, he pointed out that the use of the word nuclear can be a marketing show stopper. He used the example of the medical device originally known as the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging machine.  The real popularity of this device did not happen until the industry dropped the word "nuclear" and started referring to it as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (MRI).  In keeping with my sometimes satirical humor, I suggested we rename nuclear propulsion to avoid using the word nuclear.  The name I suggested was "Safe Space Propulsion" given the new drive by many in our schools and population who seek "safe" place havens.  What do you think?  Should we trade nuclear propulsion for Safe Space Propulsion?  Should we learn some history from the all important MRI technology?

After John's call, Jerry Everett from Merit Island, Florida called us.  He attempted to answer the question I posed to John regarding why some see challenges and problems from the same information and physics that Musk and others use to see possibilities.  This related to the Musk potential Mars travel times using his huge Mars rocket that he says he will develop.  Tell us what you think about Jerry's reasoning.  Jerry also provided us with more technical information regarding the SpaceX Raptor engine and proposed chamber pressure.  Later in our discussion, I asked Jerry if he could see progress on pad 39A or the Falcon 9 pad repairs.  He said he goes to the beach and can see what is going on through binoculars.  He talked about what he saw at both sites and said that SpaceX was concentrating on getting 39A ready for the Falcon Heavy.  In addition, Jerry updated us on the Falcon 9 return to flight which he said is being rescheduled for January. 

Jerry and I spent some time catching up with one another as we are friends and I enjoy my visits with him when I am in Florida. He has not been able to call the show in recent times due to health issues.  I also talked about my wanting to attend the AIAA Space 2017 gig in Orlando next September and then go back to Cocoa Beach to visit friends and more.  Before our conversation ended, we talked about Jerry's interest in reviving the Marine Corp SUSTAIN project by having sent the Marine Core Commandant a letter about SUSTAIN and including the paper Dr. Jurist, Dave Hook, and I wrote as part of the 2009 SUSTAIN and the Responsive Space Conference. He copied his letter to Ms. Shotwell at SpaceX.   I talked about a possible webinar with John and Dave as to how we might update our SUSTAIN proposal given advances in technology and spaceflight since 2009. 

Please post your comments/questions in the comments section for this show archived on The Space Show website.  If you want to contact any of our callers, you can do so through me.






Open Lines discussion for all space and STEM topics

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06 Dec 2016 Dr. David Livingston
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