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"It was [H.G. Wells'] adolescent fiction, his imaginative stories, that live forever - and yet are not acknowledged in literature classes as being great literature. So to hell with the academics!"
- Greg Bear

Michael (Orion Ship)  
  A spacecraft using nuclear bombs for propulsion.  

The Earth is attacked from space; all military forces and spaceports are destroyed. How can humanity get back into space with what they have, and destroy the invaders?

The screens hadn't changed in several minutes. One, from a camera on the dome wall, showed Michael in full. Two great towers stood on the curve of the hemispherical shell, with cannon showing beneath the lip, aimed inward. Four smaller towers flanked them. A brick-shaped structure rose above them. The Brick was much less massive than the Shell, but its sides were covered with spacecraft: tiny gunships, and four Shuttles with tanks but no boosters. The Brick's massive roof ran beyond the flanks to shield the Shuttles and gunships.
From Footfall, by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle).
Published by Ballantine in 1985
Additional resources -

There was a real Project Orion; it originated at General Atomics in San Diego. Physicist Theodore Taylor and others examined the feasibility of a nuclear-pulse rocket powered by nuclear fission. The original idea was put forward by Stanislaw Ulam and Cornelius Everett in 1955. Bombs set off on one side of a pusher plate with some solid propellant material would push on the plate, moving the craft forward.

Aldo Spadoni of Aerospace Imagnineering has created detailed technical drawings of Michael, working with Larry Niven.


(Michael [Drawing by Aldo Spadoni])

Read more about the real Orion Project.

Here's another example of the same idea, the Atomic Pulse Rocket. I believe the cool picture is part of an ad campaign for American Bosch Arma (a defense contractor) in 1958-59.


(Atomic Pulse Rocket [American Bosch Arma])

Weighing in at about 75,000 tons, and roughly the size of the Empire State Building, this behemoth would leave the atmosphere under the influence of about a thousand atomic blasts.

Each atom bomb is fired from a low-velocity gun into a heavy steel rocket engine at the rate of one per second. Steam and vaporized steel from the combustion chamber maintain thrust. Living quarters are housed in the wheel-like cabin, which can of course be spun for artificial gravity.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Footfall
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)
  Tech news articles related to Footfall
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)

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