I should stick to Fembot research and NOT the history of blowing up H-bombs in space


I just spent about 90 minutes on something I do all too often: Making sure I right the wrong of somebody being WRONG on the internet. Of course, I await my gratitude, along with my gratuity, in the mail.

AND it had to do with a 1970s cult science fiction show – Space 1999 – and the use of explosions and shockwaves in space. I ride the rapids of important discussion AND trendy pop culture here. I don’t have a phaser or a Star Trek uniform though. Never plan to get one – the uniform, that is. I would get the phaser if I could in an atomic second.

It was all simple – there would be no shockwave in deep space. End of story. So, naturally, somebody balked at this posting/reply in one of the Facebook groups I lurk on. And, well, I had to run off and shoot down the windmill theory of there being blast waves in space.

In another life, for about a decade, I wrote about the United States space program, and the Pentagon’s various missile defense programs. Sometimes, I even wrote about international space programs. Moreover, I understood some of what I wrote.

I never got to sneak the word “moreover” into the published article, however. (Editors hate words like “thusly” and “moreover.” All those eighth graders who read the newspapers would be offended, I guess.)

Heretowith, while I was doing what I knew would be a short fact check round up on the internet about nukes and space shockwaves, I found out that yes and no there are no shockwaves – made of “air” or atmosphere – in space; there is no atmo in space to cause a shockwave like you see with a conventional explosive on all those cool, realistic war shows.  Also, with my own blog, I can use the word atmo, which I have wanted to do when I would write stories about missile defense.

However, there seems to be wiggle room owing to the fact that a nuclear blast could create a plasma cloud that would act as a shockwave. Well, damn you Internet for being so definitively wishy washy.

Here’s what I answered a fellow Space 1999 lover when he challenged my knowledge of space shockwaves:

” … there are a few schools of thought. One is that an exploding nuclear device would create a plasma cloud that could act as a shockwave, but not as potent as atmospheric gases or a mostly Oxygen-Nitrogen-Co2 mixture like we have on Earth. . 

The other is that no “air” means no shockwave. From NASA: “If a nuclear weapon is exploded in a vacuum-i. e., in space-the complexion of weapon effects changes drastically:
First, in the absence of an atmosphere, blast disappears completely. …”


In 1962, the United States exploded a hydrogen bomb at about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface as part of a test of high altitude nuclear explosions called “Starfish Prime.” 

IN 1958, the X-17 rockets lofted three “Operation Argus” warheads into low Earth orbit, the highest – Argus III – being 325 miles above the surface. There is still a slight atmosphere at this altitude, and when solar storms kick up unexpectedly then it can cause a drag effect via atmosphere and other particles on satellites like NASA’s Skylab in the 1970s and, today, the International Space Station. 

In the late 1950s, Project Orion was an American research and engineering effort that was intended to build a spaceship that would be propelled by ejected nuclear warheads which would detonate away from a massive plate at the rear of the vehicle and this would “push” the ship via the impulse of the blast. It was abandoned after the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban treaty, and really hadn’t got much past the concept phase. (Interesting story however and is documented by George Dyson in the book Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. Dyson’s father is Freeman Dyson who worked on the project and is a well regarded scientist.)

I tend to believe outside of Earth orbit there wouldn’t be enough of an atmosphere or space particles to cause a shockwave. Debris could still tear through a space vehicle, however. But animating a shockwave is easier than illustrating a “shotgun” blast of debris in space.”


All that and I managed to do one achievement: Not convince the doubters of a thing.

I should just stick to trying to raise venture capital for the creation of the first true FemBot and leave all this Internet wrong righting to those overflowing with dedication. And the fact we exploded all those bombs in space – “outer” space as it was called then – gives me the shakes.

The Colonel

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3 responses to “I should stick to Fembot research and NOT the history of blowing up H-bombs in space”

  1. Tim Spires says :

    LMAO, from your linked article: “[Van Allen] agreed with the military to get involved with a project to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to see if they could disrupt it.” Yes, that was my thought also. Perhaps we should detonate a nuclear device in the upper Thermosphere just to see if we can screw with that big invisible shield that protects us from cosmic radiation.

    • sgspires68 says :

      It is frightening to read what people thought they could do/get away with in regards to atomic energy and nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. My favorite is that USAF Gen. Curt LeMay – along with the Joint Chiefs – wanted to detonate a series of atom bombs up and down the borders of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and South Vietnam to close down the supply routes and infiltration routes into South Vietnam – aka “the Ho Chi Mihn Trail.” Serious, it was a plan with some traction early in our involvement in Southeast Asia, although President Kennedy and his brother Bobby said it was insane. The Cuban Missile Crisis put the kybosh on it. Also, the USAF wanted to build a bomber powered by nuclear fuel, and Ford actually developed a concept car that would use nuclear rods as power (that one still makes me shudder when you think of the number of auto accidents). Thankfully, these never left the drawing boards.

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