Russia is back in the space race, baby, and this time they're going nuclear!
Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov promises a design by 2012 of a nuclear powered interplanetary vehicle for a very reasonable £364 million. I'm not going to pretend figures of such magnitude mean much within my reality, but that does seem pretty good value for a spaceship with the potential of going to Mars. The Millennium Dome cost about twice that amount and it didn't go anywhere.
Of course, there is a chasm between between saying you'd like a nuclear spaceship and actually having one. This type of crazy talk has occurred before, in the first flourish of space racing. Project Orion, initiated by NASA in 1958, proposed a massive vehicle capable of taking sixty passengers to the Moon, Mars and beyond by ejecting nuclear bombs from its rear. Shock absorbers would then allow the craft to ride the shock waves up into space like a huge pogo stick. Orion spent five years in development until the Partial Test Treaty Ban put an end to the project in 1963. The Americans envisaged actually shifting the spaceship off the Earth on waves of nuclear detonations - it might be that Russia has similar propulsion ideas but would construct the vehicle in orbit, ferrying materials up on conventional rockets.
I love all this lunatic behaviour. It seems it takes a bit of good old fashioned macho, mine is bigger than yours competition to get a rocket up, so to speak, so I really love that Russia have waded in with such ridiculous ambition. I hope this gets Chinese and American heckles raised. After all, space travel is ridiculously ambitious. This is what the Human Race is all about; you don't see the dolphins getting off their fins and flying to the moon. Lazy sods.