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Test vehicle for NASA’s Project Orion.

Project Orion was a concept of a spacecraft that would be used for interstellar travel. The ship would achieve propulsion by detonating nuclear explosions against a collision plate at the bottom of the ship, kicking the ship along in a kind of nuclear “putt-putt” motion. According to Carl Sagan in Cosmos, development of Orion was set aside when the United States signed a treaty that forbade the detonation of nuclear weapons in space. “This seems to me a great pity,” Sagan writes. “The Orion starship is the best use of nuclear weapons I can think of.”

The test vehicle pictured here was actually flown in 1959 (using conventional charges, not nukes). It remains the only live test of an Orion vehicle to date. More on Project Orion can be found here.

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