I didn’t realize that we had the technology needed for fusion engines yet!
A common theme on this blog is science advances that were anticipated or inspired by science fiction, and this one is no exception. This fusion engine sounds very much like the fictional Lyle Drive mentioned at the beginning of Robert Heinlein’s famous work Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961:
The first human expedition to Mars was selected on the theory that the greatest danger to man was man himself. At that time […], an interplanetary trip made by humans had to be made in free-fall orbits — from Terra to Mars, two hundred fifty-eight Terran days, the same for return, plus four hundred fifty-five days waiting at Mars while the planets crawled back into positions for the return orbit. […]
A quarter of an Earth century passed before Mars was again visited by humans. […] Federation Ship Champion […] made the crossing under Lyle Drive in nineteen days. […]
It would be proper homage to a great master of science fiction if this as-yet-unnamed interplanetary drive were called the “Lyle Drive.” NASA: hint, hint. 😉
The most powerful method of propulsion that’s currently available uses nuclear bombs as the fuel, of which we have more than enough in our stockpiles to propel a ship. Carl Sagan mentioned it in “Cosmos” I think. He also mentioned, however, that space nuclear-weapons are forbidden by treaty and that it leaves a heck of a radiation trail. Also, even with this technology, it would take a thousand years to reach the nearest star.
It was also used in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s SF book Footfall (which, as I recall it, was very good), and probably other SF books that I haven’t read. You’re right that it’s not viable for manned interstellar travel at present, but it could be used for interplanetary travel… except, of course, that the “fuel” can be easily repurposed to something so destructive.
Speaking of Pournelle, I used to love reading his “Chaos Manor” column in the much-lamented Byte Magazine. What happened to that, does he blog it now somewhere instead?
Never saw it (I don’t, and didn’t, read magazines… too busy writing code). But a web search turns up this link: http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/
I don ‘t read magazines anymore either, they’re “a ghost town” now, a victim of their inability to adapt to the Internet.
Back in the 8 bit era though and even afterwards, Byte was about the only multiplatform journal, and it had a lot of information about programming and hardware internals from a programmer’s perpective. It was one of the last, if ever, computer magazines to be dumbed down. (It wasn’t called “The Journal of Microcomputers” for nothing, it was also the oldest, it was around back before the Apple II and Radio Shack when they were just kits….)
Byte is no longer published, and none of the other computer mags are worth reading, they’re either slender dumbed-down relics of their former selves, or like “Dr. Dobbs”, have become enterprise-market ads rather than sources of reliable and useful information.