How to make your old Game Boy as good as (or better than) new

24 Apr 2018, 2:45 pm

Enlarge / Fixing and upgrading old Game Boys is a fun way to revive and personalize your old tech; it's also a great excuse for revisiting some classic games. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Old Nintendo consoles are clearly having a Moment.

This interest has been spurred in part by official hardware releases like the NES and SNES Classic Editions, tiny replica consoles that have more in common with your smartphone than with the original hardware. But lots of people still want to dig out their old cartridges and play games on actual hardware, as evidenced by the Analogue NT, the Super NT, and Hyperkin’s unabashed Game Boy Pocket clone.

It’s that last one I want to focus on. Nintendo’s retro revival has so far focused mostly on the classic boxes that you hooked to a TV, ignoring the portables that buoyed Nintendo when home consoles like the GameCube and Wii U faltered. But Hyperkin’s backlit Game Boy clone and the (heretofore totally unsubstantiated) rumors about a Game Boy Classic Edition suggest that people want to relive their long childhood car trips just like they want to relive hours in the basement parked in front of a TV and an NES.

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Experts say Tesla has repeated car industry mistakes from the 1980s

22 Apr 2018, 1:30 pm

Tesla Factory in Fremont, California, 2016. (credit: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr)

Production had been halted for much of last week in Tesla's car factory in Fremont, California, and its battery factory near Clark, Nevada. In a Tuesday note to employees, CEO Elon Musk said that the pause was necessary to lay the groundwork for higher production levels in the coming weeks. Musk said he wants all parts of the company ready to prepare 6,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June, triple the rate Tesla has achieved in the recent weeks.

The announcement caps a nine-month period of turmoil that Musk has described as "production hell" as Tesla has struggled to ramp up production of the Model 3.

Tesla had high hopes for its Model 3 production efforts. In 2016, Musk hired Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger to plan the manufacturing process, and Business Insider described his plans in late 2016: "Hochholdinger's view is that robots could be a much bigger factor in auto production than they are currently, largely because many components are designed to be assembled by humans, not machines."

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Android Go review—Google’s scattershot attempt at a low-end Android OS

20 Apr 2018, 11:00 am

Enlarge (credit: Android)

Here in the US and other developed countries, the smartphone and Internet markets are more or less saturated—most people are online and swiping away at their smartphones. This isn't the case everywhere though—only about half of the worldwide population is on the Internet. That means there are more than 3.5 billion people that don't have access to the largest collection of human knowledge (and dank memes) ever assembled.

These throngs of disconnected people come from poorer countries, so when they do eventually get online, they will do so via the most inexpensive devices they can get. The cheapest online-capable devices we make are also the smallest: smartphones. And on smartphones, unless you're spending several hundred dollars on an Apple device, there's one OS out there: Android.

Google has taken to calling these people the "next billion users" and has been chasing them for some time with various programs. The effort we're looking at today, Android Go, is Google's largest to date. It offers the whole Android package but reworked with entry-level phones in mind.

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Despite alien theories and novel mutations, the real Ata puzzle may be ethical

18 Apr 2018, 12:15 pm

Enlarge (credit: Bhattacharya et al. 2018)

In 2003, Oscar Munoz found a mummy in the Atacama Desert ghost town of La Noria. The six-inch-long mummy, now called Ata, has an elongated skull, oddly shaped eye sockets, and only ten pairs of ribs... which helped fuel wild speculation that she was an alien hybrid. Ata was sold several times—probably illegally—and ended up in the private collection of Barcelona entrepreneur and UFO enthusiast Ramón Navia-Osorio. A 2013 documentary called Sirius soon helped immortalize Ata, focusing heavily on the alien hybrid claims.

When a team led by University of California, San Francisco bioinformatics researcher Sanchita Bhattacharya recently sequenced the tiny mummy’s genome, however, it revealed only a girl of Chilean descent. There were a complicated set of genetic mutations, including some usually associated with bone and growth disorders and a few more that have never been described before. Those mutations, the researchers claim, may help explain her unusual appearance.

It’s easy to see why the team's March paper attracted so much interest: a high-profile urban legend was fully debunked at last, but now there were hints at compelling medical discoveries. Most press outlets presented the results as conclusive, cut-and-dried science—except for a few UFO fan sites that loudly insisted the study was part of a cover-up. But even beyond the extraterrestrial exchanges, things have gotten very complicated, both in terms of the scientific claims and in terms of whether the research should have been done at all.

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The billion-dollar question: How does the Clipper mission get to Europa?

16 Apr 2018, 12:30 pm

Enlarge / The politics of getting to Europa are anything but straightforward. (credit: NASA)

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif.—At one end of the conference room, four large window panes framed a view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Outside, ribbons of greenery snaked across the hills, a vestige of spring before the dry summer season descends upon Los Angeles.

Inside, deep in discussion, a dozen men and women sat around a long, oval-shaped wooden conference table. They were debating how best to send a daring mission, known as Europa Clipper, to Jupiter’s mysterious, icy moon Europa. Although hundreds of scientists and engineers were already planning and designing this spacecraft, the key decisions were being made in this room on the top floor of the administrative building at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It will not be cheap or easy to reach Europa, which lies within the complicated gravitational tangle of Jupiter and its dozens of moons, 600 million kilometers from Earth. But the payoff, scientists feel, is potentially incalculable. Beneath Europa’s ice, perhaps just a few kilometers down in some areas, lies the most vast ocean known to humans. With abundant energy emanating from the moon’s interior into the ocean, scientists speculate life might exist—probably just microbes, but why not something krill-like, too?

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God of War (2018): How to reinvent a beloved series without ruining what works

12 Apr 2018, 7:01 am

Enlarge / "It really has been a meaningful journey full of mutual understanding, hasn't it son?" / "Dad, let go, I want to go play with my friends!"

Hey, remember Kratos? You know, Kratos... the bloodthirsty Greek god in the God of War series who slaughtered thousands upon thousands of victims, both mortal and immortal, with an icy cold heart largely devoid of mercy?

Well... get this. What if Kratos had a kid sidekick? And what if that kid was a sickly, sensitive weakling? Wouldn't that just be crazy?

This concept drives the new God of War reboot for the PS4, and at the start it plays out a lot like the cringe-worthy, sitcom-level twist you'd expect from such a pitch. Kratos is now bearded, slightly more aged, and relocated to the cold and unfamiliar climes of Scandinavia. He's paying his final respects to a wife we don't get to see. Left behind with Kratos is a son, the small and frail Atreus, who is over-eager to accompany his dad on a quest to spread his mom's ashes from "the highest peak in all the realms." (That's a welcome respite from the usual "save/destroy the world" impetus driving most action games, at least.)

After a slow and somewhat annoying start, though, Atreus proves to be just the shot in the arm this series needed for a new generation of consoles and players. The addition of a child to play off adds much-needed depth and development to the remorseless revenge machine featured in previous God of War games.

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The way we regulate self-driving cars is broken—here’s how to fix it

10 Apr 2018, 12:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Last month, an Uber self-driving car struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. The tragedy highlights the need for a fundamental rethink of the way the federal government regulates car safety.

The key issue is this: the current system is built around an assumption that cars will be purchased and owned by customers. But the pioneers of the driverless world—including Waymo, Cruise, and Uber—are not planning to sell cars to the public. Instead, they're planning to build driverless taxi services that customers will buy one ride at a time.

This has big implications for the way regulators approach their jobs. Federal car regulations focus on ensuring that a car is safe at the moment it rolls off the assembly line. But as last month's crash makes clear, the safety of a driverless taxi service depends on a lot more than just the physical features of the cars themselves.

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Huawei Matebook X Pro review: No longer just a MacBook clone

10 Apr 2018, 11:45 am

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Last year's Matebook X pushed Huawei further into the PC market than it ever had been before. While it had a design that allowed it to masquerade as a trendy ultrabook, it demanded quite a few compromises from users. Its sub-par battery life and too-little memory, among other shortcomings, made the Matebook X less attractive than its shiny exterior suggested.

Huawei zeroed-in on the shortcomings of the Matebook X with its successor: the new Matebook X Pro. On paper, the new laptop appears leaps and bounds better than the original: an 8th-gen CPU, a 3K touchscreen, an estimated 15-hour battery life, and even a discrete graphics card.

But beefing up the Matebook X Pro forced Huawei to make a few sacrifices. Thankfully, those sacrifices do not overshadow the well-executed improvements that make this device a more capable laptop than the original.

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How to keep your ISP’s nose out of your browser history with encrypted DNS

8 Apr 2018, 4:00 pm

Encrypting DNS traffic between your device and a "privacy-focused" provider can keep someone from spying on where your browser is pointed or using DNS attacks to send you somewhere else. (credit: Westend61 / Getty Images)

The death of network neutrality and the loosening of regulations on how Internet providers handle customers' network traffic have raised many concerns over privacy. Internet providers (and others watching traffic as it passes over the Internet) have long had a tool that allows them to monitor individuals' Internet habits with ease: their Domain Name System (DNS) servers. And if they haven't been cashing in on that data already (or using it to change how you see the Internet), they likely soon will.

DNS services are the phone books of the Internet, providing the actual Internet Protocol (IP) network address associated with websites' and other Internet services' host and domain names. They turn arstechnica.com into 50.31.169.131, for example. Your Internet provider offers up DNS as part of your service, but your provider could also log your DNS traffic—in essence, recording your entire browsing history.

"Open" DNS services provide a way of bypassing ISPs' services for reasons of privacy and security—and in some places, evading content filtering, surveillance, and censorship. And on April 1 (not a joke), Cloudflare launched its own new, free high-performance authoritative DNS service designed to enhance users' privacy on the Internet. This new offering also promised a way to hide DNS traffic completely from view—encryption.

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2018 iPad review: Content creation with compromises

6 Apr 2018, 9:30 pm

Enlarge / The 2018 iPad running iOS 11.3. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Just like last year's iPad, this year's model is still the best tablet at its price point for watching videos, playing games, reading emails, and browsing the Web. But by adding Pencil support and extolling the device's virtues for educators, Apple has tried to position this new release as an entry-level machine not just for consuming content but for creating it.

In 2017, iPad sales grew year over year for the first time since 2013. Obviously, Apple improved the iPad Pro by introducing a 120Hz display, but it might have been that year's low-end, $329 iPad—which we had good things to say about—that finally started to move the needle upward.

This year's edition is almost exactly the same iPad. The price point, display, design, camera, and most of the internals are identical. The only substantial changes are Apple Pencil support and an upgrade to the A10 processor that Apple used in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

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Lumber’s lure: Thanks to physics, viable biofuel may grow in the woods

5 Apr 2018, 4:00 pm

Enlarge / A tourist walks in the Redwood forest amongst tall trees in Rotorua, New Zealand. (credit: Matteo Colombo / Getty Images)

ROTORUA, New Zealand—My pitches to Ars' editors are, in contrast to my articles, short and to the point. "I'm going to New Zealand soon. They have a big forestry industry and there is a local research institute trying to turn waste wood into biofuels. I think that would make an excellent story."

In my mind, its acceptance was equally brief: "Sweet as. Enjoy your trip to biochemistry land."

Today, biofuels may conjure images of ears of corn or Priuses for US readers, but the domestic industry has been as much about politics lately as it has been about scientific innovation. While researchers and scientific organizations have looked into finding green energy sources in everything from human waste to humble algaestate and federal governments continue to tangle over how much of a priority this area should be.

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HTC Vive Pro review: Eye-popping VR, with a price that’s a little too real

3 Apr 2018, 1:00 pm

Enlarge / Blue is the new black. (credit: Kyle Orland)

Headset specs
HTC Vive Pro HTC Vive
Display 2880×1600 (1440×1600 per eye) AMOLED panels 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye) AMOLED panels
Refresh rate 90 Hz 90 Hz
Field of view 110 degrees 110 degrees
Audio Integrated adjustable earcups with 3D directional audio support; built-in microphone Audio extension dongle to plug generic headphones to headset; built-in microphone
PC connection Custom single-piece cable with PC junction box Three-part multi-cable (HDMI, USB, power) with PC junction box
Included Accessories None Two wireless motion-tracked controllers with rechargeable 960mAh batteries, two SteamVR 1.0 room-scale tracking stations
Included games Six-month Viveport subscription (offered until June 3) Fallout 4 VR, two-month Viveport subscription
Price $799 ($1,099 with two tracking stations, two controllers) $499

With the consumer-level virtual reality "revolution" now two years old, it's about time to start thinking about what the second generation of high-end headsets can improve upon. But HTC’s first true shot at the "next generation" has us thinking less about the improvements and more about the cost.

HTC's Vive Pro, launching this week, comes with a name and a price tag ($799 for an upgrade from the original Vive, or $1,099 for new Vive owners) that suggests a revelatory jump in the VR experience, well beyond what already wowed us in early 2016. But in practice, the Vive Pro feels more like a subtle refinement of existing ideas rather than a true next-generation follow-up.

In short, the new headset smooths out many of the biggest annoyances with the original Vive: there's a more comfortable headstrap, integrated "spatial audio" headphones, and a higher-resolution screen that makes details pop in virtual reality. Those improvements make the Vive Pro quite possibly the best VR headset currently available for general consumer use.

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The 25th-anniversary ThinkPad: Every laptop should add some retro appeal

1 Apr 2018, 1:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Peter Bright)

I'm a ThinkPad fanboy. I have been for years.

Ars Technica may earn a commission on this sale.

Starts at: $1,709.10 at Lenovo

Buy

For me, a ThinkPad brings together several essential elements. I'm sure y'all are bored with me banging on about the TrackPoint—the red nipple situated between the G, H, and B keys that serves as a kind of joystick for moving the mouse cursor—but I continue to believe that they're better for cursor input than any touchpad ever made. Yes, I've used Apple's touchpads. No, I won't change my mind. Touchpads are nice for gestures, and so I'm glad that modern ThinkPads come with both, but for core mousing, the TrackPoint is unbeatable.

A 25-year legacy

The black, somewhat-angular, carbon-fibre ThinkPad aesthetic speaks to me. ThinkPads have a timeless elegance to them. While the look has evolved—corners are a little more rounded, overhangs and lips on lids have been eliminated, the latches are gone, and so on—there's a clear, hereditary link between today's ThinkPads and those of the IBM era. They look like serious working machines.

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Crafty new engine tech, two electric SUVs among best at New York Auto Show

30 Mar 2018, 1:33 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Jonathan Gitlin)

NEW YORK—The New York International Auto Show opened its doors to the public on Friday morning. In recent years, it has found its place as the most important of the American auto shows—Los Angeles and Detroit have been cannibalized by CES and preempted by foreign shows, all to the Big Apple's benefit. This year's event didn't disappoint, as we discovered during the press preview days held earlier this week. There will be plenty more NYIAS content from us in the next few days, but let's kick things off with our Best Of awards.

Outstanding in the Automotive Technology field: Nissan VC-Turbo engine

Since this is a technology publication, I'll begin with our award for the coolest technology on display. I was tempted to give the honor to Waymo, which has just partnered with Jaguar to build tens of thousands of self-driving electric SUVs. Waymo is light years ahead of the competition for driverless technology, but these robo-taxis won't actually be deployed for another two years, so we'll save that one for a later date.

Another strong contender is Cadillac's all-new V8, which will appear in a V-Sport version of the CT6 luxury sedan. It's a 4.2L V8 putting out 550hp (410kW) and 627ft-lbs (850Nm), courtesy of twin turbochargers. These nestle on top of the engine, between the cylinders—a so-called "hot V," as found in current Formula 1 engines. The engine will be unique to Cadillac, although it's rumored a version with a more conventional turbocharger arrangement (with the intakes on the outside of the V) will appear in the mid-engined Corvette that's still not confirmed but everyone knows is on its way.

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A history of the Amiga, part 12: Red vs. Blue

29 Mar 2018, 12:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Jeremy Reimer)

The year 2000, which once seemed so impossibly futuristic, had finally arrived. Bill McEwen, president of the new Amiga Inc., celebrated with a press release telling the world why he had bought the subsidiary from Gateway Computers.

“Gateway purchased Amiga because of Patents; we purchased Amiga because of the People.” It was a bold statement, the first of many that would come from the fledgling company. Amiga Inc. now owned the name, trademark, logos, all existing inventory (there were still a few Escom-era A1200s and A4000s left), the Amiga OS, and a permanent license to all Amiga-related patents. They had also inherited Jim Collas’ dream of a revolutionary new Amiga device, but none of the talent and resources that Gateway had been able to bring to bear.

To chase this dream, Amiga Inc. would have to look elsewhere. McEwen thought he had found the answer in an obscure British technology startup. This was the Tao Group, started by Francis Charig, a UK businessman, and Chris Hinsley, a talented Atari and Amiga games programmer who wrote in assembler.

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Everything a VR studio had to do to port to the Mac

28 Mar 2018, 12:00 pm

Samuel Axon

CULVER CITY, Calif.—When Apple unveiled the iMac Pro in December, it did so with an assist from third-party developers. The company showcased creators who were working on applications that applied the iMac Pro's capabilities to new things previously not possible on prior, less-capable Mac hardware. Most notably, more than one dev was using the iMac Pro for virtual reality (VR) development, something Apple had announced its intentions to support at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June of last year.

One of the participating studios, Survios, had been approached by Apple to port its new title Electronauts to macOS. Electronauts is a virtual music-production tool that allows the user to DJ quantized music with various 3D tools, as if they were standing on a stage surrounded by equipment.

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Fitbit Versa review: Slowly but surely pushing Fitbit past the “fit” bit

26 Mar 2018, 1:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Every company hopes to make a device that appeals to the masses. But when you're a company like Fitbit, known for its fitness expertise, it can be harder to clear the mental hurdle in consumers' heads that separates what you're known for and what you want to be. People who prioritize wearable features that aren't fitness-related may not even look to Fitbit when considering a new device, because fitness is so deeply ingrained into the company's identity.

Fitbit's core will always be health and fitness, but the company is actively trying to make devices that appeal to people who don't necessarily place their exercise and dieting regime on a pedestal. The new $200 Versa smartwatch speaks to those users as a wearable designed for "mass appeal." With its combination of Fitbit-developed fitness features and Pebble-influenced smartwatch capabilities, the Versa aims to bring more users into the Fitbit ecosystem with the promise that it can add value and convenience to all parts of your life.

Design

It's not shocking that the Versa stands tall as Fitbit's most polished smartwatch to date. The company learned a lot since coming out with its two previous smartwatches (the Blaze and the Ionic) and since purchasing Pebble at the end of 2016. Pebble loyalists will immediately recognize the Versa's design as a Pebble derivative; it closely resembles the Pebble Time Steel.

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Xiaomi Mi A1 review—A $220 iPhone clone with stock Android? Sign us up

26 Mar 2018, 11:30 am

Ron Amadeo

While Xiaomi keeps pushing back its attempts to get a serious foothold in the US, it's still fun to take a look at one of their phones once in a while. Today, we're looking at one of the highest-profile Android One devices out there, the Xiaomi Mi A1. With this phone, you get Xiaomi's typically great (if unoriginal) hardware with a mostly unaltered build of Android, which makes for a pretty awesome combo, especially for the low, low price of $220.

Xiaomi phones are often pretty difficult to purchase, but this phone, as part of the Android One program, is getting a rollout to more than 40 countries, along with a bit of a push from Google itself. None of those countries is officially the United States, but the Mi A1 is just a click away on Amazon. The problem you'll run into is with the LTE compatibility, but with band 4 it is partially compatible with T-Mobile and, if you're lucky, some Verizon and AT&T signals. There's also always Wi-Fi.

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The Mac gaming console that time forgot

24 Mar 2018, 1:00 pm

Enlarge / Nope, that's not an Xbox, Playstation, or even a Dreamcast... (credit: Macgeek.org's Museum)

Apple in mid-1993 was reeling. Amidst declining Mac sales, Microsoft had gained a stranglehold over the PC industry. Worse, the previous year Apple had spent $600 million on research and development, on products such as laser printers, powered speakers, color monitors, and the Newton MessagePad system—the first device to be branded a "personal digital assistant," or PDA. But little return had yet come from it—or indeed looked likely to come from it.

The Newton's unreliable handwriting recognition was quickly becoming the butt of jokes. Adding to the turmoil, engineering and marketing teams were readying for a radical transition from the Motorola 68k (also known as the 680x0) family of microprocessors that had powered the Mac since 1984 to the PowerPC, a new, more powerful computer architecture that was jointly developed by Apple, Motorola, and IBM. Macs with 68k processors wouldn't be able to run software built for PowerPC. Similarly, software built for 68k Macs would need to be updated to take advantage of the superior PowerPC.

It was in this environment that COO Michael Spindler—a German engineer and strategist who'd climbed through the ranks of Apple in Europe to the very top layer of executive management—was elevated to CEO. (The previous CEO, John Sculley, was asked to resign.) Spindler spearheaded a radical and cost-heavy reorganisation of the company, which harmed morale and increased the chaos, and he developed a reputation for having horrendous people skills. He'd hold meetings in which he'd ramble incoherently, scribble illegible notes on a whiteboard, then leave before anybody could ask a question, and his office was usually closed.

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Best bad idea ever? Why Putin’s nuclear-powered missile is possible… and awful

22 Mar 2018, 11:00 am

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In a March 1, 2018 speech before Russia's Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed new strategic weapons being developed to counter United States ballistic missile defenses. Two of these weapons are allegedly nuclear powered: a previously revealed intercontinental-range nuclear torpedo and a cruise missile. As Putin described them:

Russia’s advanced arms are based on the cutting-edge, unique achievements of our scientists, designers, and engineers. One of them is a small-scale, heavy-duty nuclear energy unit that can be installed in a missile like our latest X-101 air-launched missile or the American Tomahawk missile—a similar type but with a range dozens of times longer, dozens—basically an unlimited range. It is a low-flying stealth missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with almost an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception boundaries. It is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.

Defense and nuclear disarmament experts did a double take. "I'm still kind of in shock," Edward Geist, a Rand Corporation researcher specializing in Russia, told NPR. "My guess is they're not bluffing, that they've flight-tested this thing. But that's incredible."

This is not the first time a government has worked on a nuclear-powered strategic weapon. Decades ago, the US developed engines first for a proposed nuclear-powered bomber and then for a hypersonic nuclear cruise missile. The US has also examined nuclear-powered rockets for space flight (that crazy Project Orion thing is a story for another time). These programs were all dropped, not because they didn't work but because they were deemed impractical.

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