Book: Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein (1947)
Heinlein has a serious fondness for “atomic energy”. Machines are powered by it in his future and space travel is possible because of it.
Undoubtedly there are umpteen sci-fi books that contain storylines contingent on nuclear power (same thing as atomic power).
It’s a major theme in this book, Rocket Ship Galileo. I was almost bored at first since teenage boy 1950s banter is not my thing. Neither are rockets. But the story grabbed me when the boys and the doctor finally get on their way to the moon using atomic energy.
I got a hoot out of the doctor smoking his pipe in the rocket, and one of the boys thinking he forgot to bring a can opener.
And like in another work of Heinlein’s, The Man Who Sold the World, the concept of a previously inhabited moon arises.
When they get to the moon and are staring out at the endless craters that do not appear to be caused by volcanic action, one of the boys says “The moon people. They did it. They wrecked themselves. They ruined themselves. They had one atomic war too many.”
Meaning they blew themselves up by atomic energy, creating the desolate moonscape.
How atomic energy is used to power the rocket is described:
“He twisted the knob slowly to the right. Back behind him, actuated by remote control, cadmium shields slowly withdrew from between lattices of graphite and thorium; uncountable millions of neutrons found it easier to seek atoms of thorium to destroy. The tortured nuclei, giving up the ghost, spent their energy in boiling the molten zinc.”
I don’t know how that matches up with the actual science, but I sure like the knob part! lol
Turns out, you can make your own Rocket Ship Galileo!! Atomic engine sold separately 😉