What kind of propulsion system did that ship use? Could it exist in real life?
In theory, yes. They have tested a few prototypes on the ground. They have yet to build one that flies.
Larry Niven used that type of engine for the rocket the humans used to fight against the alien invaders in Footfall. THe Atomic Energy Commission began testing them in 1955. The Soviets also tested some too, in the late 1950’s. And perhaps after.
Why would Clarke/Kubrick be concerned with the propulsion system when they didn’t have to show it in operation–the ship is in “coasting” mode throughout the movie.
Because they are perfectionists that think out every detail to an insane level.
I was hoping there was a less obvious answer.
A previous thread that may be of interest: https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=857325
There are quite a few differences as to the Discovery and its mission between the 2001: A Space Odyssey script, Clarke’s concurrently-written book, and his later sequel 2010: Odyssey Two (adapted for the screen as 2010: The Year We Make Contact). Perhaps most importantly, the book has the Discovery taking up orbit around Japetus with no fuel left; the sequel (both book and movie) says there’s enough fuel left for Discovery to leave Io orbit to avoid “something wonderful.”
I always figured, as the Leonov dipped into Jupiter’s atmosphere for the aero-braking maneuver, it could fill up it’s fuel tanks with hydrogen with a “ram scoop”.
No “perhaps” about it.
Some cool T-shirts for any fan of the movie, Kubrick or USS Discovery:
To clarify, the Michael, the warship in Footfall, was an Orion engine, not a nuclear-thermal engine.
That link is now dead; try this: Crew of the Discovery in 2001 a Space Odyssey
I have a HAL9000 T-shirt, which I wore when I went to a Terry Pratchett book signing in San Jose. He commented on it.
Not mentioned in the original thread is that the long stem of the ship is to keep the crew as far away from the nuclear engine as possible.
And Discovery was fission-electric, a low-thrust high ISP arc plasma design.