How efficient is iron smelting ?
Well, you've hit the nail on the head there. The problem is public opinion, not science or engineering.
Baby steps in exploring are fine, but baby steps in technology aren't getting us anywhere - literally. Manned space exploration hasn't occured since the last Apollo ship. Space stations just go round in circles and have done so for over 30 years. It's time we did some proper exploring ! Robots are useful, but we need a real giant leap, not yet more small steps. An Orion could do that. Pretty much nothing else, with current technology, could.
I do agree with going back to the Moon first. If you can live off the land there, you can do it on Mars. The Moon is probably an even harsher environment too - less water if any, no atmosphere. Would make a great launch/observing site. Plus, it's an interesting place in its own right. Using an Orion there wouldn't cause any fallout problems whatsoever, either. Still, I can't see any way to establish the infrastructure needed, without MASSIVE costs, on the Moon to do anything useful without an Orion. Hmm, that's something else to look at.
As trivia goes that's very interesting. Should make a great sales pitch to would-be space entrepreneurs. Again though, how would you get substantial masses back to Earth without an Orion ?
(hope I don't sound like an Orion nut... well, maybe I am a little. Too much research I guess)