|An illustration of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion. (Image: © NASA/Marshall)|
Topics: Mars, NASA, Nuclear Fission, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
Humanity's next giant leap could be enabled by next-gen nuclear tech, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
During the sixth meeting of the National Space Council (NSC) today (Aug. 20), the NASA chief lauded the potential of nuclear thermal propulsion, which would harness the heat thrown off by fission reactions to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen to tremendous speeds.
Spacecraft powered by such engines could conceivably reach Mars in just three to four months — about half the time of the fastest possible trip in a vehicle with traditional chemical propulsion, said NSC panelist Rex Geveden, the president and CEO of BWX Technologies Inc.
And that's a big deal for NASA, which is working to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
"That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve," Bridenstine said. "That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars."