Rocket Powered By Special Nuclear Fuel Could Get Us To Mars In Just Three Months
Combining nuclear power with rockets may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but it could help to send people to Mars faster.
Despite the desire to send people to Mars, there are practical issues that prevent large-scale missions. One of the most important elements in travelling to Mars is the time it takes, with a return trip for astronauts requiring an estimated three years.
Seattle-based company Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC-Tech) has now come forward with a solution: nuclear-powered rockets.
It is believed that through a system of nuclear thermal propulsion, astronauts would be able to be transported to Mars in just three months. This is much shorter than the quickest time that has been estimated for astronauts, which would be nine months. However, this idea has been around since the 1940s and isn’t without its obstacles.
The biggest issue with nuclear travel is the possible radiation that could lead to cancer, infertility or radiation sickness. However, USNC-Tech has designed the rocket to protect passengers – between the reactor and the crew will be liquid propellants that are designed to stop radiation affecting the astronauts.
The ship would also launch in space to protect people from radiation, and it would also mean that if an accident were to happen, the nuclear energy would not land on a planet for thousands of years, meaning the materials would be safe by the time they landed. On top of that, USNC-Tech has developed a fuel that can operate in temperatures up to 2,700 degrees Kelvin, which means it will be able to withstand the temperatures of nuclear reactions.
With the concerns surrounding nuclear-powered rockets largely addressed, many feel that this technology could benefit space exploration. Jeff Sheehy, the chief engineer of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, has explained that with space travel, ‘The longer you’re out there, the more time there is for stuff to go wrong.’ This nuclear-propelled system would reduce this time and as a result, make journeys less risky.
The reduced journey time would make plans to live on Mars much more viable, even if there are issues with the harsh condition of the planet. Much like living on Mars, the nuclear-propelled ship is still in a conceptual stage. There will undoubtedly be many tests to ensure that the rockets would work properly and that safety measures are in place.
Sheehy told CNN:
Nobody’s ever flown nuclear propulsion yet. I think it’s going to have to be flown a few times … before somebody sells tickets.
With that in mind, it may be some time before getting to Mars and back takes months instead of years.
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