Sep 1, 2018

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion: Game Changing Technology

Posted by in categories: nuclear energy, space travel

Today’s advances in materials, testing capabilities, and reactor development are providing impetus for NASA to appraise Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) as an attractive 21st century option to propel human exploration missions to Mars and other deep space destinations.

Utilizing nuclear technology as an ingredient of NASA’s exploration prowess is not new. NTP research is part of the space agency’s storied history. In 1961, NASA and the former Atomic Energy Commission jointly embarked on the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program – an effort that over several years led to the design, building, and testing of reactors and rocket engines.

Those programmatic high points spurred then-NASA Marshall Space Flight Center director and rocket pioneer, Wernher von Braun, to advocate for a proposed mission, dispatching a dozen crew members to Mars aboard two rockets. Each rocket would be propelled by three NERVA engines. As detailed by von Braun, that expeditionary crew would launch to the Red Planet in November 1981 and land on that distant world in August 1982. In presenting his visionary plan in August 1969 to a Space Task Group, von Braun explained that “although the undertaking of this mission will be a great national challenge, it represents no greater challenge than the commitment made in 1961 to land a man on the moon.”

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