Man on Mars steps closer to reality: NASA announces plans for a nuclear rocket that would reduce travel time to seven months
NASA revealed on Tuesday that it is building a nuclear-powered rocket that could send humans to Mars much faster than conventional craft – it currently takes seven months to reach the Red Planet.
The US space agency partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, which will be tested in 2027.
A nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) provides a high thrust-to-weight ratio of about 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion and two to five times greater efficiency than chemical propulsion in space.
The team plans to use previous NTR models to design DRACO, while giving it modern touches – the last technology tested on the ground was more than 50 years ago.
NASA and DARPA are working on a nuclear rocket that could take humans to Mars very quickly – dramatically shortening the current seven-month journey
The space agency has studied the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion for decades.
This technology introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to hydrogen propellant to provide thrust that is considered far more efficient than conventional chemical-based rocket engines.
With faster transit, the groups said NTR would reduce the risk to astronauts as they would not be traveling through space for long periods of time.
The trip to Mars would substantially reduce the amount of time astronauts are exposed to deep space radiation and require fewer supplies such as food and other cargo.
NASA is eyeing the end of 2030 when it will send humans to the world of Mars.
NASA’s deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday, ‘If we have fast travel for humans, they are safe travel.’
NTR transfers heat from the reactor directly to the gaseous hydrogen propellant.
The heated hydrogen expands through a nozzle to provide thrust to propel a spacecraft.
And the material inside the fission reactor must be able to survive temperatures above 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA has had NTR on its radar for more than 60 years and first launched the mission in 1961.
This prompted then-NASA Marshall Space Flight Center director and rocket pioneer, Wernher von Braun, to advocate a proposed mission that would send a dozen crew members to Mars aboard two rockets.
Each rocket will be propelled by three Nuclear Engines for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) engines – designs created in 1961.
As detailed by von Braun, the crew would land on the Red Planet in November 1981 and land on that distant world in August 1982.
Presenting his visionary plan to a Space Task Group in August 1969, von Braun explained that ‘although undertaking this mission would be a great national challenge, it was no greater challenge than the commitment to land a man on the Moon in 1961’ Is. ,
However, this vision of human boots on Mars ended in 1972 when priorities changed and the space budget was cut.
A nuclear-powered rocket would vastly reduce the amount of time astronauts are exposed to deep space radiation during the journey to Mars and require fewer supplies such as food and other cargo.
Fast forward to the present, and NASA is back on its way to the Red Planet and has enlisted help from the US government to make it possible.
DARPA Director Dr. Stephanie Tompkins said in a Statement: ‘DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in advancing technologies for our respective goals, from the Saturn V rocket that first took humans to the Moon to robotic servicing and refueling of satellites.
‘The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery and national security.
‘The ability to meet advances in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be needed to more efficiently and quickly carry materials to the Moon and eventually people to Mars.’
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