11 February 2004
Nuke drive touted for Mars
Former astronaut: Nuclear propulsion needed for journey

Cox News Service


WASHINGTON -- The first Americans on Mars will need improved space suits and technologies such as nuclear propulsion and nuclear power-generation to reach the red planet, a former astronaut said Wednesday.
"The long pole in the tent going to Mars is that nuclear thermal rocket," Tom Stafford, a retired air force general and commander of the 1969 Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission, told the Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond.
President Bush has charged the commission with the goal of returning Americans to the moon and sending them on to Mars.
Using the alternative fuel could cut the trip between Earth and Mars from 240 days to less than a hundred, and would drastically reduce the weight of a spacecraft, Stafford said.
Nuclear propulsion would be an unused, though not new, innovation in space travel. Stafford said the United States developed the capability to build a nuclear-powered rocket during the Apollo era the late 1960s and early 1970s "but there was not a mission for it." He said he did not know how long it would take to resurrect that program and build a nuclear-powered spacecraft.
Stafford said the mission would also have to incorporate a system for recycling water and oxygen as well as a way to better protect astronauts from the harmful effects of radiation.
Four others with backgrounds in aerospace and technology also testified at the commission's first public hearing.
Among its eight members is retired Gen. Lester Lyles, who headed the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from 2000 to 2003. Lyles said he is honored and proud to serve on the commission.


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