Nuclear-Powered Rockets Get a Second Look for Travel to Mars

Ilustration of a conceptual spacecraft enabled by nuclear thermal propulsion. Credit: NASA

By Pirachi Patel,
Published in Real Clear Science – 24 December, 2020

NASA is investing in the technology for future space exploration missions

For all the controversy they stir up on Earth, nuclear reactors can produce the energy and propulsion needed to rapidly take large spacecraft to Mars and, if desired, beyond. The idea of nuclear rocket engines dates back to the 1940s. This time around, though, plans for interplanetary missions propelled by nuclear fission and fusion are being backed by new designs that have a much better chance of getting off the ground.

Crucially, the nuclear engines are meant for interplanetary travel only, not for use in the Earth’s atmosphere. Chemical rockets launch the craft out beyond low Earth orbit. Only then does the nuclear propulsion system kick in. ….