NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says that humanity’s next giant leap could be enabled by next-gen nuclear technology as America, China, and Russia are actively working on the development of rockets powered by thermal nuclear propulsion.
During the sixth meeting of the National Space Council held on Aug. 20, the NASA chief gave a presentation on the importance of developing nuclear propulsion tech that has the potential to harness the heat emitted by fission reactions to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen to tremendous speeds. Bridenstine told the crowd that if NASA cracks the tech, it could revolutionize space travel by powering high-speed Mars-bound rockets and beyond into outer space and provide a high-powered upgrade to satellites orbiting the Earth.
According to NSC panelist Rex Geveden, the president and CEO of BWX Technologies Inc., spacecraft powered by such engines could possibly reach Mars in just three to four months which is about half the time of the fastest possible trip in a vehicle with traditional chemical propulsion.
Congress has granted NASA $125 million for nuclear propulsion research as a part of its annual budget. Space.com reports that during his speech, the Space agency chief directly addressed Vice President Pence who chairs the NSC, and said, “I think, Mr. Vice President, there’s an amazing opportunity here that the United States of America should take advantage of”.
Specifically, Bridenstine is interested in how a faster trip to and from Mars would directly imply lower exposure of astronauts to the brain-melting cosmic radiation that would bombard them during space travel.
Space.com reports that Bridenstine said, “That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve. That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars.”