NASA has revealed plans to create a nuclear-powered rocket that could send astronauts to Mars in just 45 days.
The agency, which has partnered with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design the rocket, announced on Tuesday (Jan. 24) that it could build a working nuclear thermal rocket engine as soon as 2027.
NASA’s current rocket systems (including the Space Launch System which last year sent the Artemis 1 rocket on a historic round-trip to the moon) are based on the century-old, traditional method of chemical propulsion — in which an oxidizer (which gives the reaction more oxygen to combust with) is mixed with flammable rocket fuel to create a flaming jet of thrust. The proposed nuclear system, on the other hand, will harness the chain reaction from tearing apart atoms to power a nuclear fission reactor that would be “three or more times more efficient” and could reduce Mars flight times to a fraction of the current seven months, according to the agency.
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