Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Are Nuclear Rockets The Way To Go?

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(Image: NASA's Ares V rocket, Credit: NASA via New Space Scientist)

With the cost of space skyrocketing (no pun intended), one scientist has proposed using nuclear rockets in order to cut the expense of space flight.

(New Scientist Space) Carried out by university students funded by CSNR, the study examined the potential savings from incorporating nuclear power into NASA's Ares V, the launch vehicle being developed to haul heavy cargo, including parts for a lunar base, to the Moon.

Under this scenario, the Ares V would use ordinary chemical rockets to launch into Earth orbit, where it would dock with the Orion crew vehicle that would have launched on a separate Ares I rocket. In NASA's current plans, a second stage on the Ares V would then ignite to send the crew and cargo out of Earth orbit and towards the Moon. But in Howe's scenario, this Earth-departure stage would be nuclear-powered instead.

By having the first stage of launch via chemical rockets, scientists could avoid not only mass protests from the anti-nuke crowd, but also ease fears from neighboring nations that a country was launching a nuclear missile at their front door.

Whether people like it or not, nuclear powered rockets may become the future of space travel as solar power and chemical rockets may be limited in power and expense, respectively.

Unless a scientist can find a better way of traveling throughout the cosmos, we may end up having our future descendants laugh at us over our timid behavior about splitting the atom above home world's atmosphere.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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