As researchers work to get humanity to Mars, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are teaming up on a project that could get boots on the Red Planet much faster. On Tuesday, NASA announced that the two agencies will work to retest nuclear-powered rockets in space.
“NASA will work with our long-term partner, DARPA, to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as early as 2027. Using this new technology, astronauts will be able to travel to and from deep space faster than ever before – a key opportunity to anticipate prepare for manned missions to Mars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told members of the media on Tuesday. “Congratulations to both NASA and DARPA on this exciting investment as we fuel the future together.”
A nuclear-powered rocket would, in theory, allow significantly faster travel time through space. The rocket’s fission reactor would generate extremely high temperatures which would then produce a liquid propellant discharged through a nozzle, which would then propel the rocket through space. It’s been more than 50 years since NASA last tested nuclear-powered rockets.
“DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in advancing technologies for our respective goals, from the Saturn V rocket that first took humans to the moon, to robotic maintenance and satellite refueling,” added DARPA Director Dr. . Stephanie Tompkins. . “The aerospace domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery and national security. The ability to make leap forwards in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential to more efficiently and rapidly transporting material to the Moon and ultimately, humans to Mars.”
While getting to Mars is a top priority for many, NASA is also investing a significant amount of time and resources in its Artemis program, which will see the United States return to the lunar surface by 2025.
After a successful launch of Artemis I last year, Artemis II will follow the same path with a manned spacecraft. Artemis III would then take a crew to the moon for a mission over 25 days.
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