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NASA and Pentagon develop nuclear rocket to go to Mars

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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.  /AFP.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. /AFP.

NASA is partnering with the Pentagon’s research agency to develop a nuclear-powered rocket engine to send astronauts to Mars, the agencies announced Tuesday.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the U.S. space agency is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to “Development and testing of advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology beginning in 2027.”

“With the help of this new technology, astronauts will be able to traverse deep space faster than ever before, a key capability in preparing for manned missions to Mars,” he said in a statement.

DARPA is the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, and has played a role in many of the 20th century innovations, such as the Internet.

According to NASA, nuclear-thermal rockets are more than three times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion, shortening the travel time essential for the eventual mission to Mars.

Nuclear heat engines use nuclear fission reactors to produce very high temperatures.

Heat from the reactor is transferred to the liquid propellant, which converts to gas and expands through the nozzle, providing thrust.

“DARPA and NASA have a long and fruitful history of cooperation,” said DARPA Director Stephanie Tompkins, citing the Saturn V rocket that brought the first astronauts to the moon.

“Nuclear thermal rocket programs are essential to more efficiently and quickly transporting goods to the moon and ultimately people to Mars,” Tompkins said.

NASA conducted its last test of a nuclear-thermal rocket engine more than 50 years ago, but abandoned the program due to budget cuts and Cold War tensions.

Source: Diario.Elmundo

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