Nuclear Energy Could Take Humans to Mars

NASA is looking to the past as it prepares for future space feats. In its quest to reach Mars, the American space agency is considering the use of nuclear energy to power spacecraft, an idea that had been abandoned decades ago.
In a partnership with NASA, the private company Nuclear Energy has been awarded a contract to develop a nuclear reactor and the fuel it will use to power a spacecraft to the red planet. Nuclear engines will have some advantages over conventional rockets, which burn fuel to provide thrust. In addition to being more efficient, nuclear engines will be more compact, which will in turn reduce the size of spacecraft used in lengthy missions. They also offer greater flexibility than conventional rockets, making it easier to alter or abandon a mission if necessary.
Perhaps the most important aspect of nuclear propulsion is its greater power, which will increase the speed of spacecraft and reduce the time needed to reach other planets. Launched in 1975 with conventional rocket technology, the Viking 2 unmanned vehicle took nearly a year to complete its journey to Mars. A manned spacecraft using a nuclear engine might be make able to make the trip in only five months. More about the use of nuclear power in space exploration is available at
Engines using a combination of nuclear and thermal technology were studied and even tested by the United States over a period of nearly 20 years until the program was cancelled in 1972 due to cost issues. The cost of nuclear engines could be a barrier to future designs, but recent technological advancements could make nuclear energy more practical and less expensive.
Whether or not the United States enters the nuclear space race, other countries are moving ahead with their own plans. A Russian company will soon test a nuclear engine that is being specifically designed to take a spacecraft to Mars. China has its own plans, using nuclear technology to power shuttle-type spacecraft it will be launching in the near future.