Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talk Of Nucear Rockets Continues

NASA has been toying with the idea of a nuclear powered rocket since the Apollo missions. Unfortunately, despite the fact a nuclear powered rocket would be better, faster, more powerful and less expensive than existing rocket technology, public opposition to anything with the word "nuclear" in it, has been too strong to overcome.

This is beyond unfortunate. It is nearly criminal. It is also the reason why human beings continue to languish in low Earth orbit endeavors instead of exploring the outer reaches of our solar system. With a nuclear powered rocket, or fleet of nuclear powered spaceships we could establish permanent human colonies on Mars, Venus,even the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, with ease; we could explore the Kuiper belt and mine asteroids for precious minerals. Also, had we spent the past few decades refining and improving nuclear powered rocket technology instead of wasting money on chemical rockets we would be thinking about exploring beyond the edge of our solar system, possibly planning missions to nearby star systems, rather than wondering how we will get an astronaut to the International Space Station.

What irks me the most about the opposition to nuclear powered rockets is not the ignorance factor. People have always been ignorant. But the fact we have found no leaders willing to risk their political capital on a program based on science, and which would have far-reaching benefits for the entire human species.

"Nuclear propulsion should be included when considering deep-space travel," said Princeton physicist Gene H. McCall, retired chief scientist for the Air Force Space Command and a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "The engines could also be used for years as a power source for establishing a base on the moon or Mars, or any long-term base where gathering power from the sun would be difficult.”

McCall said the arguments over nuclear space propulsion "are usually emotional rather than technical.”

While I was growing up on the family farm, my father tried for years to bring electricity to our rural area of Georgia, only to be met with protests motivated by fear of electrocution and fires. Irrational fear of the unknown has been with us since the dawn of humanity. But consider this: You can count the deaths in this country from nuclear energy on one hand. Meanwhile, 40,000 Americans die every year on our highways, yet practically no one hesitates to ride in an automobile.

Click here to read the entire article on nuclear propulsion by Jay Barbree.

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