Space & Astronomy
NASA aiming to cut Mars travel time in half
June 8, 2015 | 22 comments
The shorter the travel time to Mars the better. Image Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has outlined the space agency's plans for getting humans to Mars.
Speaking during a visit to the Aerojet Rocketdyne plant in California on Thursday, Bolden emphasized that sending humans to the Red Planet is a goal that may ultimately require the implementation of sophisticated new spacecraft propulsion technologies.
In particular his comments indicated that the current travel time from Earth to Mars is too long to make such a journey feasible and that shortening the trip should be a top priority.
"Right now it's about an eight-month mission; we'd like to cut that in half," he said.
Reducing the travel time would help to substantially limit the astronauts' exposure to radiation during the trip while reducing the amount of food, water and oxygen needed to keep them alive.
One of the ways in which a mission could make it to Mars within four months would be to use a much more powerful propulsion system - perhaps even one based on nuclear energy like the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Performance) system NASA was looking in to decades ago.
"This country did a lot of work on that back in the 1960s and 1970s, and there is some technology being looked at regarding the fuels aspects of that, to make it lower cost and safer for the future," said Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne's Vice President of Advanced Space & Launch Systems.
Investment in the development of game-changing new propulsion systems is certainly a strategy that NASA has been showing an interest in lately but whether or not something truly revolutionary will turn up in time to help trivialize a trip to Mars remains to be seen.
"I want industry to focus on getting people to move really fast," said Bolden. "I think we can do far better than we are doing today, but we've got to show our commitment by putting money into it."
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