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NASA To Boost Nuclear Space Science With Project Prometheus

rocket science for the 21st century
by Wayne Smith for NuclearSpace.com
Los Angeles - Jan 20, 2003
NASA is finally expected to announce a new nuclear rocket development program as it's top priority soon. They will, during the next couple of weeks, be requesting resources and funding from congress to design this system. Estimated to have a thrust to weight ratio outperforming current technology by at least 300%, the new rocket could revolutionize space travel.

However, NASA has been quiet up to now on this issue. We have seen incredible reports coming out sporadically but with little meat in them. NASA, it seemed, was getting ready for a big announcement. Well, this is it. This project, named Prometheus, could herald the human exploration of Mars next decade.

Project Prometheus is a nuclear-powered propulsion system tripling the speed of current space travel. This theoretically makes it possible for humans to reach Mars in as little as two months as opposed to at least six months for traditional chemical boosters.

The Bush administration has approved the new Nuclear rocket project. Some speculate, the President may even officially launch this historic initiative as part of his State of the Union address on January 28.

The newly appointed NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, believed to be the main force behind this push for a more robust and useful rocket program, is a staunch supporter of Nuclear initiatives for Nasa's ailing space programs.

He has been quoted as saying today's chemical rockets are like "exploring the old west in covered wagons". Replacing the "smaller and better" dogma of the Goldin era with "faster and longer" missions as NASA's goal.

NASA has been building up to this announcement for quite some time. After requesting a billion dollars over five years in the last budget for nuclear R&D funding, rumours of an air-breathing nuclear launch vehicle, the creation of a new public relations team, research into space radiation necessary for manned missions, very ambitiously expensive plans including new Stations in interplanetary space, and only ever very discrete mention of nuclear rocket involvement, it seems like the icing on the cake has actually arrived.

This is little surprise for (and great enthusiasm among) nuclear space fanatics to learn we can expect to see a sizable request for resources and money from congress.

The general public who have missed these signals, however, are another matter entirely. The first nuclear initiative request was slashed twice in 2002 as it passed through both the House of Representatives and Senate. Now it stands at only 107 million dollars, a pitiful amount for a completely new program, and far short of what would be necessary to meet NASA's heightened goals.

Secrecy and quietness has been the strategy thus far for NASA and the Bush administration. Little in the way of informed data such as direction and intention for the space program has escaped the top. The two men leading this push, President Bush and NASA Administrator O'Keefe held discussions relating to past nuclear initiatives and decided a low-profile approach would work best.

Memories of huge public condemnation during the 60's for anything nuclear, the response to Reagan's Star Wars (Project Timberwind), the Cassini protests and the former President Bush's failed attempt to initiate a nuclear rocket mission to Mars back in 1989 easily explain the rationale behind this approach -- and perhaps it was indeed the best one.

Today's anti-nuclear environmentalists have not given much notice to this latest nuclear space initiative.

They have been distracted by other political issues, namely the prospect of war with Iraq and the antics of North Korea. They have also lost much of the public influence they once claimed to have. Their predictions of countless nuclear disasters in the wake of Chernobyl have fallen flat, and so has their support base.

Things seem to be speeding up. Sean O'Keefe has indicated the new initiative, if supported, will be implemented immediately with a view to rapid progress.

The objective and expectation is to be able to conduct important deep space missions within this decade.

If approved, and with the cat well and truly out of the bag, we can expect to hear more detailed plans revealed very soon. With this will come critical responses from opposition groups and serious debate on the issue. Is the public ready for a new space age and more accepting of nuclear power now than in previous decades?

It's quite possible this new space age will be seen as positive rather than negative in the current poltical climate of change we are experiencing. Many might welcome word of nuclear power being used for enhancing manned spaceflight. Sounds a lot better than using it solely for political leverage like North Korea is doing. Only time will tell.

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NASA Awards First Major Contracts For Nuclear Electric Engines
St. Louis - Oct 3, 2002
A team of government, industry and academia, under the leadership of The Boeing Company, has been awarded a contract with NASA to develop new nuclear electric power systems for deep space exploration.

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