One of the first hurdles we need to get over when we try to bring civilians into space is the length of time it takes to reach our destination. So far, it would usually take months to get from Earth to nearby planets like Mars. Going to the Moon is shorter which usually just takes three days. But if we’re thinking of living in Mars someday, would we be able to get there in a shorter span of time?
Let’s say that you wanted to visit Mars using a chemical rocket. You would blast off from Earth and go into low Earth orbit. Then, at the right moment, you’d fire your rocket, raising your orbit from the Sun. The new elliptical trajectory you’re following intersects with Mars after eight months of flight.
We need to go faster. It turns out NASA has been thinking about what comes next after chemical rockets for almost 50 years. Nuclear thermal rockets. They definitely speed up the journey, but they’re not without their own risks, which is why you haven’t seen them. But maybe their time is here.
-via Real Clear Science
(Image credit: AEC-NASA/Wikimedia Commons)