NASA to test nuclear rocket engine that could take humans to Mars in 10 days

NASA has revealed plans to create a nuclear-powered rocket that could send astronauts to Mars in just 10 days.

NASA's announcement of the development of a nuclear thermal rocket engine, in collaboration with DARPA, is not only a milestone in space technology, but also a potential revolution in the way we think about interplanetary travel. This engine promises to dramatically reduce travel time to Mars, thus opening up new possibilities in deep space exploration.

Innovation in Propulsion: From Chemical to Nuclear

Traditional NASA rocket systems, such as the Space Launch System used on the Artemis 1 mission, are based on chemical propellants. These systems, although proven and reliable, have significant limitations in efficiency and load capacity. Nuclear propulsion, on the other hand, offers a radically different approach, using nuclear fission to generate much more powerful and efficient thrust.

Brief History and Evolution of Nuclear Propulsion

NASA has explored the idea of nuclear propulsion since 1959, culminating in the development of the NERVA project. This project demonstrated the viability of nuclear engines, but was put on hold due to various reasons, including budget constraints and changes in political priorities. Now, with more advanced technology and a renewed vision for space exploration, NASA is resuming these efforts.

Various Types of Nuclear Engines

NEP: Electricity from Fission

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) reactors represent a category of nuclear engines that generate electricity through nuclear fission. This electricity is used to accelerate charged particles, such as noble gas ions, creating thrust.

NTP: Gas Heating for Propulsion

Nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) reactors, which is what NASA focuses on, operate by heating a gas (usually hydrogen) until it expands and escapes through a nozzle, generating thrust. This technology is particularly promising for space travel due to its high efficiency compared to chemical systems.

Revolutionizing Travel Times to Mars

The implementation of nuclear propulsion could reduce the travel time to Mars from the current seven months to approximately ten days. This advancement would not only make trips to Mars more feasible, but would also reduce the risks associated with long stays in space, such as radiation exposure and the effects of microgravity on the human body.

Beyond Mars

With more efficient nuclear engines, exploration of the solar system becomes more accessible. We could see missions to hitherto unreachable destinations, such as the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, and even manned voyages beyond the asteroid belt.

Frequent questions

What is the main advantage of nuclear propulsion over chemical propulsion?

Nuclear propulsion offers significantly greater energy efficiency, allowing for faster and longer trips in space.

What challenges does NASA face in implementing this technology?

Challenges include ensuring the safety of nuclear fission in space and developing materials capable of withstanding high temperatures and radiation.

How will this technology change the future of space exploration?

Nuclear propulsion will open the door to faster and more efficient space travel, allowing us to explore deeper into the solar system and possibly beyond.


The development of the nuclear thermal rocket engine by NASA, in collaboration with DARPA, marks a significant milestone in the history of space exploration. This technology promises not only to drastically shorten travel times to Mars, but also to open a range of possibilities for more distant and ambitious missions within our solar system. By overcoming the limitations of chemical propulsion, we are approaching an era where the limits of space are only in our imagination.

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