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NASA Wants Astronauts on Mars by 2010 713

FeloniousPunk writes "According to this article in the UK Guardian, NASA intends to send a manned mission to Mars by 2010, using nuclear propulsion. President Bush may announce this project, called Project Prometheus, at the State of the Union address." Here's good background and context; for technical background, I recommend Zubrin or Stern. The JPL will be involved in developing the nuclear propulsion tech, intended to cut the interplanetary trip from six months to two. Apparently the theory is that this proposal won't get shot down like the last Mars proposal because the shorter mission will save money. Here's hoping public response has progressed beyond "oh no! did he say nuclear?!" In related news, jkcity writes: "according to this article by the BBC, the Chinese plan to have a man in space by October 2003."
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NASA Wants Astronauts on Mars by 2010

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  • So do I... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    We need to get the F off this planet and start spreading out.

    Putting all your eggs in one basket, even if that basket is a planet, is a bad idea.
    • Repost (Score:5, Insightful)

      by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @03:11PM (#5108660) Journal
      Rousseau once said, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." Mars is the opportunity to break these chains, and regain what freedom we may.

      Mars is our destiny. That is, outward. The possibilities for new expressions of freedom and humanity, and economic systems, lie in building new civilizations. On earth there is a gigantic infrastructure of economic powers that RESIST change. The best ideas are not readily implemented, or are practically impossible to implement.

      America became, in some sense, what it was BECAUSE we had a frontier early in its career. That frontier, and the spirit it developed among its settlers gave America its sense of independence, innovation and a GREAT sense of self-empowerment.

      To the point, a paucity of western infrastructure westward of this expanding America better empowered the formation of a culture radically different than its predecessors. Not wholly, of course, as old money still existed.

      But now, America has few or no frontiers within its borders. America's infrastructure has become stiff in every corner. The people at know this. Microsoft's infrastructure is outstanding. Oil industries pull our strings. We cannot fundamentally change what America is, how it conducts its economics, without a fight. The root is dug in and will not give up its space as long as it lives.

      Mars has no infrastructure and therefore new social, economic, and political ideas implemented by colonists there are more apt to emerge into their natural designs undistorted by the effects of competing institutions.

      Like the original colonists of America, cultural artifacts, physical and ideational, brought over to the frontier will be freely reinterpreted without undue outside influence. However, the opportunity of social self-determination on Mars is unparalleled by any in history, for none has had at its disposal the vast library of knowledge and technology available today. The coupling of knowledge and self-reliance will allow the best ideas to flourish. The culture of the second and third Martian generations has the potential of being truer to the ideals of social justice, equality, and :) free software. :) Than has ever existed before.

      • Re:Repost (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tyreth ( 523822 )
        I can't say that a great deal of people are impressed with America's past frontier and their dealings with the original inhabitants and owners.

        Still, that is all in the past and your main point prevails. Most people have always been like this. If you look at Chinese personality types earth is the most common along with fire, and the earth types are very resistant to change. The slashdot readers are more likely to be one of the types that love change and live for it (I certainly am one of those). I think there will always be fighting, but I think it creates a healthy balance.

        I can't help but wonder about what moving to the stars will do for society and culture as a whole. Our boundaries have by and large been limited to earth - but there are enough of us that which to escape its borders that such a program will eventually take place, it will have to. After all, the pioneers are the ones who foster progress, the ones who start businesses. They cannot resist us for long!
  • by john_is_war ( 310751 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {senivj}> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:07PM (#5107907)
    Hey, in 2015 we can start In Soviet Mars jokes instead. We'll be ascending to the next level.
  • by mvonballmo ( 211664 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:08PM (#5107913) Homepage
    I wouldn't worry too much about that. It'll be more like:

    "Oh no! Did he say nukuler?!"
    • One proposed method to save fuel/space costs will be to send FAT astronauts! They'll live off their own body mass supplemented by onboard supplies. A pound of human fat contains approx 3500 calories which will supply the caloric requirements of an astronaut for about 1.5 days. A 6 month round trip caloric req's on a starvation diet will shed the astronauts approx 130 lbs (based on 2500 cal/day requirements)
      This is essentially what stomach stapled obese people do so the medical consequences are fairly well characterized.
      Obviously there will be some food, but the space/weight savings from this will be enormous.

      This will be a sure bet - just wait.
  • by Ryan.Merrill ( 548437 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:09PM (#5107917)
    whether or not we will send men to mars by 2010, it will be whether or not President Bush can pronounce Project Prometheus at the state of the union address.
  • All I have to say... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr Teddy Bear ( 540142 ) <> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:09PM (#5107920) Homepage
    Is that is freakin awesome. I am glad we are finally moving beyond our own little blue ball again. Something I would like to know though... aren't there easier/faster ways of propulsion already in existance than even nuclear? I mean sure, they don't accelerate very quickly, but hey. Those NASA guys know more than me...

    Although, I am pretty sure GW doesn't. ;-)
    • by StarTux ( 230379 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:11PM (#5107937) Journal
      Yeah perhaps, but space is very dark and having the astronaughts glow in the dark will help track them.
    • by Valgar ( 225897 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:28PM (#5108041) Homepage
      It isn't a matter of "fast" acceleration. The bonus behind using a nuclear or even an ion drive is IMPULSE. The ability to accelerate over a longer period of time. You might not accelerate as quickly (you definately won't) but you can reach higher velocities. Plus you lighten your mass somewhat by not carrying about and insanely large amount of chemical reactive mass.

      Assuming they are using a pellet-bed plutonium reactor, the only fuel they will need for it will be hydrogen, not only will it act as a moderator (heh), but also as the propellant as it is super-heated and vented out the back of the craft.

      I assume they will still carry chemical based thrusters to maneuver and for the initial boost once leaving mars.

      Plus the design that I got to work with in college uses weapons grade plutonium! What better way to get the nuclear weapon stock down than to transform it into interplanetary engines?
    • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @02:13PM (#5108318)
      aren't there easier/faster ways of propulsion already in existance than even nuclear?

      Right now, nothing even comes close to uranium/plutonium for energy density. There are really two issues: power and reaction mass. A rocket combines the two, but a nuclear propulsion system doesn't. If ice is the reaction mass, then you can "refuel" on a comet. The more energy per unit of reaction mass you can get, the less of it you need.

      There are already ion engines [] in existance, solar powered, but they are very low powered, incapable of moving significant mass through space at a useful speed.
  • why (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gary Franczyk ( 7387 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:10PM (#5107931)
    Karma this down if you must, but this is a serious question:

    Why do we want to spend that much money on going to another planet? Is there that much more we can learn by sending people there? There is probably more useful information to be learned by studing physics and space here from earth, don't you think?
    • well.... (Score:3, Insightful)

      eventually we're going to have to leave this planet for one reason or another. it would be nice to be able to do it at our convenience, rather than being forced off.
    • because (Score:3, Insightful)

      Space exploration and colonization is the next logical step for any technology based society. Its like asking why someone decided to explore the north pole, because no one had been there before.
      • Re:because (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:23PM (#5108011) Journal
        No. The next logical step would be getting a working fusion reactor so we can power the planet with 'cleaner' energy.
      • Re:because (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gyan ( 6853 )
        Its like asking why someone decided to explore the north pole, because no one had been there before.

        While, on its face, this argument makes sense, in light of today's technology, not really.

        Today, we have the ability to send unmanned probes that can give us detailed information about the various physical parameters of some uncharted frontier. Gone are the days when the only way you could explore something is via physically being there.

        Also, while I realise you chose North Pole only for illustrative purposes, there's a difference between a group of 6-7 explorers backed by a 50-strong support crew and a project which requires billions of dollars of taxpayer's money and thousands of employees dedicated to the task.
        • Re:because (Score:5, Informative)

          by freshmkr ( 132808 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:46PM (#5108166) Homepage
          Today, we have the ability to send unmanned probes that can give us detailed information about the various physical parameters of some uncharted frontier. Gone are the days when the only way you could explore something is via physically being there.

          It's not as cut and dried as that.

          I worked at the JPL last summer with the MER group (MER: the next Mars rovers). It was a great place to be and the technology they had was impressive. Still, there's only so much a teleoperated robot can do with a 20 minute time lag, slow rad hardened processors, and one (sensor-laden) arm. If I recall correctly, the off-the-cuff figure tossed around there was that a human geologist on site could accomplish in 45 seconds what an earth-based team driving a Mars rover could do in an hour.

          It has always been more cost effective to send robots to Mars instead of people. Don't think, though, that you can just send one of these guys up and find out everything you want to know!


      • Re:because (Score:5, Insightful)

        by M.C. Hampster ( 541262 ) <> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:54PM (#5108207) Journal
        Space exploration and colonization is the next logical step for any technology based society

        I like how you stated this as if there is some official book on how technology based societies are supposed to act. I'm guessing that you either got this idea from Star Trek or from the Civilization games.

    • Re:why (Score:2, Interesting)

      by reidbold ( 55120 )
      So we can learn more about space travel, like long term effects etc. Learn about a new planet, what it might take to live there. Sure we can study that from here, (and we do), but there are limits on that.
      Plus, we can work towards getting out of the solar system and maybe find a new place to live when we pollute/destroy/heat/exploit resources too much to live here any more.
    • There is use in it (Score:4, Informative)

      by metalhed77 ( 250273 ) <> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:19PM (#5107989) Homepage
      You're missing out on the long term. Mars may one day be colonized by humanity, or useful for some other purpose. It has materials on it that could possibly be terraformed creating an earthlike state. Now while these projects are far off in comming, probably far out enough that i'll be dead once they happen, it doesn't mean it's all for nought.

      And lastly, "because it's there". I would entertainment in man reaching mars, it's extremely exciting don't you think? (i wonder how many extremely practical people are going to shoot me down for that)
      • Note. Something being entertainment is not a good justification for spending 10-50 billion of the taxpayers dollars...
        • by BorgDrone ( 64343 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:44PM (#5108153) Homepage
          That's 10-50 billion spent between now and 2010, at least it makes a lot more sense than spendig $360 billion of the taxpayers money per year on people and technology whose sole purpose it is to kill other human beings.
          • That's 10-50 billion spent between now and 2010, at least it makes a lot more sense than spendig $360 billion of the taxpayers money per year on people and technology whose sole purpose it is to kill other human beings.

            Ahh yes, because we all know that that's all the military does, and we've never gone as a presence for peaceful observation, we never delivered food to Haiti and other countries, and we never cleaned up after Hurricane Andrew, Ice Storm 98, and other natural disasters. The National Guard never helped out with the relief efforts for any earthquake in California, and we all know that only civilians cleaned up the rubble and looked for survivors in the World Trade Center wreckage.

            Maybe while I was doing some of the above, I was really in some Army experimental brain-stimulation gear where they fed me a computer generated world, in which I did all those things. Maybe I should think about it. I might have met Keanu Reeves there.

            I spent 8 years in the Army, both active duty and reserve, and I saved more lives than I took. As a matter of fact, I didn't have to kill a single person that entire time.

            I would have, but that's not the "sole purpose" of the military, and I'm really fed up with people like you who don't bother to point out that the military has plenty of other jobs besides killing people.

            You are one of the same kinds of people like the lady who had the nerve to insult me and the U.S. Army less than a month after we cleaned up their entire town after a huge storm went through and killed a bunch of people, wiped out most of the electrical infrastructure, and put thousands of people out of their homes.

            We provided shelter, cut down and disposed of trees, provided food, brough out a ton of 60Kw generators so that farmers and hospitals would have electricity, and saved a few lives.

            The day that woman insulted me and my friends as we stood in line to buy some food by saying "Well, gee, you can tell it's Army payday today" in that patronizing tone of voice with the sour expression on her face, as soon as she walked in the door, told me everything I needed to know about the people I'd been giving up sleep and doing hard work for.

            You're welcome.
        • by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @04:02PM (#5108902) Journal
          but we all know its not just entertainment. Its freedom and safety of the species, not to have all eggs in one basket. because we need a society that is new with inspirewd ideas to show us earthlings how to do things

          I would like to go to Mars.

      • by the gnat ( 153162 )
        I think the government has better things to do with our tax dollars than "entertainment". Why not concentrate on making sure our own planet is habitable before we waste billions trying to put people on another one? If you think terraforming is cool, find a way to halt desertification in Africa.
    • Re:why indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rtaylor ( 70602 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:20PM (#5107994) Homepage
      We won't know what we will learn until we get there -- much as we didn't know what we'd learn on the moon until we got there.

      Yes, we did learn *a whole bunch* by going to the moon, even if most of it wasn't evident until recently (technological gains).

      By going to Mars, I'll be looking a few decades later for another kevlar, microchip, or similar coming out of it.

      Really, what we learn from mars won't be so big. What we learn from the trip itself could be huge.
    • Re:why (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Microlith ( 54737 )
      Because many people think sitting on one planet all the time is boring, if not outright hazardous?

      Oh no! Let's never explore! Let's never go anywhere! Why send people when we can just send PROBES! PROBES are CHEAPER! PROBES are SAFER!

      Fuck that. That's just people speaking who are to self-concerned and scared to go. Part of exploration is to prove to yourself what you (as a person or society) can do. One of the hardest goals, undoubtedly, is to take a person to another planet over an immense distance and make sure they survive the trip there and back. Even better would be to have a permanent place there.

      Of course if you don't think we should ever stick our heads outside the door, you are more than welcome to shut yourself in and look out only through your peephole.
      • Or it could be people who think that the goverment could use the money better for other things, like fusion research or paying of the debt. The USA currently pays 350,000,000,000 per year in interest on the debt, pay that off and you would have plenty of money to pay for all the science you want.
    • Re:why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:21PM (#5108001) Journal
      Because it's not about sending people to Mars. It's about sending millions/billions to defense contractors. It will be canceled a year or two before 2010.

      Two words for those that say I am wrong. "Superconductor Supercollider".
      • Re:why (Score:3, Interesting)

        by (H)elix1 ( 231155 )
        It's about sending millions/billions to defense contractors. (snip) Two words for those that say I am wrong. "Superconductor Supercollider".

        I might add defense contracts - those millions/billions of dollars are the closest thing a person can get to 'pure research'. Companies won't do it because they have to show profit (usually fast profit). You may not like the fact that money goes to fund weapon systems and their ilk first, but like any for-profit company would ever do sub atomic research? Doubtful.
    • Isn't knowing the soil composition of Mars worth 20 billion?
    • by Talisman ( 39902 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:28PM (#5108048) Homepage
      I don't think it's possible to overestimate the inspirational value this would have on young minds. All the ability in the world is worthless without motivation.

      Seeing dreams come true is highly motivational, and as such, well worth the expense.

      • As a young (23) scientist myself, I would find far more motivation and inspiration in being refunded my share of the tax dollars that will be blown on this project. A large-screen TV and surround sound would be far more inspiring than reading about manned spaceflight in the paper. They're not putting *me* in space, so why should I give a fuck?

        I'm not anti-tax or libertarian; I like big government, and it pays my salary. But I think the future of spaceflight will continue to be unmanned missions for some time, and do not like the thought of the government spending my money for the benefit of defense contracters and because it's "cool". Besides, we can find extraterrestrial life, if it exists, just as well without splurging on sending people.
    • Re:why (Score:3, Insightful)

      by caveat ( 26803 )
      Sure, there's plenty of useful information to be learned from Earth, but that's not the point of this mission - the point is to develop the technology to get off this planet and move to others; eventually, in the distant future (or perhaps not), there will be a purpose to leaving the planet beyond just going. Perhaps we'll discover huge deposits of pure metallic platinum on Mars, or maybe the asteroids will be covered in huge, perfect silicon crystals...or perhaps we'll wreck the planet to the point where it makes more sense to leave and try and terraform than to try and fix the mess we've already made.

      In the end, at this poin it amounts to the same reason you'd climb a mountain, because it's there, but it does serve an important longer-term purpose.
    • Well, the ususal answers include:

      1) useful spin-off technology will be invented along the way (ie transistor minaturisation in the apollo programme, ceramic technolgy from the shuttle)
      2) only people can make the necessary real-time decisions without the time-lag
      3) big tax dollars will be spent on something, just to get the economy kick-started, so it might as well be this
      and of course:
      4) it makes the president look good
    • For the same reason we went to that big floating rock in the sky we call the moon. John F. Kennedy said it best in his "We choose to go the moon speech" and this has inspired me many times in my life. When you undertake something difficult, you challenge yourself. When you challenge yourself, you grow. When you grow you have more for everyone and everything around you. This applies to nations as well as men.

      An excerpt:

      "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

      Full text []
    • Is there that much more we can learn by sending people there? There is probably more useful information to be learned by studing physics and space here from earth, don't you think?

      Learn what? It's serious question. All the learning and studying in the world means nothing if it doesn't have a practical application. Consider the laser. When it was invented, it was called "a solution in search of a problem". Now we use them for communication, data storage and retrieval, entertainment, surgery, weapons, construction and more.

      Space technology is a solution in search of a problem - and it's not until a way can be found to make going into space make more money that it costs that it will become truly worthwhile. That means mining, manufacturing (low gravity, plenty of vaccuum, unlimited power, no pollution problem - gotta be useful for something) and hospitality (people spending money earned on Earth).

      No matter how it offends the purists, it's high time for the scientists to give way to the industrialists when it comes to space.
    • Re:why (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bourne ( 539955 )

      Why do we want to spend that much money on going to another planet?

      Because the number of nuts with nukes on this one is getting a little too high for my taste.

      Seriously, a single planet will eventually be our graveyard - whether it is our own stupidity, a comet, or some other cataclysm that does us in. We need a redundant array of inexpensive planets (eventually across multiple solar systems) housing humankind if we expect to survive. And survival is the goal of any living creature.

      Zubrin puts this in much more detailed terms in his books.

    • Re:why (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LostSinner ( 546906 )
      there is a simple and explainable reason for why we have to move off planet eventually: stagnation.

      think of it this way (perhaps some of the details are wrong, but the theory is sound). there is a limit to the amount of information a single person can successfully employ in life. there may not be an apparent limit to what the amount of knowledge they can have, but there is one concerning the amount they can regularly use. we see this in the continued specialization of professions. you used to have just a 'doctor'... and now that medical knowledge has increased, you have a brain surgeon, a family practitioner, a podiatrist, etc. all current knowledge builds on prior knowledge, so you have a continual stacking of information upon information without ever being able to get rid of any previous; therefore, you have continued specialization in all fields; therefore, it requires more people in each field to utilize all of the knowledge available.

      likewise, there is a limit on the number of people the planet can support. we haven't reached that limit yet, and there's no way for us to reasonably determine exactly what the limit is, nor when we would reach it... yet it follows logically that there is a limit.

      here's what will happen when that limit is reached:

      the planet will reach the point at which it can sustain no more human life. after that point, knowledge will continue to grow until there are no more people to specialize in the various fields. once you reach that point, human advancement will stop. if we haven't managed to expand off of the planet by that point, we won't be able to.

      goddamn, i probably sound like a complete kook. lol. if i do, feel free to comment.

    • Because... (Score:3, Funny)

      by Guppy06 ( 410832 )
      Mars needs women!
  • Does anyone else find it slightly disturbing that Dubya pronounces 'nuclear' in exactly the same way as Homer Simpson?

    Seriously, while it's a great idea and I'd love it if it worked, I can't see it happening for purely budgetary reasons.
    Maybe they could find a better name for the method of propulsion they're planning to use. One without the 'N' word. A bit like when 'Nucleo-Magnetic Resonance Imaging' was renamed 'Magnetic Resonance Imaging' because the 'nucleo' bit scared people...
    That might help. And it would be a fillip for the aerospace industry, and, well. I'd rather Dubya spend shitloads on this than on a missile defence system already proven irrelevant.
    NASA have had nuclear rockets on the drawing board for years, as far back as Von Braun.

    Stephen Baxter's Voyage is a great alternative history story which features a description of a nuclear rocket mission gone wrong.
    • Just call it Magnetic Resonance Propulsion.
      They can even brag about how the same materials used in medicine are helping to pave the road to the stars or some other such nonsense.
      Those in the know can simply call it MRP *wink*.

    • Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer on submarines, and he pronounced it the same way. So?

      President Andrew Jackson supposedly made some remark that it is a poor mind that can only spell words one way. I second that emotion for pronunciation.
    • No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by glrotate ( 300695 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:32PM (#5108076) Homepage
      According to the Merriam Webster dictionary [] it is an acceptable pronunciation:

      Main Entry: nuclear
      Pronunciation: 'nü-klE-&r, 'nyü-, ÷-ky&-l&r

  • by Syncdata ( 596941 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:12PM (#5107946) Journal
    Right. We're going to Mars by 2010. We can't even get a decent ferry to the space station built, let alone another escape pod, but we're going to send a manned exploration to Mars. I'll believe this when they show me the module being used to go there. That should be done anywhere from 2009-never.
    I'm rooting for you NASA, but you make me feel like a chicago cubs fan sometimes.
    • We wouldn't need NASA to study the effects of zero-g on bones or fermentation, we've got hundreds of universities who would love to do it.
      Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon in 1969. The first American to make a suborbital, 15-minute flight was only 8 years prior. If the scientists and engineers of the 60s could make that kind of a leap in 8 years, I think those of today should be capable of even more.
  • From the Guardian : Congress may be disinclined to sign a blank cheque for a multibillion-dollar project with no guarantee of success.

    Even if its successful, what's accomplished except some chest-beating and a few rocks physically back on Earth ?

    From Zubrin :
    Like it or not, humanity is going nowhere, astronautically speaking, without the power of the atom.

    This could be the only worthwhile thing. This mission as a pretext to develop new locomotive/propulsion systems.
    • I totally agree. What is the point? Space exploration does not seam to return the best bang for the buck compared to other research.

      The money would be better spent in researching renewable energies, fusion, expanding libre software, biology, genetics, robotics, recycling, etc...

      Yeah, there is always the possibility that we find something there that would inlight us, but chances are it will not happen. Even if we confirm that life existed/exist on Mars, what gives?

      Until we have new means of propulsions, more efficient and much cheaperm space cannot be economically exploited (except for sattelites) with current technology. Life on earth passed millions of years without spreading on other planet (at least, thats the theory for the moment), and we can certainly wait another 500-1000 years until the technology makes space traveling worthwhile.

      Imagine what we could do if NASA's budget would be diverted on other research projects...
  • I'm trying to figure out the signifigance of calling it Project Prometheus. Wasn't Prometheus the Greek guy who went to Mt. Olympus and stole fire and brought it to mankind? Does that imply that there's possibly something on Mars that we going after? Something they haven't told us about? I know that's completely wild speculation, but what the hell... this is /.
    • Wasn't Project Prometheus the name of the project that built the first human built starship on Stargate SG1? I could be wrong but I think that's it. Maybe they figured since they already stole "Star Wars" they might as well borrow from other science fiction. :)
  • by bmwm3nut ( 556681 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:16PM (#5107965)
    I'm confused on how the use of nuclear power will help us get to mars quicker. I understand the benefits of using nuclear power to generate electricity, or create steam to drive an engine, and such. But these type of engines only work on earth. Once you're in outer space, the only way to move is by conservation of momentum. That it to move forward, you have to throw something out the back (e.g. rocket engines). So to get to mars or anywhere else, you need to have enough fuel that can be thown out the back. I don't see nuclear power helping here. Does anyone know how nuclear power will help us get to mars faster. I can see how nuclear power will help generate electricity on the shuttle to help sustain human life, but I don't see how it helps propulsion?
    • As explained in the technical explanations of nuclear power in space that were linked to in the post, you use nuclear power to propel matter. So, like a nuclear power plant, the reactor heats something and then uses the pressure/velocity of that matter to turn a turbine or "push" something in space. You can also use it to generate electricity and then use that electricity to propel matter in some way.
    • They mentioned in the article they still have to develop it...

      My guess is instead of using a single ion engine, ramp that up and use a bunch of larger ion engines, powered by the nuke. Also, since you have a lightweight nuke on board, your total weight goes down considerably compared to hauling cryo fuel, batts, and solar cells around...

    • Nuclear Propulsion (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Talisman ( 39902 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:32PM (#5108072) Homepage
      I watched a Discovery Channel special on this.

      They proposed that a nuke could be detonated in front of the craft, and a giant sail would capture the energy from the blast and rapidly accelerate the craft. Do that a few times, using nukes with small enough yields to not break the astronauts necks, and it should accelerate them nicely without having to lug around shitloads of fuel.

      • by Guppy06 ( 410832 )
        It's called Project Orion []. Several proof-of-concept flights using plastic explosives were successful. Of course, it's not quite as fun as a nuclear salt-water rocket [], which makes Orion look as environmentally friendly as solar power. :)

        However, I think they have something in mind more along the lines of NERVA [], which involves pumping the reaction mass through an ordinary fission reactor. It's just like a chemical, combustion-based rocket, except the thermal energy is produced by the reactor instead of combustion, and you can get a lot more oomph.
    • by Soft ( 266615 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:33PM (#5108078)
      Once you're in outer space, the only way to move is by conservation of momentum. That it to move forward, you have to throw something out the back (e.g. rocket engines). So to get to mars or anywhere else, you need to have enough fuel that can be thown out the back.

      Correct, and we are still talking rocket engines. Except that instead of heating and expelling propellant thanks to a chemical reaction (hydrogen + oxygen -> water), you use a nuclear reaction (pump hydrogen--or just about any gas--into a nuclear reactor, heat it like hell).

      The difference is that a nuclear rocket is much more efficient: the exhaust speed is much higher. Therefore the propellant mass required for a given change in speed is exponentially lower, due to the "rocket equation":
      where m0 is your ship's dry mass, m its total mass (including propellant), dv the change in speed you aim for, and u the exhaust speed.

    • Yes, you generate thrust by throwing matter out the back, but you need some energy source to do the throwing. You accomplish this by heating the fuel rapidly; it becomes a gas and expands, creating pressure in the combustion chamber, which exerts pressure on the vehicle as it exits the exhaust nozzle.

      "Chemical" engines get their heat from chemical reactions; "nuclear" engines from nuclear reactions. The Space Shuttle burns hydrogen and oxygen, and the released chemical potential energy turns into heat. A NERVA-style engine allows atoms to break down; the resulting energy is applied to liquid hydrogen, which rapidly becomes a gas and ejects itself out the nozzle.

    • Simple: to get to Mars you need a lot of propellent, expecially for a manned spacecraft. To get that propellent outside the Earth's orbit you need some huge engines, and a rocket that hasn't been designed yet, and probably won't, in the conceivable future. We're talking about kilometres in size, here.

      But, what makes the propellent push the spacecraft forward? It's the product of mass times velocity. Since we can't have a lot of mass, we must use a propellent that will achieve a great velocity. Enter nuclear propulsion.
    • The nuclear reactor powers an electric motor like the one on Deep Space 1. It ionises xenon and then accelerates it out the back using electromagnets. The electrical output of the nuclear reactor can thus drive the ship, and it means that a lot less of the Mars ship's mass needs to be fuel. So you can either build a lighter, faster ship, or you can build a ship that carries more people and equipment.
  • Wow, Mars by 2010?

    This is what the US needs :). Now we need to get some competition going against ESA and China. Or perhaps co-operation.

    Actually if Russia, ESA and Nasa through there collective mights together it could prove worthwhile and improve relations. Especially as it looks as though we're going to war against Iraq...Maybe they could test it by sending Saddam out first? Have it fly by Mars, then head back to the Sun. Last thing we'd need is for Saddam to land on some highly advanced planet that hasn't had war in thousands of years, where they bring him back to life...Ok I know this is Sci Fi :).

  • I don't care how dumb Bush is. If I'd known he was going to announce this I'd have voted for him.
  • by 2010? (Score:5, Informative)

    by bogie ( 31020 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:17PM (#5107976) Journal
    Fat Chance.
    Not that i don't think we should be going there, I just don't think it will happen by then. America lost its interest in Space Travel long ago and they will have no interest in funding this. It's going to take another country doing it first to provoke America to get on the ball. Even then we'll only be doing it out of spite. Of course if this proposal is based on one of Bush's magical projected revenue formulas they won't have enough money to even buy spacesuits by then.
  • by 10Ghz ( 453478 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:19PM (#5107991)
    "I don't think I'm alone when I say I'd like to see more and more planets fall under the ruthless domination of our solar system."
  • by Xebikr ( 591462 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:20PM (#5107995)

    "We've been restricted to the same speed for 40 years," Mr O'Keefe said. "With the new technology, where we go next will be limited only by our imagination."

    I think what he meant was, where we go will be limited only by our imagination, and the speed of light.

    • Re:From the article (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sql*kitten ( 1359 )
      I think what he meant was, where we go will be limited only by our imagination, and the speed of light.

      So long as you can get close to the speed of light, it's not really a problem. What matters is subjective time (time as perceived by a spaceship's crew). If you average 0.1c over the voyage, 10n years to get anywhere, where n is the distance in lightyears. But (and someone who can do the math will have to answer this) if you can maintain 1G acceleration to the midpoint of your journey and 1G deceleration after that over say 50 lightyears, while your voyage might take 100 years realtime, it will take a fraction of the time subjectively. Think about the difference between wall clock time and CPU time. That means, if you have a drive technology that can maintain 1G, you don't need to worry about generation ships or any of that sci-fi stuff (altho' some sort of anti-aging tech, or suspended animation might be useful). And you sidestep the physiological problems of bone density and muscle mass for free.

      Once you have the drive, the rest is an airtight box. We already know a lot about food storage, recycling, the psychology of confined spaces - nuclear submarines do 6 month voyages as a matter of course. I think a sufficiently motivated crew could spend (subjective) decades on a mission without insurmountable problems occuring.

      The more I think about it, the more I think that the light speed limit is a blessing in disguise.
  • It's a ploy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jahf ( 21968 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:22PM (#5108005) Journal
    This is a ploy on GW's part ... it's 3-fold:

    1) The people who are most decisively against GW's politics are also those who are most for space exploration. It gives those folks something positive to see about the president. Think of it as a distraction from the pending war, which is a distraction from the fact that he has no idea how to run foreign policy.

    2) Some of GW's closest friends and allies are going to reap billions from the program. Defense companies love space projects ... it increases their coffers AND their public relations. Plus, one of the 2 largest space centers is in Texas ... good for the local economy for years after he's out of office.

    3) There's no way that the program can be finished before 2010 (we'll be VERY lucky to get it by then). That means it gives the voters, if they are pro-space, incentive to re-elect him (this is corrollary to #1 I suppose) since anyone running against him is going to be likely to point out the budget pratfalls in such a program.

    Unfortunately, I really like the idea of exploration ... it always reaps rewards in the private sector long after the completion of the trip and for much more than the cost of the program. It's just too bad I really can't see this as anything other than a political machination.

    Worse ... while I believe that Kennedy -also- used it as a political device, at least Kennedy was trying to boost our national pride and point out to the world that we have the best defense technology. I don't see Bush as doing this for anything other than personal reasons and pork barrel politics.

    Here's hoping NASA at least finds a way to do it the right way, rather than turning this into a further mess like the ISS turned out to be.
    • Re:It's a ploy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @02:15PM (#5108331)
      "The people who are most decisively against GW's politics are also those who are most for space exploration."

      Who, the Democrats? Let me show you a quote from a town hall meeting with Al Gore in '99
      Q: Are you willing to take a bold step and leave us with a legacy of having a man on Mars by 2010?

      A: First, as the recent two failures of these robotic landers show, there's still a lot we don't know. Second, the cost is a completely different order of magnitude as the cost of a moon program. There's no doubt that eventually we will land a human being on Mars. But we are right now not at a point where it makes good sense. We've got to get to universal health care. We've got to revolutionize our schools
      That right there is why I didn't vote for Gore. Bush has essentially been mute on the top of space exploration to this day.

      "Think of it as a distraction from the pending war,"

      The same could be said about the Apollo program (Vietnam). Does that make it any less signifigant?

      "Some of GW's closest friends and allies are going to reap billions from the program."

      By all accounts, GW's "closest friends and allies" are in the oil industry (where he's originally from). But he seems to be pusing a nuclear solution, and nuclear power is oil's greatest foe.

      "Defense companies love space projects"

      They're already quite happy with the current missile defense program. A Mars mission has little (if any) defense-related spin-offs. At the very least, none of the spin-offs will be defense-only. We'll see things like more efficient nuclear reactor designs, faster/smaller computers, and other things that benefit not only the military but the private sector and consumers as well.

      The only way there could possibly be military-only spin-offs from a Mars mission is if we have to fight a bunch of Martians in the near future.

      "good for the local economy for years after he's out of office."

      Name one president that has gone into state government after having served as president.

      "There's no way that the program can be finished before 2010 (we'll be VERY lucky to get it by then)"

      "There's no way that the program can be finished before 1970..."

      And the nay-sayers then had better reasons to nay-say as well. Unlike the NASA of the early 1960's, we can reach LEO.
    • As I understand it, white men vote Republican by a considerable margin (2-1 or so), whilst women and ethnic minorities vote Democrat, in the case of (most) minorities by huge margins. Last I checked, white men were by far the biggest supporters of space exploration. Crude, I know, but I think illustrative. Looking at it another way, do you really think most Democrat supporters want money thrown at the space program rather than prescription drugs, welfare, the environment, et cetera?
  • Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sane? ( 179855 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:22PM (#5108007)
    I predict the chinese will get to Mars before an american does.

    As far as the US is concerned, if it doesn't pay for itself or get someone reelected, then it doesn't happen. A manned Mars flight does neither, therefore they are not going.

    Those in charge of China have a different agenda and a different set of values. They have the basic makeup to succeed in this.

    Yes, Mars will be red.

    • Re:Prediction (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
      I sincerely doubt it. We're great gonzo in a space race, I think we've proved that already. A space race is one of the few things that really could pull America out of recession, which is why I don't think the Chinese will get serious about one. I'm not surprised they want to start putting people into space, though. They're the people I think are most likely to put together a space station big enough to be useful for something; They have a lot of people, they're generally soft on human rights and big on chutzpah (though I have no idea what the chinese call it) and I can see them putting a bunch of people into space in something in about as good a shape as Mir, but much larger.

      I do think that going to mars before putting a permanent base on the moon (I'm thinking cities on the moon, personally. That would definitely get people excited and willing to spend money) is dumb. I also think that going to mars before putting together a larger and more useful space station and mining asteroids is dumb. Asteroid mining is the very FIRST thing we should be doing. If this mars trip is really just a test for a nuclear motor that can be adapted to be efficient enough to use for mining, then I'm okay with it, though :)

  • by Soft ( 266615 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:22PM (#5108008)
    ... as if anything had happened. NASA's reflex will probably be "great, we'll do it, triple our budget", and Congress' knee-jerk reaction will be "forget it". No?
  • Just get some country x (preferable not on the best of terms with the United States) to declare similar intensions for Mars. Then we'll see the ball start rolling.
  • by BradNelson ( 549752 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:24PM (#5108014) Homepage
    Mars by 2010?? Why not go to the moon first, considering we've "never been there?" Or maybe they'll fake the Mars landing too, you know, just to beat the...umm...*mumble*...
  • Given that Prometheus was punished by the gods with having an eagle eat his liver for all eternity, don't you think NASA could come up with a better name for the project?
  • In related news, jkcity writes: "according to this article by the BBC, the Chinese plan to have a man in space by October 2003."

    Ya know... given that they invented black powder and have some pretty small people living there you'd have thought this would have happened already. Either by design or by accident.

  • Before worrying about space, the old NACA was a decent research based organization. Along came NASA and Mercury / Gemini / Apollo, they had a mission and did it in grand style. Ever since, they've been more interested in protecting their turf and knocking down private ventures into space, even going so far as nasty back stage tricks to keep Tito from getting into space as a tourist, as if being a tourist was somehow dirty and ... commercial!

    I'm all for getting into space, but one shot missions to Mars or even the moon aren't the answer. They need to get back to research basics, let space tourism take off (ha), and in general get out of the way. They can't even handle the space station, their budget is blown to heck and back, how are they supposed to handle a mission to mars on top of it?
  • By 2010 we should have launched a second manned mission to Jupiter! It's supposed to be a combined US/Russian endeavor...

    Where's my Pan Am flight to the moon!?
  • Another article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:42PM (#5108145) Homepage
    Is here at [] and it has details and illustrations. For example: "NASA spokesman, Don Savage, said that the Los Angeles Times story misstated some elements of what O'Keefe discussed regarding the agency's Nuclear Space Initiative (NSI). NASA formally requested the newspaper for clarification of several points in the story that could be misconstrued, he said.

    NASA spokesman Glenn Mahone acknowledged that O'Keefe did talk generally about the upcoming State of the Union but did not make a prediction that Bush would use it to make any NASA-related announcements."

    So don't start packing your bags, yet. There is also the question of how to keep the people making the journey alive and healthy. Even on relatively short space missions, there is a significant (~20%) muscle loss, and measurable bone loss.

    I hope it works.

    Man Gets 70mpg in Homemade Car-Made from a Mainframe Computer []

  • by alchemist68 ( 550641 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:43PM (#5108148)
    NASA should use Asymetric Capacitors instead of nuclear pulsed power. It would be cheaper, provide nice constant acceleration, and of course hush those anti-nuclear foe who are afraid of what they don't understand. NASA patented a version of this propulsion system about one year ago this January. Here are the links: [PDF file attempting to explain how it works]
  • To the naysayers... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cygnusx ( 193092 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:46PM (#5108168) Homepage
    I can't believe the number of people asking "why" to this, especially on a ostensibly tech-friendly crowd like /. (I know, I know, no groupthink here...)

    But Mars (even the moon) is worth going to, because:

    1) Big Hairy Audacious Goals [] are needed for progress. Linear development is often not enough, BHAGs act like a booster shot. The 20th century saw not one, but two: WWII and the Moon-landing. We need more.

    2) Space has energy and minerals that man could use. Greenpeace types should be in favour of space exploration for this reason alone.

    3) Space exploration means frontier societies could potentially develop again (and challenge traditional, established societies). Today, Earth resembles 15th century Europe too much for its own good -- everything charted and explored, resources dwindling... America provided a new beginning to a lot of people in the last 500 years, non-Earth settlements could do so again.

    4) and finally, ...because it's freakin' there! :-)

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @01:49PM (#5108185) Homepage Journal
    For those with a short memory or who are too young, you might want to look at Reagan's 1986 State of the Union Speech [] given right after the space shuttle blew up.

    ...we are going forward with research on a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours. (Applause.)
  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @02:02PM (#5108249) Homepage Journal
    There seem to be people who think this project is going to get cancelled or this is just hype. As I mentioned in the NASA funding story, I suspect this is more real than half you realize. It's a fact that Bush stopped just short of calling China and axis of evil. Beyond Bush, the US and China have been generating friction for some time now. And now China is pushing their space program...Hard.

    If you want a decisive advantage in any conflict, or even if you just want to intimidate somebody, you control the high ground. Space is the ultimate high ground. It allows you to spy with impunity. Deploy weapons without fear of retaliation. once the infra-structure is in place, it will be an excellent natural resource base (on the moon, asteroid belts, etc). Putting aside all the Star Trek 'space is for exploration' idealist, space is a tactical advantage you simply can't ignore, especially if you potential advesaries are looking at it.

    Now I'm not so sure about Mars. I figure, like the Chinese, the moon would be a much better and profitable first target. Unless they know something we dont.... In any case, Consider the US space program alive again, if for no other reason than because Bush doesn't like the Chinese.
  • No nook-you-lers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @02:29PM (#5108411) Homepage
    1. There has been no indication of this project anywhere I've seen. It would stick out! The NERVA/Zeus project was thirty years ago. The engineers are long gone, and there are no new ones.

    2. The U.S. has no nuclear (nook-you-ler, if you're a C-grade fratboy from Texas) rocket program.

    3. Nook-you-ler rockets are illegal under current treaties -- I think. Not that that would stop Bush -- treaties are for the evil, not the good.

    4. 8 years is not enough time. The U.S. doesn't have the infrastructure to mount a mission.

    5. The U.S. is going into debt at the rate of 1.3 billion dollars a day. We're spending ourselves utterly broke while cutting taxes. I don't think even the current regime is stupid enough to go to Mars when schools are setting up two daily shifts to save money. Or are they?

    6. Politically impossible -- tho I qualify this in saying that this is the first marketing-driven administration in U.S. history. They've sold us on the idea that Saddam mounted the 9-11 attacks. I may be underestimating their maniuplative abilities.

    7. This story is based on the world of one, count 'em, ONE "NASA administrator". The threshold used to be at least two believeable sources. The collapse of standards in the '90's set us up for any clown to float a story now -- bubonic plague vials on the loose! News at 11!

    8. As an old space junkie, I wish the story was true -- sort of. I'd have preferred an ion drive, which is easier to maintain, ulimately faster, and doesn't carry the nuke label for marketing reasons.

    9. If the story is true, why do I sense that the speculative capitalists that are now in charge of the guvmint (as opposed to businessmen -- the difference between Enronomics and the local Chamber of Commerce) would be trying to wring even more tax money out of us all? That would be on top of the 100-200 billion that the current contracts to attack/rebuild Iraq are going to cost the U.S. We are getting robbed here. NASA did the moon landings on the cheap -- I don't think the prvate equity managers will be as motivated to keep costs down.
  • What good is Mars? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Euphonious Coward ( 189818 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @03:34PM (#5108778)
    Why would anyone want to go to Mars? It's little more than a deep, deep hole a long ways off.

    We should plan missions to the asteroids. Everything we will need is in the asteroids, and the asteroids are the place to colonize someday. (How much energy would it take to move Cruithne into Earth orbit?)

    Planets, pfft. Traps. They'll all still be there if somebody ever figures out a good use for them. They don't even make very good nuke-waste dumps. (Earth excepted, of course.)

  • by Rui del-Negro ( 531098 ) on Saturday January 18, 2003 @04:55PM (#5109209) Homepage
    NASA managers found a way to convince the goverment to fund this mission: they told Bush that the martians are developing weapons of mass destruction. They have reliable intelligence: a complete report from secret agent Herbert G. Wells.

  • Space Elevator (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday January 18, 2003 @09:38PM (#5110601) Homepage Journal
    I think it's a mistake to go anywhere in space, beyond launching the odd satellite, without building a space elevator. Of course we are waiting on that until it becomes substantially cheaper, and maybe until the base doesn't have to take up several square miles with current technology. :)

    The only other reasonable thing you could do in space would be to mine asteroids and start building things in orbit and on the moon. But going to Mars at this point doesn't make sense. It's going to cost too much. I am all behind nuclear rockets but I think going to mars is premature. Let's put a city on the moon, and start sending politicians there.

    I'll start voting republican if republicans start putting money into space research. I shit you not.

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