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NASA Space Science

Nuclear Rocket Petition On White House Website 205

RocketAcademy writes "A petition on the White House website is calling for the United States to rapidly develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Nuclear rockets are a promising technology, but unless NASA develops a deep-space exploration ship such as Johnson Space Center's Nautilus X, a nuclear rocket would be wasted. Launching nuclear rockets may pose regulatory and political problems as well. Practical applications may depend on mining uranium or thorium on the Moon."
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Nuclear Rocket Petition On White House Website

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  • The original... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @07:38PM (#42577697)

    The NERVA test engine is on display at Johnson Space Center, as I understand it.

    Being 40+ years out of date, I imagine they'll have to spend billions to repeat the original work, but I'd hope that the fact that we already built a working nuclear rocket would mean that developing a new one wouldn't be overwhelmingly difficult.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @07:55PM (#42577785)

    I would really like to be able to vote against some of the stupid ideas on the White House web site. It would help to have a crowd function to weed out some of the wackier ideas.

  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @08:19PM (#42577889)
    The budget is congress' responsibility, petitioning the Whitehouse for that wouldn't help. Here you've complained about useless petitions and then followed up with a useless petition suggestion of your own.

    I love the petition website as an attempt to get people a little more involved with public policy but (maybe because I read Slashdot too much) so many of the petitions seem to be nonsense like "I want a nuclear powered spaceship to Andromeda." Or "more funding for SETI." Addressing climate change is a better suggestion, but the president has attempted to address climate change in a few ways already. Doing more or something different isn't a bad idea, but you would need to be more specific - a requirement for city planners to implement some manner of public transportation, a plan for reduced dependance on beef, etc.
  • by Soralin ( 2437154 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @10:43PM (#42578603)

    Nuclear Thermal Rockets can have a higher efficiency than than conventional chemical rockets, but it's not as much as you might think. There's a limitation that to have a higher exhaust velocity in a thermal rocket, the exhaust needs to be hotter. And it can only be so much hotter before your reactor starts becoming molten rather than a solid. Which means that efficiency tops out at a bit less than double the exhaust velocity of conventional rockets.

    Now, that's still useful, if you can get enough thrust to get up off of the planet (and to overcome the weight of the reactor in the process), then you might be able to lift quite a bit more into orbit. Except the petition is for an NTR that would only operate in space. And in space, where you don't really have to worry about the amount of thrust, and your speed is limited by your fuel and your exhaust velocity, things like ion drives can reach efficiencies an order of magnitude higher, or more. Which means, an NTR in space only wouldn't be as useful, compared to nuclear-electric or solar-electric propulsion.

    I suppose an NTR not used for Earth surface to orbit might still be useful in landing or taking off from other objects. Really, that's where its strength would be, if you can get it to have high enough thrust, then it would be useful for getting things into orbit and back, as a surface-to-orbit ship. But as far as orbit-to-orbit ships go, ion drives and other electric propulsion can get a lot more speed out of the same tank of propellant.

  • Re:The original... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Sunday January 13, 2013 @11:40PM (#42578863) Journal

    “This is not a model,” NASA physicist Les Johnson says as we gaze at the 35-foot-tall assemblage of pipes, nozzles, and shielding. “This is an honest-to-goodness nuclear rocket engine.”
        -- From Nat.Geographic (link above)

  • by Smauler ( 915644 ) on Monday January 14, 2013 @01:55AM (#42579545)

    As a European, I generally agree, especially in terms of household construction, and insulation. These are easy things to do, and pretty easy to regulate when you give planning permission.

    However, TCO falls flat on the floor with loads of stuff like lightbulbs, because they fail to take into account the fact basically _no_ energy is wasted when the house is being heated. All the energy goes to heat. All the energy heats your house. The _only_ time an energy inefficient light source is wasting energy is when you are not heating the house. For most of the UK population, that's about 1/4 of the time.

    Solar panels are an absolute joke in the UK, they're a middle class government subsidised tax break, and no more. Seriously - the one place you don't want a solar panel is in the UK, it's got about the lowest sunshine hours in the world. I'm actually talking from one of the driest places in England - just over 12 inches of rainfall annually (honestly) - but we still get a lot of cloud.

    European cars have led the world in being energy inefficient over the last 20 years or so. We left our 100mpg [] production cars behind a long time ago.

    Are things really cheaper in the US? Broadband & mobile plans seem more. Petrol's cheaper, because it's taxed a hell of a lot less. Apart from that, I don't really know... all I know is that cheese is expensive in Australia. On that note, I depart.

  • by oatworm ( 969674 ) on Monday January 14, 2013 @04:30AM (#42580049) Homepage
    Let's go through the list...

    Housing construction: In Europe, current population is either stagnant or shrinking in most countries and the population generally doesn't move around much - it's not entirely uncommon for a family to still be living in the same house their great-great-grandparents moved into during the start of the Industrial Revolution. In America, it's a different story - our population is steadily increasing through a combination of natural birth rates and mild immigration, and our population is arguably one of the most mobile on Earth. Consequently, American housing reflects American needs - it doesn't need to hold up multi-generationally because it won't be in use multi-generationally. It just needs to hold itself together long enough to get the kids into college so the parents can retire into a different, smaller house, preferably one in a warmer climate.

    Household appliances: Eh? All the appliances in my apartment are at least a good 15-20 years old and they're holding up okay. Bear in mind here that, if we're going to get serious about energy efficiency, we probably shouldn't be encouraging people to use 50 year old appliances that work "just as well as when they were new".

    Cars: You're kidding, right? I've seen European cars. I've owned European cars. There's a reason they're a niche commodity in America - they're expensive and don't hold up nearly as well under American driving conditions as Japanese and (some) American models. Plus, due to the higher concentration of population in Europe, mass transit is used more widely and the road system isn't generally as accommodating as America's - this means that there are a lot of poorer Americans buying cars here that would normally just take a bus or a train in Europe, which means there's a large, paying market of people here that can't afford a C-Class. I'll note that there are several European brands that tried to set up shop here and failed miserably, all with horrific reputations for reliability by the time they were done (anything British, French, and Italian comes to mind, with FIAT doing its best to prove it's learned a thing or two since the last time they were here). Even Volkswagen has a well-deserved reputation for shaky reliability and build quality out here, though I've heard that has as much to do with the price point VW's trying to meet in the US as it does anything else.

    Put another way, Americans look at TCO just fine - we're just operating under an entirely different set of parameters than Europeans. Well-built 100-year-old houses are still 100-year-old houses with 100-year-old wiring, 100-year-old plumbing, and 100-year-old room sizes - in our case, we have enough open room and enough money to replace those with newer, better designed houses, and since we know we're just going to replace them again in 25-50 years, we're not going to overbuild them. Similarly, the American definition of a "well built" car is wildly divergent from a European definition - since we practically live in our cars here, we want something that will last 250,000-300,000 miles and/or 10-15 years of constant day-to-day driving first (that's 400,000-500,000 km), we want it to be comfortable to sit in for long periods, and if it can also go around a corner without swaying to-and-fro, so much the better; this, I'll note, is the opposite order of the European definition, which better reflects European needs and conditions. And so on.
  • Re:The original... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Monday January 14, 2013 @05:39AM (#42580263)

    The big difference modernising a 50 year old design would bring is a huge increase in weight efficiency - new materials, new understanding and better ability to manage finer tolerances.

    You could take a 1950s Boeing 707 and remove about 50 tonnes from it just through the above.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 14, 2013 @08:50AM (#42580757)

    "Pissing in the wind" is about something unpleasant blowing back at one. What you're talking about is "Pissing in the sea".

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM