NASA studies nuclear power production for Mars mission

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In an impasse on how to bring electricity to other planets, NASA engineers are considering taking nuclear reactors into space. Facing problems such as lack of sunlight and the growing time of space missions, scientists consider nuclear energy as the simplest solution to the problem.

Space exploration is of enormous interest to the human race – and space agencies. Transporting humans or machines to other planets already has a definite solution, but how to provide comfort and support for travelers during their stay off Earth? For NASA, the answer is simple: nuclear power.

How to bring electricity into space has been a longstanding issue for space agencies, but NASA engineers believe the solution is simpler than they imagined. Nuclear power is one of the most explored means of producing energy here on Earth and can be taken to other orbits.

“I hate to call it innovation since it’s not that complicated,” comments David Poston, nuclear engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to Chemical & Engineering News. For him, this solution is not the most complex, but other issues must be analyzed for the sending of nuclear reactors.

One is the size of the facilities. For NASA, building a complete nuclear power plant on the moon is out of the question; therefore, the institute works on a small alternative that adapts to the conditions of the lunar environment.

“On the moon, you’re closer to home”
Engineers say four reactors would yield enough energy for a team of six to live on Mars and use the Moon as a test environment. “On the moon, you are closer to home; so if something fails, it will be a significantly short trip home. On Mars, on the other hand, the system had better work properly. ” NASA engineer Michelle Rucker comments to C&EN.

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Currently, the nuclear fission reactor depends not only on the success of the project, but also on financial investment. Dionne Hernández-Lugo, a researcher at the John H. Glenn Research Center, says the team’s budget plan sets the stage for building and shipping a surface energy production system on the moon.

If the project goes well, the next step is to send stations to Mars. For that, it will be necessary to study all the technologies already tested for the production of energy off Earth – including nuclear energy. For this, all conditions of the Martian environment will be considered and what changes need to be made before shipping.


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