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Nuclear Fuel For Superfast Interplanetary Travel

Hemos posted more than 13 years ago | from the intergalatic-planetary dept.

Science 259

jdoire writes: "Using a thin metallic film of americium-242m, a rocket could reach Mars in only 2 weeks. This is made possible because the nuclear material could be used both as a source of energy and as a propellent material, making the engine very efficient and light weigth. Check ScienceDaily for the full story."

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Radioactive exhaust? (3)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 13 years ago | (#528190)

The article is slashdotted, but from the Slashdot description, it sounds like we're talking about a radioactive substance that would be expelled for a reaction force. Is that right? If so, then it sounds like you don't want to be anywhere near or downwind of the smoke cloud this thing makes when it takes off.

I hope I'm misinterpreting this, because my first reaction is: "Gee, that's stupid." I mean, it doesn't sound as bad as Orion, but still...


Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

EFGearman (245715) | more than 13 years ago | (#528197)

heh... yep... See what happens kiddies, when you don't have your regular intake of sugar and caffeine. You miss all kinds of things. The above figure of 16000 km./hr. should be 16000 km./min. The actual figure for hourly travel is now 960,000 km./hr.

And now back to our regular program...

Eric Gearman

Space is, how to put it? HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE! (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 13 years ago | (#528198)

"An unprotected human passenger riding aboard Voyager 1 during its Jupiter encounter would have received a radiation dose equal to one thousand times the lethal level."

Quoted from 'Gee-Whiz Facts about Voyager []

A groovy little slide show from the Netherlands about space radiation.
Space Radiation and it's effects []

Capt. Ron

Re:G force issue! (1)

IainMH (176964) | more than 13 years ago | (#528200)

Mouse. You're missing a 'karma' from your sig.

Re:Nope, nope, nope - NOT TRUE (1)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 13 years ago | (#528202)

Interesting point (speed = 0.014 x c). Time & mass dialation could be measureable, but it's still not enough for serious issues to occur. The wierd/cool stuff doesn't appreciably happen (IIRC) until about 90% of c.

Re:On Slashdot, we call it USiacium (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#528204)

That reminds me of the time that an overzealous newspaper editor in Washington (I can't recall which of the papers it was) blindly changed the text of a business report to read that the market was expected to soon be "in the African-American".

Re:On Slashdot, we call it USiacium (1)

bobv-pillars-net (97943) | more than 13 years ago | (#528205)

Youessicium ?

Re:DIY space travel (1)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 13 years ago | (#528206)

Some high school kid was collecting smoke detectors in his back yard and scraping out the Americium for some project. Turned into a royal mess for Hazmat/ABC personnel to clean up.

Re:Never mind, I'm an idiot (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 13 years ago | (#528207)

Oops, you meant when the unit is escaping the Earth's atmosphere, duh.

I think they would used standard solid fuel boosters to get the 2nd and 3rd stages (also solid fuel propellant) into space and after the payload has made it out of "range" (?) of our atmosphere the 'high-speed' engines would kick in.

Capt. Ron

Would sure cut my commute down! (1)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 13 years ago | (#528208)

Using this technology, I should be able to make it to work in about 0.2 seconds!


Re:Neat Idea (3)

smnolde (209197) | more than 13 years ago | (#528209)

Getting americium isn't that impossible, but it is dificult. The steel and metals industry uses americium to gauge the thickness of metals.

In fact the company I work for now probably has a few pellets from many years ago. I don't think they are of this isotope, but still, it can be found.

Oh, BTW, if it wasn't mentioned, the half life of Americium-242 is about 16 hours. It's relatively easy on the environment. However, Am-241 has a half life of 432 years. And to make matters worse, Am-243, the most stable isotope has a half-life of 7300 years.

Re:Neat Idea (2)

Psiren (6145) | more than 13 years ago | (#528210)

Didn't I read somewhere that they gave them suicide pills for just such an event. I know I'd take the easy way out rather than suffocate. Nasty way to go...

Applications & Research = 2 weeks to Mars! (1)

glebite (206150) | more than 13 years ago | (#528217)

This article is available elsewhere on slashdot... Argle... So I'll repost my comment again too...

Okay - it's based on values dependant on acquiring reasonable quantities of Am... But, what I read into this, is that an application of using another radioactive material in a different alignment/form could generate the power necessary for this short of a trip.

It's almost sounding like more and more like the early attempts at getting controlled fission to work with differing opinions on the actual arrangement of the fuel. They tired different methods, and finally arrived at what they needed.

I wonder if the explosion of distributed computing for medicine could also be applied to configuring radioactive material alignments and shielding to improve reactors?

Drat - I only get 3 weeks vacation a year so Mars is out - I guess I'll have to settle for the Dominican Republic again...

But what happens when they get there? (1)

Choco-man (256940) | more than 13 years ago | (#528218)

2 weeks to get to mars means you're moving at an awfully good clip. i wonder how big a crater a ship moving that fast would leave - if we send up a couple of those i bet we could add ears or dimples to the face formation on mars...

Re:not me (1)

magnum32 (171166) | more than 13 years ago | (#528221)

penis butt juice

Re:Still not good enough! (2)

Luminous (192747) | more than 13 years ago | (#528230)

I know this planet that has this stuff that when taken in vast quantities allows the user to fold space allowing for instantaneous interplanetary travel.

Actually Heinlein showed that a trip to Mars (1)

S1mon_Jester (223331) | more than 13 years ago | (#528231)

with constant boost (important) of 1g would take only around 2 weeks back in the early 70's, IIRC. (It was Expanded Universe).

Wanna have fun? Figure the time to Pluto using the same stuff. (It's in the book, look it up.)

Environmental issues? (1)

coulbc (149394) | more than 13 years ago | (#528233)

I'm sure some group will protest. "It might poison our atmosphere".

Re:I want NASA to go to mars ... (1)

bobv-pillars-net (97943) | more than 13 years ago | (#528234)

I want NASA to go to mars ...

<toungue location="cheek">
I can think of a *lot* of government organizations that I wish would go to mars.


Inter...PLANAR? (3)

SecretAsianMan (45389) | more than 13 years ago | (#528237)

Wow... I guess space travel has come a long way since I went to sleep last night!

SecretAsianMan (54.5% Slashdot pure)

Re:not me (1)

DigiBlitz (145203) | more than 13 years ago | (#528239)

I do.

Re:Nope, nope, nope - NOT TRUE (3)

cprael (215426) | more than 13 years ago | (#528240)

At 150,000 mph, we're traveling approxiately 2,500 miles per second.

Math isn't your strong suite, is it?

150,000mph / 60 = 2500 mp minute

2500 mpm / 60 = 41.66 mps

BTW - that 150,000 mph figure - is that supposed to be peak velocity, or something else?

Redundant, again... (1)

Soft (266615) | more than 13 years ago | (#528241)

So, what's that, Earth to Mars In Two Weeks [] ?

the dept. (3)

deuist (228133) | more than 13 years ago | (#528242)

That's a pretty good posting Hemos, but what department is it from? Hemos: "The" department.

All this technology... (2)

Raymond Luxury Yacht (112037) | more than 13 years ago | (#528243)

... and we STILL can't create a toupee that doesn't get big laughs.

Re:Will it be safe? (2)

Psiren (6145) | more than 13 years ago | (#528245)

Hmmmm.. you mean... an "off" button? ;-)

I wish that (1)

prisoner (133137) | more than 13 years ago | (#528246)

we could do something like this already. I'm getting tired of reading things like this and having it go nowhere fast. Wouldn't it be cool if we could actually go ahead and do it?

Re:Environmental issues? (2)

glebite (206150) | more than 13 years ago | (#528248)

What really bothers me is the number of groups that think that we shouldn't be putting our radioactive contaminants and materials into space... There's a heck of a lot more out there to worry about - just look at what's happening to Galileo everytime it flies around IO...

But yeah - liftoff issues are a bit of a bother - that's why we should have nuclear fuel production in space - preferably somewhere handy but not too close to the Earth. Use conventional rockets to ferry people to the moon base, mine, and refine the fuel there. Nuclear fuel appears to be the way to do it now - might as well try to do it right. But then again, we'd need quite the infrastructure to get us there, and that doesn't seem to be happening soon.

And no, nuclear explosions will not hurl the lunar base at interstellar speeds out of the solar system to go on a series of adventures.

Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (2) (113202) | more than 13 years ago | (#528250)

It's been a long time, but IIRC you have:

distance = 1/2 * acceleration * time^2

so, if half way from the earth to mars is 8e10 meters, and 1 week is about 6e5 seconds, I make that only about .44 meters/second^2 or 1/20 of a Gee.

(surely I've bollixed the math someplace :)

Re:Automotive Industry (1)

Zorkon (121860) | more than 13 years ago | (#528252)

Mainly because the specific impulse generated by this sort of propulsion is pretty low - works really well in the frictionless environment of space, but wouldn't even be able to get a Fiero (motorized skateboard imho) above 1/2 mph on Earth. :)

Re:I honestly don't care (2)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#528256)

I agree, to a point. But here's the reality: We aren't there yet. If we started building right this minute, we'd be there in about five years. You're not going to see routine trips to Mars for 10 years at least.

Secondly, the ISS may be the biggest boon to interplanetary space travel we've come up with so far. With it, we have the possibility of starting from outside the gravity well, which is the biggest fuel burn we have with any space travel.

Finally, if you don't like what NASA is doing, why not do it yourself? Seriously, private sector space travel is getting more likely and more lucrative by the day. Go get some funding, and do it yourself!


David Wong (199703) | more than 13 years ago | (#528257)

What good is it to have tiny nukes if we have no ability to deliver them to other planets, where hostile alien races are sure to be setting up a similar attack on us? We must strike first to establish humanity's supremacy in the galaxy, and a super-fast spaceship with horrifyingly destructive weapons is the first step.

Done that... (1)

lildogie (54998) | more than 13 years ago | (#528268) kids with matchsticks and gum wrappers

Re:American's understand doublespeak (1)

demus (116346) | more than 13 years ago | (#528271)

You have a very wide definition of American, it seems. Includes the british now, it seems.

Re:American's understand doublespeak (1)

Skipio (13086) | more than 13 years ago | (#528273)

Haha, I see you are trying to be funny too.
I suppose you know just as well as I do, that Orwell was an Englishman [] .

Re:But what happens when they get there? (2)

istartedi (132515) | more than 13 years ago | (#528276)

I imagine they would turn the ship around, thus turning the thruster into a brake, long before they get there.

Re:Neat Idea (2)

SecretAsianMan (45389) | more than 13 years ago | (#528287)

If something went wrong on a MOON mission, we would ahve left our astronauts out there to die

True, but only if there were no other solution. Remember Apollo 13 (the mission, not the very good and ultimately enjoyable movie)? NASA and friends did everything in their power to bring the boys home -- when it would have been much less expensive to just turn the radios off, send all the engineers home, and tell the media that they lost contact with the astronauts.

SecretAsianMan (54.5% Slashdot pure)

M'nukes are bad, m'kay? (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#528289)

Nuclear power is evil, regardless of benefit.
Coal fired power is evil, regardless of benefit.
Oil fired power is evil, regardless of benefit.
Natural gas power plants emit pollutants and so are evil too, regardless of benefit.
Geothermal and solar... hmmm... don't seem to work like greenpeace says.

So for the last ***10 YEARS***, not one new power plant was build in CA nor any expansion of existing plants.

Waaaaah! We have an enegry shortage in CA due to... uh.... yeah!.... DEREGULATION! Surely strict environmental laws are not to blame. And repealing then would be a right wind radical thing to do.

Let's lobby the DOE to force other states on the grid to sell us power at a mandated discount. They want to suck off the grid and pollute other states so they can have blue skies?!

Well, hey, CA, you download off the grid, you have to upload too. CA is no different than a w4r3z l33ch. If you want power, you have to get dirty... you have to pay for it just like everyone else.

Re:G force issue! (3)

lelitsch (31136) | more than 13 years ago | (#528291)

Ma certo:

distance = 1/2 accelleration*time^2

The closest distance between Mars and Earth is about 100 million kilometers (I refuse to do this in miles)and want to cover it in a week

0.5*acc*(7*25*3600 second)^2=5*10^10 meter

Gives you about 0.27 meters/second^2 or about 1/40th of Earth's gravity. Peachy

Bravo! (1)

FatSean (18753) | more than 13 years ago | (#528292)

Well spoken.

Re:G force issue! (2)

eVarmint (62178) | more than 13 years ago | (#528294)

It would be funny if it were true.

Let's do some math:
Accelerate at 1 G for two days...
10m/s * 60 * 60 * 24 * 2 = 1728 Km/s
Mars is about 20 light minutes away at its most distant point so...
20 * 60 * 300,000km = 360,000,000 km

At the aforementioned velocity you could cover the distance in...
360000000 / 1728 = 208333 secs
That's about 2.5 days, no puree.

Re:Radioactive exhaust? (1)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 13 years ago | (#528295)

I liked the idea of Orion. I'd assumed it would be used far enough away from Earth that the radioactivity wouldn't have much effect. Heck, I bet you'd hit more rads on a Jupiter-flyby than cruising through Orion exhaust. Wouldn't solar wind disperse it, too?

For those that haven't heard of Orion, it was a concept for an interstellar spaceship. The propulsion method was basically chucking atomic bombs out the back end and letting them explode against a big reaction plate on the rear of the spacecraft. Theoretically you could approach speeds close to 0.1 c, IIRC.

Re:Well hoo-bleedin'-ray for interplanetary travel (2)

bluGill (862) | more than 13 years ago | (#528296)

Sure I agree in theory that we need a cheap way to get off earth before we need a cheap interplanitory travel. However it turns out not to be stricktly true.

Assume getting off earth is expensive, but a break through tommorow turns up with cheap travel between solar systems. That means that the space station can send probes to do fly-bys of distant planets, and 20 years latter have the satilight return for repairs before going to a diffent solar system. (Of course that would be fairly close). reusable probes would be a break through, and while they are still expensive they would be a lot cheaper then starting with a new probe, and would give us data we cannot get today. (We cannot do a fly-by of other solar systems with current probes, but this might give is the ability to do fly-bys of farther out systems)

Second, and more likely is that eventially we get a fairly cheap way to get off earth. We don't want to start at ground zero devolping cheap interplanitory travel. A lot of early work in research is better done by small teams, once the theory(s) are devolped you then take a large team to impliment it. So once we have a cheap way to get off earth we really want to quickly get a cheap way to get elsewhere. Getting off earth might end up taking 3 hours, who cares, but if that super cheap drive that takes 3 hours to get off earth can't reach faster speeds it is wrothless for getting to mars. Take that cheap but slow drive as a farry trip to space, and switch to a ship with cheap interplanitory drive, and you can then reach mars in 2 weeks. Nobody would allow a ship with radio active by-products like the above in the earths atmosphere, but it si harmless in space, so we combine them.

Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

EFGearman (245715) | more than 13 years ago | (#528297)

I get the same answer. But remember that velocity isn't necessary indicative of the situation. What you have described is constant acceleration and deceleration. If that is so, then at the point of change over, ie. the time going from speeding up to slowing down, the spacecraft in question is traveling over 266 km/sec. This tranlates to 16 thousand km/hr.

Fast, huh.

Eric Gearman

Re:Interplanar... right (2)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#528317)

All of your complaints are easily explained. The slashdot editors are illiterate. Either that or they've been replaced by the equivalent of a procmail filter that rejects 99.99% of all stories and blindly posts the remaining 0.01%.

Think about it, it would work. For any apple story insert some lame comment about jobs from a fortune database. For linux stories some comment like "I'm glad to see that linux is finally immanitizing the eschelon".

Gack! I've figured out to much. The VA linux corporate assassins just knocked down my door and are in my office.

Fortunately since the collapse of their stock they couldn't afford competent assassins, nor weapons beyond a broken nerf gun purchased at a garage sale for a nickel.

Go USA! (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#528319)

Notice they're using americium . . . we all knew America was supposed to win the space race ;)

Re:Radioactive exhaust? (3)

bmongar (230600) | more than 13 years ago | (#528321)

I can't get to the article either, but I would imagine they would blast it into space using the traditional launch mechansims then once it got safely our of our air turn on the nukes.

Re:Environmental issues? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#528323)

This type of propulsion would only be used in space itself. The only issue would be getting the fuel into orbit (risk of launch problems). Fortunately, Americium is only mildly radioactive and has a VERY short half life (damn, don't have my "Rubber Bible" handy to look it up). I used to work with small samples of it (disks about 1 cm in diameter) on a daily basis, unshielded, for three years in order to perform tests on mercuric iodide x/gamma detectors. Pretty mild stuff.

Re:G force issue! (5)

mghiggins (61851) | more than 13 years ago | (#528326)

The G-force isn't that bad, actually. tells me that the distance from Earth to Mars is between 56M km and 400M km, depending on the relative position of the orbits.

Assuming constant +ve accn for the first half of the journey and constant -ve accn for the second half, and a two-week journey in total, this means an acceleration of between 0.15 m/s^2 and 1.1 m/s^2.

Since 1g = 9.8 m/s^2, these accelerations are tiny, and you'd safely avoid being pureed.

Re:Why is this posted again? (2)

Siqnal 11 (210012) | more than 13 years ago | (#528327)

If you pay attention, you'll find that most of the story repeats are posted by michael first, and then Hemos or CT come in & repost them.

I've commented on this in the past, and gotten slapped down immediately, but it's worth bringing it up again.


The Economics of Space (3)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#528328)

The economics of the issue dictate that we need to have a way to cut down the travel time from years to months.

If we have an affordable way to travel in months to the nearby planets, then the solar system and the stars are open to us.

the model is that of the Polynesians as they spread over the Pacific ocean. There plenty of small objects beyond Pluto that could act as stepping stones. never mind things like the asteroid belt. Earth crossing asteroids could suddenly become viable economic entities for carrying things between the inner and outer solar system

There are many problems of supply that would have to be worked out. But we could certainly build a network over time, terraform an asteroid or two, mine a comet for water. the challenges are formidable, but not out of the question.

Re:Automotive Industry (2)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 13 years ago | (#528329)

Probably it could power an automobile for awhile, but that's not the only consideration we have to take into account. How come we don't just mount a nuclear reactor inside all new cars? A load of fuel could probably keep the thing going for years...

Anyway, I never could see why people get so worried about us using up all of our oil. It's all simple economics: right now, it doesn't make sense to look for a new fuel source. We have plenty of oil, and it's not doing any good where it is. When it becomes too expensive to obtain, we'll find another energy source real fast.

Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

df1m (301007) | more than 13 years ago | (#528330)

Sure, there's nothing wrong with the cgs system (centimeters, grams seconds).
I like it beter than mks mostly because 1 cm^3 = 1 ml = 1 gram (water).
Much better than 1 m^3 = 1000 l = 1000 kg, IMVHO.
Besides, when your talking space flight, everything is exponents anyhow.

- dave f.

Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (2) (113202) | more than 13 years ago | (#528354)

16,000 km/hr (10,000 mph) is not all that fast for a spacescraft -- IIRC the shuttle is doing more than twice that -- it orbits the earth in 90 minutes.

Re:Neat Idea (5)

Paul Dirac (110526) | more than 13 years ago | (#528355)

It's amazing what one neutron will do....

Am242: fuel to mars

Am241: Smoke detectors!


Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

df1m (301007) | more than 13 years ago | (#528356)

OK, very roughly:
Earth 1.52E13 cm from Sun (max)
Mars 2.06E13 cm from Sun (min)
so min of 5.4E11 cm distance between them.

2.7E12 cm = a/2*t^2

About a 60th of a G? Hmmm, kinda low, but since it is only for two weeks, I doubt someones bones would completely deteriorate. No, not puree, but you should exersise, or else that 1/3G on Mars will seem a little more.

- dave f.

Friction and its side effects (1)

CyberKnet (184349) | more than 13 years ago | (#528357)

So what happens when friction from interplanetary gasses happens, does solar radiation slow it down, when asteroid belts get in the way is there a carmageddon style "instant-without-killing-me-handbrake" ?


Re:G force issue! (2)

MouseR (3264) | more than 13 years ago | (#528358)

these accelerations are tiny, and you'd safely avoid being pureed

I just dont wouldn't want to be turned into another Deep Impact probe.

Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.

Re:And what precentage of space launches fail? (2)

drsoran (979) | more than 13 years ago | (#528359)

Well, if we just count manned US Space Shuttle launches, the error rate is only about 1% out of 100 launches. I'm not a gambler but I'd take those odds any day over Amtrak. You might survive the trip but you'll probably get mugged in the parking lot.

Re:Neat Idea (1)

Scott-W (43401) | more than 13 years ago | (#528360)

FYI, americium is also used in ionization type smoke detectors.

Am 241 has a half-life of 432 years? Thats odd, thats the same material used in the ion chamber in these type of detectors, and those things have to be replaced once every 10 years...

Re:I honestly don't care (1)

hawk (1151) | more than 13 years ago | (#528361)

> I'm sick of waiting and I'm sick of watching NASA shoot little AIBOs
> at that planet and then watching them crash and burn.

Yeah, let's shoot big manned AIBO's, and watch those crash and burn instead :)

Re:G force issue! (1)

Ouroboro (10725) | more than 13 years ago | (#528362)

If I were to endure a 2 week acceleration/deceleration trip to mars, given the distance, I'd be puree on arrival.

You would be completely comfortable the entire time if the acceleration were kept around 1G. Since we are currently experiencing an acceleration equivalent to that all the time. To turn you into a puree we would need to use a wood chipper.

The real hazard comes from little chunks of rocks hitting you while you are moving. This could turn you into swiss cheese to stick with the food motif.

Re:Americium (1)

Skipio (13086) | more than 13 years ago | (#528363)

LOL! I just can't believe this comment was rated as Insightful, not as funny!!!
Americans, oh, they will never understand doublespeak :-)

Re:Environmental issues? (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 13 years ago | (#528364)

There's always someone who will protest. Fortunately, most of the people who protest don't actually care ... they just want something to whine about. It makes them feel good to claim that they're protecting the environment. Note that you rarely see them actually working on the problems of getting energy, or trying to find ways that we can "save the environment" without harming the human race. Instead, they spend most of their time filing lawsuits, chaining themselves to trees, and distributing pamphlets.

testing Xbox (1)

Saan (253209) | more than 13 years ago | (#528365)

"Using a thin metallic film of americium-242m, a rocket could reach Mars in only 2 weeks." Me: Bill, I got here in a split second eventhough I live across the can I test that xbox? Bill: Wow, let me see that ship u have there...oh yeah of course you can test the xbox.

Re:So now we pollute the Universe w/radiocative wa (1)

Mr. Barky (152560) | more than 13 years ago | (#528366)

Those damn aliens. They already polluted it before we got there!

Neat Idea (5)

cluge (114877) | more than 13 years ago | (#528371)

The really neat thing about this is that it would allow us to make rescue attempts if something goes wrong. If something went wrong on a MOON mission, we would ahve left our astronauts out there to die. There would have been no way for use to rescue them. The president even had a speech written just in case. Starving to death or slowly running out of air doesn't sound like a good way to go.

If this can be made praticle (and lord knows getting americium is damn near impossible!) it make the possability of space exploration more inviting and less risky. The time to arrive at our destinations is greatly decreased and the saftey factor goes up. Just think, a trip to the moon could turn into a "three hour tour".

I for one hope they make it work.

Re:not me (1)

magnum32 (171166) | more than 13 years ago | (#528373)

i wanted to know about linux...not rocket fuel.

G force issue! (3)

MouseR (3264) | more than 13 years ago | (#528379)

If I were to endure a 2 week acceleration/deceleration trip to mars, given the distance, I'd be puree on arrival.

Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.

On Slashdot, we call it USiacium (1)

typical geek (261980) | more than 13 years ago | (#528383)

not Americium.

Thank you.

I hope (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 13 years ago | (#528387)

Let us hope that not to many people complain about the use of atomic fuels. I think that this is the greatest thing happening.


I honestly don't care (3)

crayz (1056) | more than 13 years ago | (#528388)

I think all these stories about pie-in-the-sky technology that we won't see for decades, if ever, is entirely the wrong direction to focus attention.

I want NASA to go to Mars, not in 50 years, not in 20, or 5 years ago even better. We have the ability and to go, we have a plan(Mars direct). All we need is some vision: from our representatives in Congress and from the public.

I'm sick of waiting and I'm sick of watching NASA shoot little AIBOs at that planet and then watching them crash and burn. Spend some money, build a good, safe ship, and send some people there. But for god's sake do it now. Everyone thinks it would be hard, and they'd rather it be easy. Well guess what, it will get easy, once we do it 100 or 1000 times.

And while I have nothing against ISS, that $60 billion could have got us a round-trip ticket to Mars, instead of Mir2.

Automotive Industry (3)

scott1853 (194884) | more than 13 years ago | (#528389)

Ok, so why are we still using gas-powered vehicles?

Nevermind, I'll answer that myself: because oil still exists in the Earth and therefore not every penny that can be made from it, has been made by the perto companies.

So if this nuclear material can be used to send a rocket to Mars in 2 weeks, then assumming it can be controlled and throttled, for how many years could it power a car running at 60 mph.

Re:the dept. (1)

ptomblin (1378) | more than 13 years ago | (#528395)

That would be the "didn't we just post this a few days ago" department.

Re:Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

df1m (301007) | more than 13 years ago | (#528396)

Anyone remember how fast Helios B went? I think it was around 57,000 miles per hour.

Re:Oh great, not another nuclear-happy solution (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 13 years ago | (#528397)

I compeletly agree with you. I think an abundant source of energy can be harnessed from the hot air that environmentalists generate.

Re:Neat Idea (2)

ptomblin (1378) | more than 13 years ago | (#528398)

Jim Lovell in Lost Moon says that the "suicide pill" is a myth. There are lots of easier ways to kill yourself if you decide you want to die, like cracking open the door and letting the air out.

not on takeoff (1)

Scott-W (43401) | more than 13 years ago | (#528399)

I'm sure they'll use conventional engines to launch it into space, and then use the nuclear engines once the rocket is safely clear of the planet's orbit.

I couldn't get to the site, but from the write-up, I'm sure the actual amount of nuclear material used in the engine is small.

Re:Neat Idea (1)

Faulty Dreamer (259659) | more than 13 years ago | (#528400)

I wonder if the same sort of thing would happen today, when the bottom line is far more important than a few measly human lives, even well trained humans?

Do you think, if NASA ever got up enough guts to do something other than ferry out satellites, that they would still put every effort into saving a seemingly lost crew? Would they be smart enough to realize that they would lose massive amounts of support if they just "lost contact"? Or would they actually be dumb enough to listen to that bean-counter in the corner saying, "This is costing XXX million every minute that you try to help them."?

I really doubt, with the current cynisism (of which I myself am a prime example) of the world that a mission that looked like it was impossible to rescue would bring people together like it did back then. I know I sound like an old timer, but there is so little reason to "prove yourself" in the world today. Who would we be trying to show up if it happened now? I think that was as much motivation as the prospect of doing something new and exciting.

But, I suppose I'm wrong about that too. Don't listen to me, I'm a moron.

Re:Radioactive exhaust? (1)

cmstremi (206046) | more than 13 years ago | (#528401)

I haven't seen the article yet, either, but if this is the case, they could just begin their launch from a different place. Shuttle the machine well out of the atmosphere [ISS Alpha] and let it go from there.

Of course, that would just pollute space instead of our planet, but there aren't many protesters in space, right?

Re:Inter...PLANAR? (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#528402)

Forget Limbo, send me straight to the Elysium Fields!


Re:Neat Idea (1)

GlassUser (190787) | more than 13 years ago | (#528403)

I think what he meant is that if something went wrong with the Lunar Orbiter or something, and there was no way for them to return, despite engineers staying up for days straight trying to dream up ways to make it work. There was no way to mount a second trip to rescue the first one.

DIY space travel (2)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 13 years ago | (#528404)

Americium is the same element they use in household smoke detectors. That means we can build our own mars vehicles!

...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...

Re:Radioactive exhaust? (1)

Gameshow Bob (31940) | more than 13 years ago | (#528405)

you dont have to take off from the ground with this stuff, just flip it on after you get a good distance away from the earth and away you go. Use the standard rockets we have now for the getting into orbit bit

You Like Science?

Re:Inter...PLANAR? (1)

PanDuh (56522) | more than 13 years ago | (#528406)

I've always wanted to visit the 8th Plane of Hell and pop-off a "How do you do?" to Mephistopheles.

Re:I honestly don't care (1)

munehiro (63206) | more than 13 years ago | (#528407)

> I want NASA to go to Mars, not in 50 years,
> not in 20, or 5 years ago even
> better.

me too, but there's a little problem. When man landed on the moon, 30 years ago, everyone on the planet started to dream about lunar cities and more sf projects.
The big problem in this world is "if doesn't generate incoming, is crap". Pure research and pure human promotion to advanced levels of glory and technology is crap until it doesn't create money.

Mars landing and colonization probably would be a great jump for the mankind (quoting Amstrong), but landing on the moon was only a personal battle against USSR. Now that the Sovietic union has some other kind of problems to worry about than the moon or mars, there's no longer interest to burn money in something that don't create a direct income nor a direct victory against some human opponent.

Once arrived on mars, the only thing a human exploration team can do is ride the planet a little, do some terrain prospection, do some biological research, and then return to home, due to oxygen or food. Build up some dome, create a small lab etc.. need material, so cargos, so money, a lot of money.

imho, probably we will be able to see man on mars (or maybe only a cinematographic scenario?) but honestly i think that there will be no lunar or mars installation before a centenary, maybe 2.

Can but won't (go to Mars)? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#528414)

I think in this decade, we're going to see advancements in spaceflight technology that will make a manned mission to Mars not only wildly possible, but cheap. It'll be simply obvious for us to go there.

Honestly, I'd like to see a permenant Mars occupation in my lifetime. We need to survey the planet for raw materials, energy sources (solar, or even geothermic), heck even water.

Earth isn't going to support us for very much longer. Space programs have always brought about new inventions that have changed our lives.

Why is this posted again? (3)

joto (134244) | more than 13 years ago | (#528418)

Here is a link to the same old story [] posted by michael yesterday.

Re:Inter...PLANAR? (1)

SquadBoy (167263) | more than 13 years ago | (#528420)

Damn straight forget Mars I wanna go to Limbo. Being rather chaotic I think I'd fit in rather well.

If Earth goes, Mars won't help. (2)

ca1v1n (135902) | more than 13 years ago | (#528427)

Mars is a much smaller planet than the Earth, it gets less than half the sunlight, and it's completely arid. Transporting the entire population of earth there would require a hell of a lot of Am-242. Then when we get there what would we do? We need to fix this planet, not move on.

What about other missions? (2)

joshamania (32599) | more than 13 years ago | (#528428)

Okay, so the idea is to make it to Mars in two weeks. What about going to other places in the solar system? Say, Jupiter...Europa...hmmm. We could literally send folks out there and keep sending materials to follow them. Forget about having to recycle every atom one takes to Mars, if the trip is hardly longer than a moon shot, I think we've got it covered.

Right now, the biggest problem with getting to Mars is being able to keep people alive for the 2 years (or something like that) round trip. Watch out, now we'll do it for you in six minutes! Oh, wait....

Re:I wish that (1)

Faulty Dreamer (259659) | more than 13 years ago | (#528433)

If you find a way to take one of these cool new technologies and turn a profit on it you will have so many people doing things with it it won't even be funny.

Unfortunately, real science doesn't usually turn a profit (I know there are exceptions). And that dollar amount on the bottom line is all that really matters in our world today.

But, the nice thing is that if someone finds a way to make money off of space exploration (pet Mars rocks?), then there will be a mad rush to explore other planets. Not that it will be with the best of intentions, but at least some of us could get off of this rock.

Re:Oh great, not another nuclear-happy solution (2)

HappyHead (11389) | more than 13 years ago | (#528435)

Ya know, you're right. Let's get rid of all of that nuclear powered stuff, expecially in space. After all, we don't want to spoil that wonderfull pure environment out there with filthy dirty icky radiation.

Of course, the first, and biggest source of nuclear radiation we'd have to get rid of would be the sun, and all of those other stars. Did you know that they pump out enough radiation to kill you if you go out there without shielding? We'd best hurry to get rid of them first, since they give off a whole heck of a lot more radiation, AND radioactive crud than any rocket we build could manage to do.

What about side effects ??? (1)

Stacato (301837) | more than 13 years ago | (#528436)

Well ... they obviously will be coming back to earth, what if Entry into Atmosphere fucks up and the ship gets ripped apart ??? Ok, the astronauts are dead, but what about the Nuclear fuel ??? Burn up ??? maybe some of it ... the rest is gonna come down on us ... ok ok ... won't be that much ... but let that kinda thing happen a few times, and we will not only have acid rain ... ...

Re:G force issue! (1)

MarkCC (40181) | more than 13 years ago | (#528437)

Well, that would just fine if it weren't for the minor fact that every little bit of math there is complete, absolutely, and utterly wrong.

Earth and Mars are NOT stationary objects. They're both in orbit around the sun. To get from here to mars, it's not a matter of straight line travel. It's a matter of orbital mechanics: how do you change orbits in a manner that both puts you into mars orbit at approximately the same point in the orbit.

I'm not going to do the math: I'm not an orbital mechanics guy. But it's a lot harder than the trivial calculation you did.

Still not good enough! (1)

zensonic (82242) | more than 13 years ago | (#528440)

Mankind is truely to invent something completely different if we want to go anywhere besides our space backyard.

Most propulsion systems today still use the principle of throwing wast amount of mass in the opposite direction of where you want to go. It could be throwing suitcases for that matter (powered by a thousand monkeys throwing an infinite amount of suitcases!)

Longer travel => faster you want to go => more mass/fuel => worse fraction payload/propulsion.

Think of it this way (not truely math correct): In order to go faster you need to throw out mass for a longer period of time. Fine you'll take the extra mass with you. But (and theres always a but) in order to accelerate the now slightly heavier rockect you need to take some extra mass for all the previous accelation!

Actually you can go anywhere without to much fuel, it's a question of time.

But, even with the speed of light we're going really slow (years and hundres of them to anything outside our solar system).

What we really need is a new kind of physics!

Acelleration and Velocity... (1)

Akardam (186995) | more than 13 years ago | (#528441)

Disclaimer: IANAS (I am not a scientist)

While covering that distance in only two weeks would seem to mean you'd have to go very fast (true), humans can go very fast too. It's the starting and stopping that'd kill them :)

Realisticly, you'd probably have to spend the first week accellerating, and the last week decelrating. On the 7th day after you'd left, you'd have reached max velocity, and then immediately take your foot off the gas and slam it on the breaks.

Anybody with any better knowledge of the actual distance needed to travel care to compute this?

Akardam Out

Americium (4)

gwjc (181552) | more than 13 years ago | (#528442)

Americium and Neptunium should only be used for there god-given purpose. Cool little mini-nukes!
It is a waste of our precious scientists time trying to speed travel to Mars. First we must have popcan sized mini-nukes, then we can move on to such ungainly pursuits as space exploitation.

Well hoo-bleedin'-ray for interplanetary travel (2)

JoeyLemur (10451) | more than 13 years ago | (#528447)

You know, NASA and research labs and universities can be spending time and resources on developing new ways of throwing ourselves around the solar system... but it doesn't solve that nagging little problem of the annoying gravity well we call home.

I say start pouring money into new launch systems and bring down the cost of putting things into Earth orbit. Once orbital access is cheap and readily available... maybe have a moonbase or three established... then interplanetary travel research will do us a lot more good.

/.'d (1)

jaydub99 (188487) | more than 13 years ago | (#528448)

Looks like sciencedaily is down for the count.
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