Nyack, NY, January 31, 2003 – The Space Frontier Foundation congratulated NASA on its decision to accelerate its research into space nuclear propulsion systems. The group, often critical of the agency, is praising the decision to re-start dormant nuclear propulsion research for in-space use as a big step in the direction of opening the space frontier.
“This is exactly the right thing for NASA to be doing,” stated Rick Tumlinson, the Foundation’s Founder. “It is the kind of path-finding technology that we need as we begin to look towards sending humans back to the moon and on to Mars. It is a way of lowering the cost threshold and could be as important to our long term goals in space as sails were to the early explorers of this planet.”
The project, put forward by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, is called “Prometheus” and is built around the concept of using nuclear engines to drive spacecraft. The technology being looked at in the Prometheus Project is much like that currently powering the Galileo and Voyager probes launched without incident in the 1970’s and 1980’s. According to scientists, the type of materials used to create the power are passive when launched and only begin their reactions when safely in space.
“In the past, some groups have tried to portray this type of propulsion system as extremely dangerous, or as a major risk to those of us here on earth. It is neither,” stated Tumlinson. “In fact, if we are ever to succeed in saving and expanding life beyond this planet, it is this type of engine that will power our arks on their journey outwards.”
Using nuclear propulsion in space greatly reduces the time needed to travel between worlds. A trip that might take months, such as from the Earth to Mars can be reduced to weeks. It also can greatly enhance the size of payloads that can be delivered to support human exploration and settlement. Finally, such reactors can be used on the surface of the Moon and Mars to power outposts and communities.
The Foundation believes NASA should focus itself on this type of leading edge research, rather than trying to do things the private sector could do faster, better, and cheaper, such as operating Earth-to-space transportation systems. The group is urging congress and the White House to fully support this initiative and to encourage NASA to do even more frontier-enabling projects.
Tumlinson concluded: “We congratulate NASA on a wise and visionary decision. We will stand by the agency on this, and if needed, as we did in the case of Galileo, we will help them take the case for this to the public.”