John_t_wombat1983: hav teh leed astronot say "i iz sick of all dese snakes on dis godam spaceship!"
The US's Obama-prompted human spaceflight review has opened its doors to public participation. A dedicated website allows the unwashed masses to keep tabs on the independent committee's ruminations and chip in their two bits' worth. The site invites comments and suggestions which might help chairman Norman Augustine and his " …
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There are currently no alternatives to rocket engines for achieving orbital velocity outside of the atmosphere. Acceleration within the atmosphere is severely limited by atmospheric friction. Even with fancy hybrids, the vast majority of acceleration happens in a vacuum, and that means rockets. A cylindrical tank with engines on the end is the simplest way to do this.
Leaving aside the ignorance of the fact that the Russians have already, in fact, "done it first" (some of their Kosmos satellites were powered by nuclear reactors, Kosmos 954 causing a bit of a diplomatic oopsie when it came down in northern Canada) trying to chide NASA to be more aggressive in developing space nuclear power is hardly idiotic. For any trip to the outer solar system, nuclear power is pretty much necessary (sun power drops off as distance from the sun squared making solar panels unwieldy and chemical power just doesn't have the needed oomph), for power needs larger than an RTG (nuclear battery) can supply, this pretty much leaves you with a reactor as the only way of supplying the energy needed.
Reactors are a compact, low mass, source of power in large quantity. If you pair this with a very efficient, but power hungry, reaction motor like VASIMR (a type of engine that I am rather impressed with) and you could end up *decreasing* the radiation exposure of a crew on a Mars mission, for example. How does using a reactor _decrease_ radiation exposure, you may ask?
Simple, first you make sure there is an adequate shield between the crew and the reactor and then a powerful enough VASIMR could decrease the needed flight time from months down to weeks, which (in turn) cuts down the Cosmic Ray exposure which could otherwise be a serious radiation hazard for the crew. Space testing a reactor design is an important thing to do before we can once again venture beyond Low Earth Orbit.