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Years back the US government was working on nuclear powered rockets. One of the great advantages of these engines is the extremely high specific impulse (More force - thrust for a given amount of fuel). I have been a fan of this engine since the late 70's. 
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Juaquin Anderson's profile photoDavid Fuchs's profile photoWill Hill's profile photo
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Great article, thanks.  It's a shame that we don't pick this back up now that the Cold War is over.  Our representatives, it seems, would rather spy on us and build weapons to crush small, oil rich nations.
 
The impressive characteristics of the NERVA are payload and length of operation.  It only takes about two minutes to get out of the atmosphere, NERVA was tested for hours.  About a decade ago, I was told that kind of burn time makes a Mars mission lasting only a few days feasible.  The missions planned in the article sound reasonable.  If you want to get from one place to another quickly, you have to use the best source of power available.  

What's also interesting is that they puked one of these engines by running it dry.  That says good things for safety and we might expect as much.  It takes tons of reactor to make a Chernobyl sized mess, I don't think you have that kind of problem with this one.  There might be problems, depending on the fuel used, if one burns on reentry.  
 
+Will Hill In space we could get the same sort of specific impulse using mirrors, hydrogen, and a tungsten tube.

The NERVA engine, while testing, had an issue with the ??graphite?? shaking it self to pieces and had an engine breach littering the dessert with radioactive waste. From what I understand.
 
+Juaquin Anderson It might be one of the engines from A.C.Clarke's 200 I am not sure. Same date time range though, so it is a good bet.
 
I think the space ships in 2001 were nuclear powered and shaped like a dumbbell to separate the rockets from the crew.
 
+Will Hill A Mars mission lasting a few days would actually be about two weeks. One G for half the trip accelerating, skewer flip, then decelerate towards the destination. It would take about two weeks each way. You really do not want to do extended time at more than one G. 
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