Russia thinks it can launch a one-way trip to Mars in just 45 days from the Earth, making use of the nukes. Normally, a chemically propelled voyage would take 18 months, one way. During this, the person in the voyage is highly probable to kick the bucket due to any combination of boredom, radiation poisoning, or cancer. Even if one overcomes these challenges and reaches the Red Planet, it’s of no use. He will be only recognised as the first Martian because no mechanisms are found yet to return back to Earth, as that requires Fuel Harvesting in Mars.
The Russians believe they can do better. In the first week of March, their national nuclear corporation Rosatom announced it is building a nuclear engine that will reach Mars in a month and a half—with fuel to burn for the trip home. Nuclear thermal is one flavour of nuclear propulsion. Calling for a fission mission to Mars is great for inspiring space dreamers, but Russia’s planned engine could have practical, near-term applications. Satellites need to fire their thrusters every so often to stay in their ideal orbits (Also, to keep from crashing to Earth).
Rosatom however did not respond to questions about their system’s specs, but its announcement hints at some sort of thermal fission, according to Wired magazine. Which is to say, the engine would generate heat by splitting atoms and use that heat to burn hydrogen or some other chemical. Burning stuff goes one direction, spaceship goes the other.
Russia may have the will to go nuclear, but it probably lacks the means. Its goal of launching a prototype by 2025 has more to do with the country’s financial situation than the technical challenges of a nuclear engine. Rosatom has budgeted roughly 15 billion rubles ($700 Million) on the project, which began in 2010 and is scheduled to have a launch-ready vehicle by 2025. And those 15 billion rubles don’t include the cost of launch, which could be why Rosatom made its 6-weeks-to-Mars announcement last week. Also, Rosatom plans to have a land-based test reactor by 2018.
“Going public can serve a number of purposes, including getting funding, increasing visibility, things like that from politicians, readers, and others who would like this visionary thing,” says Sokov, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, CA.
Lets wait with eagerness to see the the first Martian returning back to Earth by 2025.