Nuclear energy is the answer to the energy question of deep space travel. It is also the answer to setting up large working domes on Mars and Moon, similar to what sci-fi writers have led us to believe throughout the years. Unfortunately for them, they got the design of the nuclear power plants wrong. The new power plants are expected to be extremely futuristic, not in the least bit like what we see on Earth.
A team is working on this design and a leader of the project, Dr. James E. Werner, laid down the plans at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). In his own words:
The reactor itself may be about 1 1/2 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other planets.
Nuclear power has a lot of advantages over the conventionally used sources of power like Solar cells and fuel cells. The main advantage is that nuclear power can be produced and used anywhere. The generation of nuclear power doesn’t require special conditions, unlike solar power. The source of power is the Uranium nucleus, which splits into lighter nuclei releasing energy in the process.
The demonstration of this innovative technology is expected as soon as early 2012. The project is a collaborative effort between NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE). The benefit to both organisations is easy to guess. Dr. Werner is associated with the Idaho National Laboratory, under the DOE.
This may indeed power the future, which will definitely see humans colonising either the Moon or Mars.