Safer fuel and a new concept for ground testing have nudged NASA another tiny step in the direction of using hydrogen heated by a small fission reactor to hasten humans on their way to Mars. Nuclear-thermal propulsion (NTP) has been studied since the Apollo era because of the high specific impulse it offers for deep-space missions, but radiation fears and technical difficulties ultimately have blocked it. Now, with low-enriched nuclear fuel instead of bomb-grade material, and what may be a ...

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