Recently, NASA announced a significant development in its efforts towards technology that could make a future life on the moon – or Mars – much more realistic.
NASA has confronted a challenge that's prevented more long-term explorations from taking place: the need for power. According to NASA's Glenn Research Center director Janet Kavandi, there's a point where carrying everything that's needed or attempting to resupply astronauts, creates a hazard. The ultimate goal was coming up with a way for them to produce resources – such as fuel, water, and oxygen – on their own.
NASA's solution is named KRUSTY – or, Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology – a portable nuclear fission reactor that's recently completed tests. The results have researchers feeling fairly positive about KRUSTY's ability to provide safe and simple power to a space outpost. Using uranium as fuel, the reactor generates heat through fission and ultimately can produce electricity.
NASA says that the device is scalable and that they'd need four of them in place to provide ten years' worth of energy for a space outpost on Mars, or wherever the need may be. Scientists say that radiation levels are far too low to be harmful. The benefits of nuclear energy also mean much more power can be made available than by relying on the current methods of using batteries and solar panels.
A report on Quartz.com recalls the first nuclear reactors in space, developed during the Cold War – one of which fell to earth and contaminated an area of Northern Canada, and another that released a cloud of radiation that is still floating in space.
Quartz cautions that the KRUSTY, as well as larger, nuclear-powered endeavors, will likely be shelved until humans have more experience in space to allow for testing far away from the earth's surface.
Image Credit: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/demonstration-proves-nuclear-fission-system-can-provide-space-exploration-power