Mars In 30 Days Thanks To NASA-Funded Rocket

By Pierre Dumont , Apr 11, 2013 03:13 PM EDT

University of Washington scientists are building a rocket whereby astronauts could reach Mars in just 30 days.

According to NASA, a trip to Mars using current technology would take over four years round trip. The trip would also be costly, given the expense of using a chemical rocket, with launch costs alone totaling up to over $12 billion. Such a long trip would also pose health risks due to radiation exposure. That's why the University of Washington scientists are looking for an alternative.

"Using existing rocket fuels, it's nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth," University of Washington research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics John Slough said. "We are hoping to get a much more powerful source of energy that could eventually make interplanetary travel commonplace."

The project is partly funded through NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. It involves the use of strong magnets to implode lithium rings, which then collapse a conventional teuterium-tririum mix of fusion plasma into a fusion state approximately once per minute. The rings' pressure will hit 600,000 atmospheres for several microseconds, vaporizing the rings. A superheated ionized metal will result and is ejected from the rocket nozzle, propelling the vehicle through space.

The rocket would be active for about 10 percent of the trip, with about 200 gm of plasma required.

"I think everybody was pleased to see confirmation of the principal mechanism that we're using to compress the plasma," Slough said. "We hope we can interest the world with the fact that fusion isn't always 40 years away and doesn't always cost $2 billion."

Slough and his fellow researchers presented their findings to NASA in March. The next step is to combine the tests into a final experiment, since they have been performed successfully in the lab.

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