Russia Thinks It Can Use Nukes to Fly to Mars in 45 Days

You do not want to go to Mars. At least, not with today’s engines powering the trip. A chemically propelled voyage would take 18 months, one way. During which time any combination of boredom, radiation poisoning, and cancer will likely kill you. Suppose you make it? Congratulations on being the first Martian to die of old age, because a return trip from the Red Planet is currently impossible without using wishful logistics like fuel harvesting.

The Russians think they can do better. Last week, 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. Russia might not achieve its goal of launching a prototype by 2025. But that has more to do with the country’s financial situation (not great) than the technical challenges of a nuclear engine.

Soviet scientists actually solved many of those challenges by 1967, when they started launching fission-powered satellites. Americans had their own program, called SNAP-10A, which launched in in 1965. Ah, the Cold War.