Former Oklahoma congressman and current NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency is interested in the recent discovery indicating there may have been life on Venus, but putting astronauts on Mars is still the primary goal.
NASA could launch its first rocket next year for Artemis, a program that aims to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. NASA hopes to establish a lunar base to derive hydrogen fuel from ice there.
Bridenstine said rockets can get astronauts into space, rapidly improving solar power technology can fly them to Mars, but nuclear power will get them home without overexposing them to space radiation.
"That’s ultimately the key. If you can go faster, you reduce the amount of time that you’re exposed to the radiation. We’ve got to do things to improve the hardening of our vehicles for sure, but photovoltaics are the beginning, nuclear electric is the end. But propulsion is a big piece of all of it," Bridenstine said.
NASA is currently figuring out how to get solar-powered spacecraft to be able to transition to nuclear electric power. Bridenstine said NASA could turn to companies to get that technology made, but they prefer working with universities. For one thing, they get scientists and engineers working from the outset, which Bridenstine said lowers costs.
He also cited the benefit of having students involved in the work.
"You’ll have a principal investigator who’s a faculty member, but you’ll have students that are actually graduating and they’re not just learning chemistry, calculus and physics, they’re graduating with hands-on experience developing the very things that NASA’s going to need them to develop when they go out into the real world," Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine made his remarks at a Tuesday roundtable hosted by the University of Tulsa.
Note: KWGS is licensed to TU.