The pathway to humans on Mars lies through the atom, split.
Far from Earth, whether in the void or on another world, power is life. A steady, strong flow of electricity is as crucial for operating computers and engines as it is for assuring access to corporeal necessities such as light and heat, breathable air and potable water, and preparation or even growth of food. And one of the most potent and reliable ways to get all those vital kilowatts is via nuclear fission—something aspiring astronauts realized long before anyone ever reached space (or developed nuclear weapons, for that matter). Yet more than 60 years into the space age, nuclear fission for spaceflight remains mostly a dream. Now, however, as NASA pursues its Apollo-esque Artemis program to build a crewed lunar outpost (with an eye toward eventual human landings on Mars), a rare alignment of technology, funding and political will is on the verge of making spaceborne nuclear reactors a routine reality.
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