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NASA's 2003 budget cancels the Europa and Pluto missions.
February 5, 2002 8:32 PM   Subscribe

NASA's 2003 budget cancels the Europa and Pluto missions. Instead it seeks to produce nuclear powered propulsion. I am sad about the Europa and Pluto missions, I was really looking forward to those, but I am intrigued by the prospect of nuclear propulsion in space.
posted by homunculus (13 comments total)

It will be interesting to see how this pans out...I really hope they are serious. Since the Mars missions have been a disaster, I hope this will lead the space program in a new direction.
posted by Benway at 8:58 PM on February 5, 2002

It sounds cool to me, too, but it's never going to work. Not in a technical sense, but seeing as we can't get approval to build new nuclear plants on the ground, what are the chances we're going to convince people to let us strap one onto a rocket (which we manage to blow up quite spectacularly on occasion)? I suppose we could assemble it in space, but we've still got to get the fuel up there, right?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:06 PM on February 5, 2002

Good points, Crash. On the other hand, I for one am heartened to see NASA putting some capital R&D into its future instead of taking the shotgun approach to just our solar system.
posted by SpecialK at 9:27 PM on February 5, 2002

We already have nuclear power in space, albeit in very small quantities on the Voyager probes. That was way back when nuclear energy was the saviour of the modern energy world. Still, I wholeheartedly support this initiative. It's about time we try that again.
posted by dai at 9:27 PM on February 5, 2002

I'm fairly sure the Cassini probe has a mini-reactor aboard as well, for internal power I think. (It's now halfway between Jupiter & Saturn). There was quite an uproar when they they were flinging it past Earth in a slingshot pattern to give it a push - the risk of it burning up or smacking into the planet seemed real enough for a number of protests. Of course, it's doing fine at the moment.
posted by kokogiak at 9:46 PM on February 5, 2002

Fuck. I mean, yeah nuclear powered propulsion is a cool idea, but damn it, Pluto doesn't come around twice a week and Europa might be hiding life under those icy clothes, that's important stuff. Advanced propulsion is vital, but not in place of current exploration, alongside it.

And the Mars missions were problems and setbacks, not disasters in any but the public relations sense. Space isn't safe, and NASA spends too much time and money trying to make it seem safe to the public so that people don't call their attempts disasters.
posted by Nothing at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2002

RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, which are the "nuclear power" they are talking about) HAVE gone down into the ocean on re-entering rockets - and they were fished out, and re-used. The things are basically indestructible.

RTGs have little to do with "nuclear plants". They are basically a lump of metal which is really hot naturally, and you turn that heat into electricity. Solid state, no waste, no hot water.
posted by benh57 at 10:44 PM on February 5, 2002

Europa might be hiding life under those icy clothes

That's a huge point, Nothing. Imagine how much easier it would be to fund all this stuff if they could find evidence of life on another planet.
posted by jpoulos at 6:58 AM on February 6, 2002

What a colossal waste of $$. Too little bang for the buck. Why we don't expend more resources exploring the deep oceans here on earth is a mystery to me. OK, I grok the lure of space and discovering extraterrestrial life, but the 1% of the deep oceans we've explored thus far have yielded more incredible life forms than we'll likely find in 99.9% of our solar system.
posted by martk at 7:20 AM on February 6, 2002

on slashdot they're talking about the imminent militarization of space. pink beams and death rays for everyone!

and somehow nuclear propulsion doesn't seem like a very good idea to me:

  • Project Orion was a space vehicle propulsion system that depended on exploding atomic bombs roughly two hundred feet behind the vehicle (1).

  • One can imagine that Orion could be used as a weapon platform, in a polar orbit so that it would eventually pass over every point on the Earth's surface.

  • A much better alternative is fusion, ... [unfortunately] no one has yet produced controlled fusion energy with electron beams or anything else ...

  • xenon ion propulsion seems much more promising to me. i also like the idea of solar sails :)
    posted by kliuless at 7:41 AM on February 6, 2002

    you go, carl sagan!
    posted by mich9139 at 9:49 AM on February 6, 2002

    but the 1% of the deep oceans we've explored thus far have yielded more incredible life forms than we'll likely find in 99.9% of our solar system

    True, but I think the big difference is that we know there is life in the ocean, we don't know if there is life elsewhere in the solar system. That is a really big question that deserves to be answered.

    I am really bummed about the Europa mission. I wonder if another space agency will take up the project.
    posted by homunculus at 10:54 AM on February 6, 2002

    Nasa probably wouldnt let them.

    Doesnt it have a history of trying to crush any company or other organisation that tries to do stuff in space?
    posted by Iax at 11:42 PM on February 6, 2002

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