Space.com (March 5, 2010)
"Future Mars outposts or colonies may seem more distant than ever with NASA's exploration plans in flux, but the rocket technology that could someday propel a human mission to the red planet in as little as 40 days may already exist.
"A company founded by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz has been developing a new rocket engine that draws upon electric power and magnetic fields to channel superheated plasma out the back. That stream of plasma generates steady, efficient thrust that uses low amounts of propellant and builds up speed over time.
" 'People have known for a long time, even back in the '50s, that electric propulsion would be needed for serious exploration of Mars,' said Tim Glover, director of development at the Ad Astra Rocket Company...."
Skipping lightly over the cultural implications of living in a country where names like "Franklin Chang-Diaz" are fairly common, let's look at the incredible electric rocket.
I'm old enough to remember the days when science fiction writers were getting away from stories involving "electric rockets" - but that's another topic.
The article does a pretty good job of bringing you up to speed on some of the new developments in magnetohydrodynamic propulsion systems. But I think the author assumes that most readers are on the geeky side, like me, and not only know words like "magnetohydrodynamic," but use them from time to time.
I think this is a pretty good introduction to the sort of propulsion system being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket Company:
- "Propulsion Systems of the Future"
NASA (May 15, 2003)
- "Spaceport America: More Progress"
(January 29, 2010)
- "America's Seventh Spaceport"
(January 19, 2010)
- "When it's Time to Build Spaceships, People Will Build Spaceships"
(October 4, 2009)