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The Need for Nuclear Power in Space Exploration and the Associated Environmental Safeguards: From Overview

Campbell, Michael D.1
1 M. D. Campbell and Associates, L.P., Houston, TX.

Once humans landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 the goal of space exploration envisioned by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 was already being realized. Achievement of this goal depended on the development of technologies to turn his vision into reality. One technology that was critical to success was the harnessing of nuclear power to run these new systems. Nuclear power systems provide power for satellite systems and deep-space exploratory missions. In the future, they will provide propulsion for spacecraft and drive planet-based power systems. The maturing of these technologies ran parallel to an evolving rationale regarding the need to explore our own Solar System and beyond. Since the “space race”, forward-looking analysis of our situation on Earth reveals that space exploration will one day provide natural resources that will enable further exploration and provide new sources for dwindling materials to offset increasing prices on Earth. Mining for increasingly valuable commodities such as thorium and samarium is envisaged on the Moon and on selected asteroids as a demonstration of technology at scales never before imagined. In addition, the discovery of helium-3 on the Moon may provide an abundant power source on the Moon and on Earth through nuclear fusion technologies. However, until the physics of fusion is solved that resource will remain on the shelf and may be even stockpiled on the Moon until needed. It is clear that nuclear power will provide the means necessary to realize these goals while advances in other areas provide enhanced environmental safeguards in using nuclear power and innovative ways, such as the space elevator, to deliver space-derived materials to Earth’s surface and such as the space gravity tractor to nudge errant asteroids and other bodies out of orbits that would collide with the Earth. Nuclear systems will enable humankind to expand beyond the boundaries of Earth, provide new frontiers for exploration, protect the Earth, and renew critical natural resources.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90090©2009 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, June 7-10, 2009