Nuclear Propulsion Research Revival?
One can only hope – Marshall Eyes In-Space Nuclear Propulsion:
During the Constellation years, Marshall worked with the Department of Energy on nuclear-power technology that might one day power a lunar outpost. While Los Alamos and other national labs handled the radioactive material, NASA experts here used heating elements to simulate nuclear fuel and concentrated on the power systems that would generate electricity on the Moon.
That work continues, but it has expanded to encompass another technology goal under the new Obama policy: advanced in-space propulsion. In a nondescript high-bay building, the power-plant team has installed a nuclear-thermal rocket environmental simulator, which flows gaseous hydrogen over heating elements that mimic different nuclear-fuel configurations. The idea is to test the way different materials react with the hydrogen at high temperature and pressure.
Unfortunately, given the mindless apocalyptic hysteria that greets any use of nuclear materials in space nowadays (such as fretting about the MSL rover being a potential “Fukushima in space”…no, really…someone actually wrote that…), it probably won’t be possible to build and use in-space nuclear propulsion until it can actually be done in-space.
I haven’t looked into the abundance of uranium on the moon, but I’m guessing that even if it were as abundant and accessable there as on Earth it would be a while before there is a suitable industrial base to support this use…
(Note that the accompanying photo is not of Marshall but of Michoud, which to my knowledge has no connection to nuclear propulsion programs.)