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NASA Has Sights Set on Mars With Help From a Nuclear Rocket Engine

In the race to land the first humans on Mars, NASA is betting big on nuclear rocket engines to get its astronauts to the red planet.

Earlier this year, the agency announced a partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to develop a rocket that uses nuclear propulsion to carry astronaut crews to deep-space destinations like Mars. This type of technology would significantly cut down on the time needed to reach Mars, making long-duration spaceflights less risky for the humans onboard.

A conventional spacecraft powered by burning liquid fuel typically takes around seven or eight months to reach the red planet. Scientists have said nuclear rocket engines could shave off at least a third of that time.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the shortened journey would give crews more flexibility on missions to Mars.

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