Can Nuclear Propulsion Take Us to Mars?

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Writer/Narrator: Brian McManus
Editor: Dylan Hennessy
Animator: Mike Ridolfi
Sound: Graham Haerther
Fact Checker: Charlie Garcia
Thumbnail: Simon Buckmaster

[7] Rocket Propulsion Elements
[14] &
Thank you to AP Archive for access to their archival footage.

Music by Epidemic Sound:


Thank you to my patreon supporters: Adam Flohr, Henning Basma, Hank Green, William Leu, Tristan Edwards, Ian Dundore, John & Becki Johnston. Nevin Spoljaric, Jason Clark, Thomas Barth, Johnny MacDonald, Stephen Foland, Alfred Holzheu, Abdulrahman Abdulaziz Binghaith, Brent Higgins, Dexter Appleberry, Alex Pavek, Marko Hirsch, Mikkel Johansen, Hibiyi Mori. Viktor Józsa, Ron Hochsprung

  • Woops. The outro audio revealed Real Sciences next video by mistake. It's gonna be a banger though, ye should subscribe.

    Real EngineeringReal Engineering个月 前
    • I have a question. If you lay multiple sheets of solid metal on a hydrogen tank, will the spaces between each molecule still be too large? Is it too heavy to do that?

      A BalakrishnanA Balakrishnan2 天 前
    • @आयूष कुमार Vedanta teacher, similar to my name (check my username Vedant Sridhar)

      Vedant SridharVedant Sridhar8 天 前
    • Another great video! I only know very very little about rocket science but have learned alot just from this one video. You mentioned not understanding at first how lower molecular weight creates higher specific impulse, and I don't know at all, but does it have anything to do with when propelling a lower mass molecule you "use/waste" less energy to propel that molecule than you would need to use to propel a higher mass molecule and the fact that you only have so much potential energy to begin with? Also would I wonder if it would be possible to carry water on board a craft, then use electrolysis to split the water into oxygen and hydrogen? Then the water would be potentially serving double purpose for fuel and producing breathable atmosphere on board? What little I know about electrolysis you would need potentially sacrificial anode and cathode elements and a certain ph/chemistry of the water to produce clean H and O. Oh I just remembered the water would need an electrolyte to be able to produce electrolysis, so that could interfere with getting pure hydrogen and oxygen from the water... Yea I'm really hoping you respond to clarify this. Again great video, great work and THANK YOU for producing great content.

      A OA O11 天 前
    • Slate oversight nuclear power would not be the only thing that I'd be able to do that fusion power would also be able to do it but as you probably know that's not really currently within reach

      redamatterredamatter11 天 前
    • questions: 1. why can't an electron gun like one used in cathode tube be used to provide thrust? in that case there would not a need for a propellant. 2. fission reaction releases neutrons at speeds around 20000 km/s. can't that be directly used to provide thrust?

      mehmet demirmehmet demir16 天 前
  • Why not keep hydrogen and oxygen joined, then thru electrolysis separate the two, then spray them over the igniter. U could store the water as ice (shielding), melt, pump fluid to hydrogen generator, then recombine, periodically after the storage tanks are replenished. Perhaps rotating tanks and heating post use, would change the accumulation of hydrogen on the tanks.

    Bruce JennerBruce Jenner小时 前
  • I never heard someone say “Uranus” with that pronunciation. The 4th grade humor in me was disappointed...

    Rodolfo MRodolfo M4 小时 前
  • Pointless...Just' capture a UFO. Problem

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    Latesha PresleyLatesha Presley9 小时 前
  • wtf is so interesting on Mars? its like sakhara

    atlantic delphinatlantic delphin10 小时 前
  • This video sucks, hey Einstein not everyone uses kilometers and millimeters. I don’t care if you’re from Europe, not everyone uses your measurement system.

    Matthew HulingMatthew Huling16 小时 前
  • First use nuclear to get near a planet. Then use gravity assist from the planet and finally ion propulsion.

    Ziyad SZiyad S22 小时 前
  • The idea that we should "go to Mars" while ignoring the extinction-level events taking place on Earth right now is ABSURD. If Earth's biosphere dies, there will be NO survival on Mars. Fix Earth first.

    John HenryJohn Henry22 小时 前
  • Both sides of the Moon receive an equal amount of sunlight ( 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off ). It's not called the dark side of the Moon - that's a Pink Floyd record - it's the FAR side of the Moon ! Might as well call it "Abba's Greatest Hits"

    chialeux514chialeux514天 前
  • That dude's analysis at the end was so trash. "China spent 40 years and billions of dollars just to signal to the world that there's a alternative to Western hegemony"... ok bruh

    numuvesnumuves天 前
  • Already solved, use thorium.

    Clyde RevileeClyde Revilee天 前
  • There are many ways to convert heat produced into molecular modes avilable then desipate it away from system, in another word we can customize it in our lab for such systems

    Ghalib AtiyaGhalib Atiya天 前
  • I mean you could theoretically mention metalic Hydrogen to solve the storing problem but still a very good video

    Rick999HRick999H天 前
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    Junker VeldJunker Veld天 前
  • *Far side of the moon. sorry pet peeve.

    samename1stsamename1st天 前
  • The rocket can work -- but humans can't take that much zero-gravity transit time -- even with NERVA Sp Imp. Elon's fantasy has not addressed our physiology.

    David HimmelsbachDavid Himmelsbach天 前
  • Why don't we build a launching base on the moon, the launch from there?

    Joe ConnerJoe Conner2 天 前
  • "Interstellar" in real life.

    Pabriel GomezPabriel Gomez2 天 前
  • Most people are using nuclear power in the world. They are all the causes for covid global warming Etc. That too satellite nukes. And so many power stations.

    Venkat BabuVenkat Babu2 天 前

    Rishi ReddyRishi Reddy2 天 前
  • I think that Hydrogen Metal will probably be the fuel source that gets us to Mars.

    Jonathan HughesJonathan Hughes2 天 前
  • No it cant

    Matthew BullockMatthew Bullock2 天 前
  • In the correct dimension, the specific impulse is only the outflow velocity.

    Bernd MayerBernd Mayer2 天 前
  • Ion propelled engines hybrid with nuclear thermal is like Epstein Drive in The Expanse universe :D

    Rafael Eduardo Abreu RodriguezRafael Eduardo Abreu Rodriguez2 天 前
  • This is the third time I have watched this video and it still a excellent watch, who needs TV nowadays this content is so much better keep up the good work.

    Marcos FreijeiroMarcos Freijeiro2 天 前
  • Instead of using a typical nuclear reactor, a molten salt reactor would allow one to extract the xenon and krypton, which are part of the products produced during radioactive decay. This would allow a reduction in the fuel carried in the rocket for an ion drive.

    Edward JohannesEdward Johannes2 天 前
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    issac micahissac micah2 天 前
  • There are ways to store the hydrogen to only be released with heat. Also, the government has particle colliders that we use to make the shells for nuclear weapons that give them ability to sit in hellish conditions without failing to protect contents. The solutions are already mastered.. < World war 3 is inevitable.. I'm sorry we couldn't get you "smartest people" to switch to smartphones for estimated 50 million products in the form of apps. I'm sorry that the end to producing thousands of versions of everything by the millions didn't compute to you people in relation to climate change & access for masses. You listened to elites and "experts" who avoid telling you these things. Who fight to keep things like smart glasses coming slow even though they would replace every size screen for GRAMS of the resources. We are the Borg, and while you destroy each other we will be using Elons neural tether to do exactly what he said he made it for. To link our minds to AI to remove ANIMALS from control. 100 thousand years of this mess is ENOUGH..

    Mr.QuickMr.Quick2 天 前
  • So, this is what we have instead of public healthcare and good schools! "The more advanced its weapons, the darker the nation." - Lao Tzu

    John OroszJohn Orosz3 天 前
  • you explain these confusing topics with such simplicity and accuracy. thanks so much great video

    santino sartorissantino sartoris3 天 前
  • What about fusion ion engines?

    TimJHowitzFPVTimJHowitzFPV3 天 前
  • Well perhaps sending humans rather than machines is just plain stupid.

    Thinking BiblicallyThinking Biblically3 天 前
  • and they think 2025 will be the year. Completely unrealistic. I dont see anything like this before 2100

    One does not simplyOne does not simply3 天 前
  • Cant one use a scaled down particle accelerator to raise particle mass. Pulse it thriugh the engine?

    ProjectsBlackProjectsBlack3 天 前
  • If you guys got Kerbal Space Program, check out the Cryogenic Engines, Kerbal Atomics and Near Future Propulsion mods. Fantastic mods, all by the same dude, which allow you to use exactly these types of engines.

    TermitreterTermitreter3 天 前
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    Ирина ТолкачеваИрина Толкачева3 天 前
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    Darkstarscream 1Darkstarscream 13 天 前
  • it's not gravity, it's momentum. You can use it to slow down too.

    gareth5000gareth50003 天 前
  • why dont we use liquid sodium instead of hydrogen?

    NULLNULL3 天 前
  • A combination of nuclear electric and the VASIMR engine would result in a viable spacecraft for exploring the solar system and the specific impulse can be further raised on the VASIMR by injecting heavy water into the exhaust plume just before it exits the magnetic nozzle

    Lima BravoLima Bravo3 天 前
  • Nuclear propulsion has major socio-political barriers as well as engineering requirements.

    Bill MiloszBill Milosz4 天 前
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    Noah LorenzoNoah Lorenzo4 天 前
  • I wish anything would just materialize and take anyone who thinks it is a good idea directly to Mars, never to be seen again. Also all acolytes of other religions, not just Muskians..

    SvenSven4 天 前
  • And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Heb 9:27) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:5)

    Paul TomorrowPaul Tomorrow4 天 前
  • *M E R S*

    Mathias FantoniMathias Fantoni4 天 前
  • Can you explain how a gravity assist works? I cannot imagine (though I know it works) how it works as the planet pulls you on your way in and on your way out, why doesn't this cancel each other?

    Tech GuyTech Guy4 天 前
  • Space is cold, so wouldn’t the hydrogen stay refrigerated?

    Tyler NorrisTyler Norris4 天 前
  • no

    flex masterflex master4 天 前
  • Can we use hydrogen containing high density solids for storage and then extract hydrogen using electricity (via solar panel) when it is to be used? (a lame example is H2O and electrolysis)

    A Life penned downA Life penned down4 天 前
  • Bugger that, atomic rockets could take us to other stars, Mars is just next door.

    Francis MaxinoFrancis Maxino4 天 前
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    issac micahissac micah4 天 前
  • Stupid we should not be using nuclear stuff for any thing, did U no that nuclear rods used in reactors only last for three month and then it wast, cost a lot to store safely. Stik the wast In rockets and let the 🌞 take care of the yukky stuff, this space ship? How mutch wast dose it pump out???? Not viable was of money. But the building somthing like that will give U new ideas.

    Chris LemforsChris Lemfors4 天 前
  • so an ion engine is a vacuum tube without the glass bulb...

    jackassplusjackassplus4 天 前
  • Xenon and krypton are produced as byproducts in nuclear reactors. In traditional solid fuel systems they creat intense pressures inside the fuel pins. A big problem. Molten salt reactors allow these gasses to harmlessly escape the reactor core. They are collected for commercial use.

    David ElliottDavid Elliott4 天 前
  • The way he say Mars quite differently

    Rishabh JainRishabh Jain5 天 前
  • Why no mention of Welsh Space Lasers?

    choomanfoochoomanfoo5 天 前
  • The snotty brow latterly admire because united kingdom neurochemically command plus a reminiscent sarah. troubled, spicy energy

    mario yumario yu5 天 前
  • Do you really believe there trying to get to the moon? Let's be real Their going to make this earth into Mars We even have alien present, there on there way down join.

    the beast goodythe beast goody5 天 前
  • yep, imma go back to cat videos

    Stuart HawthorneStuart Hawthorne5 天 前
  • why are people still affraid of nuclear energy ???

    metrixalixmetrixalix5 天 前
  • Nuclear can take us to Mars, but Shillon Musk can't.

    GoolagIsTheNewGulagGoolagIsTheNewGulag5 天 前
  • How about ion Drive to accelerate and chemical combustion for decelerate?

    Navis MirzaNavis Mirza5 天 前
  • Im high asf rn and i was able to transcend my basic comprehension of physics to interstellar levels just to understand this video.(Wow im a God thinker)

    TinyyMuniiTinyyMunii5 天 前
  • Gas engines will soon be a thing in the past

    Jeffrey DavisJeffrey Davis5 天 前
  • If you can dream it you can build it 🤔

    Jeffrey DavisJeffrey Davis5 天 前
  • New Kerbal Space graphics looking pretty awesome

    davidml1023davidml10235 天 前
  • We don't need higher impulse engines. We need less limited thinking like in this video. Was the ISS assembled in a single launch? No. Then why is it assumed a Mars flight can only be fueled by a single heavy lauch? Jesus....just carry as much fuel as you need to get to Mars in pods in multiple launches. My dads truck can do this...why not a Mars flight. Musk shot his stupid car past Mars. But we can't make the conceptual leap to carry up fuel for a Mars mission in multiple unmanned launches. Also. Gravity simulation can be achieved via connecting two capsules with a long cable and spinning them. Easy enough. We don't need to torture astronauts with long months in zero g.

    blasterman789blasterman7895 天 前
  • How do you think Voyager 1, and 2 are powered. Hello... .

    Jeff WhitneyJeff Whitney5 天 前
  • What about building the shuttle in space and then carry the fuel there? Build each module as needed and then carry fuel up to it. I mean, money would be an issue... but that's more possible than just launching from earth, yeh?

    RuukiRuuki6 天 前
  • 3:12 You dont need fuel to decelerate when landing on Mars. Mars has an atmosphere wich can take over the role as energy absorber (eg heatshield). This logic applies to all planets and moons with an atmosphere (Earth, Venus, Titan)

    Rudolf WickondRudolf Wickond6 天 前
  • While my small brain cannot understand half the stuff you say, This is still hugely enjoyable. Good job.

    HansHans6 天 前
  • Ancient Astronauts say : Yes and it happened 100,000 years ago .

    Trevor G WelchTrevor G Welch6 天 前
  • The first 9+ minutes are the history of propulsion, then nuclear in second Half.

    Larry DLarry D6 天 前
  • Ion drive, first time I am hearing about it. Man we were more advanced in technology in 20 century. Why can't man step on moon again in 21 century, while the phone in my hand have more ram then apollo 11's computer.

    Alpha GamerAlpha Gamer6 天 前
  • So you are saying we are going to have a Star Trek "USS ENTERPRISE". Soon

    Alpha GamerAlpha Gamer6 天 前
  • what if a mix of chemical and ion propulsion?

    Pau khan SingPau khan Sing6 天 前
  • starving peeps all over our cosmic body and we spend trillions of bucks to go nowhere..shame shame shame humans

    Buckaroo BanzaiBuckaroo Banzai6 天 前
  • nice video well made

    路遥路遥6 天 前
  • s/dark side/far side/

    Shirley AllanShirley Allan6 天 前
  • No it can’t. Worf.. warp 10 can

    Tim de WinterTim de Winter6 天 前
  • 17:43 What's the point of having solar panels in a "Nuclear Electric ION drive" spaceship? wouldn't the onboard nuclear power plant deliver necessary electricity across the ship?

    Viktor ShahViktor Shah6 天 前
  • Do you take topic suggestions? If so, please consider talking a look at "Orbital Rings" :-)

    Christoph GrimmerChristoph Grimmer6 天 前
  • Brillian content! Could we have follow up video on safety of these systems in real use?

    Milan JanicMilan Janic6 天 前
  • what ever happened to the moon? it seems like todays scientists are being forced to look past it...

    andrew landrew l6 天 前
  • then what contaminate Mars

    Mick BryanMick Bryan6 天 前
  • Now factor in cost my dude. Xeon is incredibly expensive at 10 usd a liter. Cost will beat all.

    DaniChatsDaniChats6 天 前
  • Instead of building for space, build it in space. The moon is here for that. I would rather build a planet like the moon into a space ship. It'll take about 1000 years; but very possible. Our solar system has all the resources for this. Look around.

  • Why don't you build a space craft in space? Has no one thought of this? It seems like a no brainer. Use the I.S.S. as a launching platform.

    Calvin L WeirCalvin L Weir6 天 前
  • Why can't you use the cold of space to chill the hydrogen?

    12mrmajestic12mrmajestic6 天 前
  • Build the space ship in space the same way the space station was built, that way you can build it bigger to accommodate fuel and space for payload

    elitepanda3000elitepanda30006 天 前
  • The simple answer is: Yes! We can also use rabbits hopping in a box OR gopher farts. Any other stupid questions?

    the_serial_wombatthe_serial_wombat7 天 前
  • Tokamak energy seems to show potential for a nuclear power plant to be used in this sort of application. It'll be small enough to fit on and power ships so would be a pain to set up in space but once there would be great for powering some beefy ion thrusters.

    Swift Nick NevisonSwift Nick Nevison7 天 前
  • No nuclear, no go.

    P CochranP Cochran7 天 前
  • Lmao 666 dislikes & +1k likes

    SLT WorldSLT World7 天 前
  • A normal rocket can take us to Mars lol. Just if we could speed up and slow down would be helpful 😉😁

    Random AdventuresRandom Adventures7 天 前
  • Kr is way cheaper to produce than XE!

    James McCabeJames McCabe7 天 前
  • What a fantastic video! I didn't know where you were going with this at first....then.....ahhhhh we almost have UFOs! It's impossible to give up on Humans...

    montenaguemontenague7 天 前
  • man,you are awesome,no words,simply amazing.

    Bijoy RoyBijoy Roy7 天 前
  • Outstanding Engineering for Human kind

    Oscar RoldanOscar Roldan7 天 前