This artist’s concept from 1962 show a three hundred-sixty ton spaceship, powered by a forty-megawatt nuclear-electric power plant, transporting a three-man crew to Mars. As envisioned by Marshall Space Flight Center engineers, a five-ship convoy would make the round trip journey in about five hundred days.
I recently went on a scavenger hunt for interesting NASA concept art. I like the retro cool factor on much of the NASA art from the mid 1960’s and wanted to share this 50 year old image. Scientists and engineers have long dreamed of radical propulsion technologies to improve the speed we can reach distant destinations. This concept vehicle appears to be powered by a nuclear electric propulsion system (NEP) similar to the tech written about in this Glenn Research Center ion propulsion fact sheet.
Modern ion thrusters are capable of propelling a spacecraft up to 90,000 meters per second (over 200,000 miles per hour (mph). To put that into perspective, the space shuttle is capable of a top speed of around 18,000 mph. The tradeoff for this high top speed is low thrust (or low acceleration).
More info about this image of the Martian Electric Spaceship can be found at the Marshall Space Flight Center Image Exchange (MSFC MIX). For the historians in the audience, Martian Electric Spaceship was also the name of my band in high school.