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Why Does NASA Want to Build a Nuclear Reactor on the Moon?

Humans haven’t been back to the surface of the Moon since 1972, when the final mission of the Apollo program was completed. However, NASA now plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2025 as part of the Artemis program, an American-led international effort setting its sights on the lunar south pole. But to establish a long-term human presence on the Moon, the lunar inhabitants will need a power grid. NASA thinks they’ll be able to build a nuclear reactor on the Moon and sustain life there in lunar colonies.

According to NASA officials, plentiful energy will be key to future space missions, so the space agency is teaming with the Department of Energy to solicit design concepts from industry experts. The goal is to develop nuclear fission systems that could run on the Moon within the decade. And down the line, the thinking goes, a sustained lunar presence may enable the exploration and colonization of Mars.

Powering up the Moon:

  • NASA says a small, lightweight fission system could provide up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power, which would theoretically be enough to satisfy the electricity demands of several lunar households.

  • Future fission systems will need to produce at least 40 kilowatts of energy, to power approximately 30 households for up to 10 years.

  • After February 2022, NASA and the Department of Energy will consider design proposal submissions, and will spend a year developing these concepts before going ahead with the chosen power system./li>

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