The Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) was a U.S. nuclear thermal rocket engine development program that ran for roughly two decades. NERVA was a joint effort of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and NASA, managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office (SNPO) until both the program and the office ended at the end of 1972.
NERVA demonstrated that nuclear thermal rocket engines were a feasible and reliable tool for space exploration, and at the end of 1968 SNPO certified that the latest NERVA engine, the NRX/XE, met the requirements for a human mission to Mars. Although NERVA engines were built and tested as much as possible with flight-certified components and the engine was deemed ready for integration into a spacecraft, much of the U.S. space program was cancelled by Congress before a manned mission to Mars could take place.
NERVA was considered by the AEC, SNPO and NASA to be a highly successful program; it met or exceeded its program goals. Its principal objective was to "establish a technology base for nuclear rocket engine systems to be utilized in the design and development of propulsion systems for space mission application". Virtually all space mission plans that use nuclear thermal rockets use derivative designs from the NERVA NRX or Pewee.
Friday, January 05, 2018
Friday Film: "Nuclear Propulsion in Space"