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NASA wants to have a base camp on the moon by 2030. Here’s how INL is helping it achieve that goal.

A concept image of NASA’s Fission Surface Power Project. | Courtesy NASA
IDAHO FALLS – When astronaut Eugene Cernan took his last steps on the surface of the moon, he made a short speech that ended with a vow that “we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
Three days later, on Dec. 19, 1972, Cernan and the crew of Apollo 17 splashed down in the South Pacific Ocean. America’s final manned moon mission was complete, and so far, we’ve never been back. But we might be returning in the future.
More than 50 years later, NASA is looking into establishing the Artemis Base Camp, a place for astronauts to live and work on the moon to facilitate future exploration of Mars. It awarded three $5 million contracts to commercial partners in 2022 to develop technology for making a long-term lunar settlement possible. One of those partners is the U.S. Department of Energy, which manages the Idaho National Laboratory.
RELATED | Why NASA is returning to the moon 50 years later with Artemis I
The Fission Surface Power Project includes building a nuclear power plant on the moon, and the INL is helping to design it.
Mark DeHart, a nuclear scientist at the INL who is involved in the project, tells water is a critical component in a reactor. It acts as a coolant and a natural barrier that protects against radioactive material.
Reduced gravity and lack of oxygen on the moon has an impact on water flow, which is why researchers are looking at an alternate design method.
“There’s a thing called heat pipes. Heat pipes have a fluid with sodium and potassium in it that efficiently removes heat,” DeHart says.
The U.S. filed a patent for the heat pipe in 1942. NASA started using them in the 1960s for heat management of its satellites, according to a web page about heat pipes.
Heat pipes are sealed inside with what DeHart describes as a steal mesh liner that functions similar to the way a napkin absorbs water.
“When you get it hot on one end, the liquid turns to gas,” he says. “The gas then goes to the cold end, where it condenses again. This happens at the speed of sound. It falls into that mesh, which naturally pumps liquid to the hot side again.”

Graphic showing how heat pipes work | Courtesy photo
INL is also involved in designing a nuclear-propelled rocket engine with the capacity to get from Earth to Mars and back with all the resources it needs.
DeHart says one of the major challenges for this project is finding the right material that can withstand the high temperatures during launch and acceleration to give it enough horsepower.
“All we’ve got right now are Model Ts and we’re going to need a Camaro to get (there),” says DeHart.
The propulsion project is part of NASA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program or DRACO.
NASA is hoping to have a base on the moon in the early 2030s, which would require the U.S. Department of Defense to have a working reactor and engine design by 2027.
For more information visit the project page here.

Lockheed Martin, in partnership with BWXT, will develop a vehicle for NASA and DARPA to demonstrate nuclear thermal propulsion technologies in Earth orbit. | Courtesy Lockheed Martin
The post NASA wants to have a base camp on the moon by 2030. Here’s how INL is helping it achieve that goal. appeared first on East Idaho News.

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