Forget nuclear reactors (Advanced Propulsion), forget better life support systems, forget utilizing resources on Mars (ISRU) for a return trip, the main problem for a Mars mission revolves currently around a plumbing issue. Cryogenic Hydrogen cannot be stored more than a day in space. Getting to Mars means that we need to store about 6 International Space Station mass equivalent of Hydrogen tanks. All this because we do not have a good handle on the boil-off issues associated with storing liquid hydrogen in space. As a reminder, it took us 10 years to lift the mass of one International Space Station in Low Earth Orbit with a Space Transportation System (the shuttle) we no longer use.
From Investment in the Future: Overview of NASA’s Space Technology, Robert D. Braun, NASA Chief Technologist, May 5, 2010.
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