A flurry of space oriented petitions has appeared on the White House “We the People” website. They include the absurd, such as the “build the Death Star” proposal, the intriguing, such as the idea to build an interplanetary version of the USS Enterprise, and the diplomatically provocative, such as the petition to claim the moon as American sovereign territory and sell parts of it to pay down the national debt.
“Harness the full intellectual and industrial strength of our universities, national laboratories and private enterprise to rapidly develop and deploy a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) adaptable to both manned and un-manned space missions. A NTR (which would only operate in outer space) will jump-start our manned space exploration program by reducing inner solar system flight times from months to weeks. This is not new technology; NTRs were tested in the 1960s (President Kennedy was a guest at one test). The physics and engineering are sound. In addition to inspiring young Americans to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a working NTR will herald a speedy and economical expansion of the human presence in the cosmos.”
The idea of using nuclear energy to propel spacecraft is older than NASA. NASA embarked on a project called NERVA to produce a nuclear rocket in the 1960s. However, when it became apparent that humans would not travel to Mars anytime soon, the project was cancelled during the Nixon administration. Since both former President George W. Bush and President Obama have proposed sending astronauts to Mars, the idea of nuclear powered rockets are having a second (or third or fourth, depending on who’s counting) look.
As of this writing, the petition has 165 of the 25,000 signatures needed for the White House to give an official response.