Tucked away in a corner outside the main entrance to Building 4205 were three
signs with no accompanying engines. This one reads
This innovative Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) was an
experimental nuclear engine designed for long-duration manned space flight,
including a proposed manned mission to Mars. There was no combustion of
propellants inside this engine. Rather, liquid hydrogen was superheated as it
passed through a nuclear reactor, then expelled through the nozzle. This
design achieved a much higher specific impulse than even the Space Shuttle Main Engine. In
addition, the thrust, although less than that of an SSME, could be sustained
long-term for deep space exploration. Despite these technological successes,
development plans for NERVA were eventually canceled out of concern over the
use of nuclear materials for manned space flight.
Aerojet-General Corporation (prime contractor)
Westinghouse Corporation (reactor)
Developed for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and NASA.