The Russians are planning to ride a $600 million nuclear-powered spaceship to Mars, and they say they may begin construction by 2012. “It’s a very serious project, and we need to find the money,” president Dmitry Medvedev says. Small nuclear reactors and batteries have long powered satellites, but their adaptation to any spacecraft, let alone an interplanetary one, has proved elusive.
“I don’t think anyone ever will,” a Russian expert tells the Christian Science Monitor. Counters another Russian expert: “The former USSR had a lot of accumulated experience in this field. The idea has bright prospects.” Whether or not it works, a Greenpeace expert says, it’s actually a terrible idea. Things shot into orbit can make a “sometimes unscripted return” into Earth’s atmosphere. “There is a history here that warns us to be very, very cautious about this idea.”