NASA to build nuclear-powered spaceship to find aliens in nearest star system

NASA is looking to build a nuclear-powered spaceship to discover aliens in a nearby star system.

Scientists reckon their new super craft will travel 25 trillion miles – or 4.37 light years – to the nearest star in the Alpha Centuri system, where we are most likely to find life.

The Alpha Centauri star has a "Goldilocks zone" – an area where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist – which contains potentially habitable rocky planets.

NASA’s Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to venture into interstellar space in 2012, but the probe would take 70,000 years to reach the star while hitting speeds of 10-miles-per-second.

The Helios probe is currently the fastest spacecraft launched into space, travelling at 155,000 miles per hour – but even at that speed it would still take 18,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.

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It has been suggested that a new spaceship that would reach the system quicker would have to be propelled by nuclear power.

Scientists say the mission would be a "legacy project" and it is unlikely we would see the spaceship reach the star in our lifetimes.

Speaking at the launch of the Solar Orbiter probe last week, associate administrator at NASA's Science Mission Directorate Dr Thomas Zurbuchen said the feat could still be achieved.

He said: “NASA is not a space tourism company and we're not the same agency that we were during the time of Apollo.

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"We know there are planets there and we should be exploring them. It's not going to be easy and we haven't got it figured out yet. But that's the direction we should be heading.

“It's likely this would be a legacy project that we won't see happen in our lifetime, but it's something we should be thinking about and planning for."

The Solar Orbiter – which aims to unlock the secrets of the Sun – was launched on February 9 from NASA's Cape Canaveral site in Florida.

It will take about two years to reach the Sun in a 65 million mile journey.

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NASA first suggested a mission to the Alpha Centuri system in 1987 and launched Project Longshot which would have seen an unmanned probe enter orbit around Alpha Centauri B in as little as 100 years.

It was abandoned the following year and was not mentioned again until 2016, when Professor Stephen Hawking announced he would design a tiny nanocraft that could travel to the system within 20 years.

A panel from the US House of Representatives, which oversees NASA's budgets, called on NASA to attempt its own mission to Alpha Centauri in 2069 – the centenary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The panel said NASA should "study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c (10 per cent of the speed of light)".

  • Space
  • Nasa

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