Thanks to researchers and scientists from the University of Washington, human space travel to Mars may soon be achievable. At a Redmond-based space-propulsion company, the group is manipulating nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars, to power a rocket.

The scientists and researchers hope that a fusion-powered rocket will overcome many of the hurdles to deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks.

Using existing rocket fuels, it s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth, said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.

Slough and his team published papers calculating 60 and 90-day trips to Mars, which would be more practical and much less costly than current possibilities.

Using current technology, NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take four years, and the launch costs would be more than $12 billion.

The amount of fusion needed to power a rocket is small. A grain of sand of this material has the same energy as a gallong of rocket fuel.

The group things the science is feasible. They've demonstarted successful lab tests for each step in the process. Now each individual test much be combined in a final experiment.

The project is funded through NASA'a Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, and was one of only a handful of projects awarded a second round of funding last fall.

Read more about the technology behind the nuclear-fusion-powered rocket.

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