MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Could nuclear oower be used on spaceships as a supply of air and water?

Date: Fri Jan 12 16:36:11 2001
Posted By: Donald Howard, Staff, Nuclear Engineering, Retired
Area of science: Physics
ID: 979094562.Ph

Nuclear power plants have been used for many unmanned space satellites.  
For the manned capsules, they pose a problem because they require much 
more shielding than does any of the unmanned orbiters.  Unlike the 
submarines, weight is much more of a problem in capsule construction 
because of the large amount of energy it takes to get that weight into 

So anything that is manned depends primarily on solar power cells.  Solar 
cells weigh less and have no radiation shielding problems of the type 
associated with nuclear power.

The submarines can make drinking water from sea water by distilling it.  
Their reactors give them plenty of heat and electricity to do that.  The 
only water on a space capsule is what it brings with it, and though that 
is recycled as much as possible, it is still limited.

Given, sea water, the submarine could conceivably, through electrolysis, 
produce breathable Oxygen from the water, but usually they just surface, 
or use their snorkle to change the air.  Oxygen could be extracted from 
water in space, but isn't because there is almost as much of a need for 
water as water as there is need for air.  Since people exhale carbon 
dioxide, the air can be replenished by removing the carbon from the carbon 
dioxide freeing the Oxygen for reuse, and that is the preferred method in 

It's a good idea and perhaps some day it will happen. 

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