A&S Interview: George Mueller

One of the guiding geniuses behind the Apollo program

George Mueller follows the progress of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. (NASA)
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Mueller: Well, if I were a thirty-year-old pilot I’d probably have a completely different view of life, and might even climb on if I thought there was a positive chance of success. But being a reasonably conservative guy, I’d want to understand the design better than I do before I committed to doing anything on it. 

A & S: What ideas or technologies get you most excited about space exploration today?

Mueller: Well, I’ve been for years advocating where I could the development of a nuclear rocket for interplanetary travel. We had the NERVA rocket pretty well developed and then gave it up in favor of solving the problems of New York City. And that turned out to be impossible. As a result NERVA never really got past the experimental stage. But if you really want to transfer people and things from low Earth orbit to orbit around other planets, you need something like a nuclear rocket. That’s one of the developments I felt we should have been putting money in for years. Clearly it’s much more feasible than a fusion rocket. Although, I must say, if you could develop a fusion rocket, that would be the way to go forward. More efficient, but also it has greater capability in terms of pounds of cargo per pound of fuel. In the long run, that’s what determines the cost effectiveness of inter-orbital transfer. Incidentally, I firmly believe that one ought to develop a transportation system with transportation nodes in low orbit around every planet, so that you go from one orbital station to another orbital station, and then down to the surface. That’s the physics that gives you the most bang for your buck.


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