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Q. How does a plasma drive work in a space rocket? — Todd R.
A. Hydrogen is turned into a gas as hot as the Sun.
The plasma drive has been called the rocket engine of the future. A small amount of hydrogen is fed into the engine. Radio waves from a transmitter in the rocket turn the hydrogen into a burning gas as hot as the surface of the Sun -- a plasma.
Electromagnets encircling a central chamber keep the super-hot plasma from touching the metal insides of the engine. As plasma is released through an exhaust nozzle, it creates the rocket effect and pushes the engine away.
Compared with today's solid-fuel or liquid-fuel rocket engines, a plasma engine is more efficient and faster. In fact, a plasma-driven rocket could push a cargo from Earth to Mars in ninty days. That's about twice as fast as solid or liquid rockets could.
U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz has spent much of his career working on the plasma drive concept. He started working on it when he was in college.
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