Plasma drive’s silver lining.

AFP takes a sunnier look at NASA’s budget trimming. Sure, the government agency said they won’t be landing people on the moon or Mars any time soon. But that leaves more room for private companies to do it – with NASA’s help:

Hopes are now pinned on firms like Chang-Diaz’s Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company.

“In the early days… NASA support for the project was rather minimal because the agency did not emphasize advanced technologies as much as it’s doing now,” Chang-Diaz told AFP.

NASA was focused instead on the series of Apollo missions that delivered men to the moon for the first, and so far last, times.

“They were mesmerized by the Apollo days and lived in the Apollo era for 40 years, and they just forgot developing something new,” he said.

Chang-Diaz, 60, hopes that “something” is a non-chemical rocket that eventually allow for a manned trip to Mars — long the Holy Grail for Apollonians.

His rocket would use electricity to transform a fuel — likely hydrogen, helium or deuterium — into plasma gas that is heated to 19.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (11 million degrees Celsius). The plasma gas is then channeled into tailpipes using magnetic fields to propel the spacecraft.

It’s an interesting way to look at the issue, that’s for sure. I just can’t help but think there must be a catch….