Shown here is a one-eighth scale model of the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) nuclear rocket test engine on a movable stand equipped with rails. Originally conceived by the military for missile applications, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) took over the program and planned to develop a graphite core reactor for a high energy nuclear rocket engine for extended missions to Mars and other planets. The first test of the system occurred at the AEC's Nevada Test Site in February 1966. Thrust levels reached 75,000 pounds, and the test also included demonstration of start and stop capabilities. Budget cuts in 1972, coupled with environmental concerns, prompted NASA to cancel the program.
The Aerojet General Corporation, the manufacturer of the original engine, donated this model to the Smithsonian in 1968.
Gift of Aerojet General Corp.