These are some of the projects that NASA has never finished, ideas on paper that did not convince or large investments of money that ended up in a museum waiting for someone to remember them.

To come up with the best idea, it is first necessary to discard many others. In the history of NASA we find a great number of successes, great stellar moments that most of humanity remembers easily. However, in its chronology many abandoned projects have also been left.

The projects that we are going to explain to you in this article did not come to fruition, they were canceled and were kept in the agency’s archives waiting for someone to rescue them. Long-distance missions or proposals for new forms of exploration, some of which had a launch date and all prepared when they fell apart.

The reasons why they were canceled are various, as you can see. Some proposals required a very complex technology or were simply not good ideas, but mainly these projects required too high a monetary investment and they ran into the change of course of the leaders of the United States at that time who had other priorities.

Canceled or simply abandoned, all these ideas have something in common, any day they can return to the front line. It is enough that one person considers them a good idea again , that current technology clears the obstacles of that time or that the appropriate budget is in place. Some have even seen very similar projects being created in recent years under another name and with certain changes that make them more conducive.

The canceled NASA projects:

  • NERVA: The nuclear rocket to reach Mars
  • Soldiers and space weapons
  • Destiny Alpha Centauri
  • A walk on Mars and Venus
  • Internet between planets
  • The mobile laboratory of the Moon

NERVA: The nuclear rocket to reach Mars

After having conquered the Moon, the US space agency put its focus on the red planet. The challenge was enormous, he had to get more powerful rockets to reach Mars in the shortest time possible. This is when the idea of ​​creating a nuclear-powered rocket came in.

In the 1950s, nuclear power was growing in popularity. This led NASA to launch NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) a nuclear propulsion engine whose mission was to take astronauts to the neighboring planet in four months of travel.


The tests were so successful that in August 1969, it was proposed to send 12 men to Mars in the early 1980s using rocket engines developed from NERVA. But this would never happen.

The project was canceled in 1972 after years of cuts to NASA’s budget. At that time the United States needed all its concentration and money in the Vietnam War. That same year, Apollo 17 closed a stage of exploration and missions to the Moon. President Nixon decided to focus NASA resources on Earth orbit and the space shuttle program.

However, NASA does not throw anything away, everything is recorded for when the occasion allows it, to resume the projects. At the beginning of this decade, people began to talk about the Prometheus project, a faithful successor to NERVA and in 2017 they confirmed that NASA had allocated a budget to study the development of thermonuclear energy.

Soldiers and space weapons

The idea of ​​having military force in space is nothing new, many politicians and soldiers have proposed it in the United States, many of them from the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater was one of them, who in 1964 was running for the country’s presidency. “I am convinced that the destiny of man is to enter space, and that whoever controls the open space that surrounds us is in a position to control the earth,” said the former senator from Arizona.

The last to mention this possible Star Wars has been Donald Trump. The current occupant of the White House has created the US Army Space Force, whose military space corps already has a uniform, although this has aroused quite a lot of ridicule.

Before Trump and Goldwater, others thought it would be a great idea and the United States Air Force proposed the creation of the Manned Orbit Laboratory (MOL). The objective of this project was to test the military utility of having human beings orbiting the Earth.

Conceptual design of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL)

Everything was ready so that in December 1969 the first launch of the MOL would be carried out but it ended up being delayed until the fall of 1971. They did not reach that date, the program was canceled by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird in 1969. The cost It was too high, they had had to increase the budget to $ 3 billion and had already spent $ 1.3 billion.

Some of the military astronauts selected for the program ended up working for NASA and flying on the shuttle. One of them was the space manager from 1989 to 1992 Richard Truly.

At the moment, we do have several people orbiting the Earth, but they are astronauts from all over the world conducting scientific tests for the benefit of science and not the military force of a single country.

Destiny Alpha Centauri

The closest star to Earth is actually a three-star system, Alpha Centauri. Of those three, the main two are Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, which form a binary system. They are approximately 4.3 light years from Earth. The third star is Proxima Centauri which is about 4.22 light years from Earth and is the closest star after the Sun.

Among the destinations that NASA engineers have considered reaching, Alpha Centauri is one of them. This idea was collected in the Longshot Project, which consisted of launching an unmanned probe to the star in the early 21st century.

The probe would assemble on the space station and take about 100 years to reach the nearest star. This required the development of various technologies, the most important of which was a pulsed fusion micro-explosion unit with 1,000,000 seconds of specific impulse.

A large, long-life fission reactor with a power output of 300 kW was also needed. Communications lasers would use a wavelength of 0.532 microns, since stars have minimal power output in that frequency band. A laser with an input power of 250 kW would allow a data rate of 1000 bits per second in the maximum range.

Even so, the project never went beyond the first planning stage, the technologies and elements that would make up the ship did not even materialize. It is not known if it was a budget problem, some more important project that displaced this idea or simply that it was too complex for the time.

A walk on Mars and Venus

To this day NASA continues to work on the mission that will bring humans closer to Mars, but this idea is nothing new, after the Apollo program and its successive missions to the Moon, the next objective has always been the red planet, as has already been shown in other failed projects we have talked about before.

In the mid-1960s, the Planetary Joint Action Group, a consortium of scientists and engineers from across the agency, proposed flying over Venus and Mars. What’s more, two engineers developed a plan that included four astronauts from the Apollo program, who would approach Mars and Venus in an 800-day journey. 

It is possible that in a few years we will see the first humans land on the red surface of Mars, but in the 80s this idea did not get off the paper. Sometimes ideas are not meant to be on the list of space exploration milestones.

Internet between planets

In this 2005 article in Space magazine, you can see the plans for the Mars Telecommunication Orbiter, the first interplanetary spacecraft whose main mission is to provide communications services to other missions.

Mars Telecommunication Orbiter

This spacecraft was to launch in 2009 and orbit Mars at a distance greater than the rest, about 4,500 kilometers. From there it would communicate with Earth via two radio bands and a new optical communications terminal, it was an incredible demonstration of the use of the near-infrared laser beam for interplanetary communications.

It is, after all, a way to improve communications between the two planets and facilitate the task of future missions. The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter would have speeds lower than 56K, it would not serve to consult Facebook from Mars, but it would be used to maintain the connection with any other ship or rover.

However, like all the other ideas in this article, it was eventually canceled. There was no budget or technological problem, on the contrary, there was money and they had the technology, but in other ships. It turned out that the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions had more than enough communications equipment to get the job done and this project was no longer necessary.

The mobile laboratory of the Moon

We see closer and closer to the lunar base where the first astronauts will live on the Moon. Yes, we have already visited it many times, but we have not spent much time in it. This is what is known as the Artemis Mission, but many years before this mission was presented, NASA had already thought about what it would take to live up there.

One of the proposals was a giant laboratory on wheels, a rover with which to circulate on the surface of the satellite collecting samples and studying them, a 2 in 1. NASA vehicles have always been a bit peculiar, but this could be the most extravagant. MOLAB, as it was called, was designed as a habitat for astronauts who had to explore the surface of the Moon, a kind of lunar caravan. 

For its construction, NASA hired General Motors who was in charge of making MOLAB a reality. Powered by a modified Corvair engine, it could house a couple of astronauts inside its 13-square-meter cabin for about two weeks.

Before the project was canceled, MOLAB was in operation for 6 years with tests in the New Mexico desert, even serving the United States Geological Survey and doing pioneering work in mapping mineral deposits and taking samples. of soil.

It was a historic project for the time, but it involved some difficulties, the first being its size. It was about 6 meters high, impossible to take it in a ship to the Moon in one piece in the rockets of that time. The MOLAB project was completely canceled in 1968.


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