What’s a government space agency like NASA supposed to do if private companies like SpaceX get all the spacefaring glory?

One option is to double down on investments in leading-edge advancements that may not pay off for years. Super-fast and maneuverable nuclear-powered rocket engines are one such technology. Last month, NASA, partnering with the Department of Defense, gave Lockheed Martin nearly $500 million to build and test one by 2027.

Without this collaboration, two things could be in jeopardy: NASA’s dream of putting boots down in more parts of the solar system and the U.S.’s upper hand in outer-space warfare.