Twenty-four federal, contractor and laboratory personnel from throughout NNSA – including the Savannah River Site Office, Nevada Site Office, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and ORISE-Oak Ridge -- supported the NASA Mars Scientific Laboratory launch this weekend at Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s newest Mars rover is powered by a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermal Generator made up of just more than 10 pounds of plutionium-238, and NNSA personnel were there in the unlikely event of an accident involving the Atlas V Rocket carrying the Curiosity rover. The plutonium provides heat and power for the components during the flight to Mars and once Curiosity begins its mission on the surface of the red planet, which is scheduled for August 2012.
Los Alamos also provided the plutonium canisters that will provide power and heat to the rover, an effort that comprised the expertise of nearly 50 researchers and technicians. The power sources, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), will give Curiosity several times as much electricity as earlier rovers, and are necessary for the much larger and more-advanced payload on Curiosity.