With the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory on Saturday, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP are poised to begin focusing the energy of a million light bulbs on the surface of the red planet to help determine whether Mars was or is habitable.
The international team of space explorers that launched the Mars Science Laboratory last week is relying in part on an instrument originally developed at Los Alamos called ChemCam, which will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface. The robust ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the mission’s Curiosity rover.
When ChemCam fires its extremely powerful laser pulse, it will vaporize an area the size of a pinhead. The system’s telescope will peer at the flash of glowing plasma created by the vaporized material and record the colors of light contained within it. These spectral colors will then be interpreted by a spectrometer, enabling scientists to determine the elemental composition of the vaporized material.
ChemCam can deliver multiple pulses in extremely rapid succession to a single area or quickly zap multiple areas, providing researchers with great versatility for sampling the surface of the planet. ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life. The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon—a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life.
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.
Members from the NNSA’s Office of Emergency Operations and the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) from the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) continue to conduct consequence management training around the globe. Most recently the RSL and NNSA team conducted training for the international community with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.
The International Consequence Management (I-CM) training course provides attendees with information and data on means and methods for setting up and establishing a monitoring and assessment program to deal with a nuclear/radiological incident or event.
NNSA provided the training to 25 participants from 19 countries and the IAEA. The training course also included hands on equipment training in techniques for monitoring and data collection and analysis.
NNSA currently collaborates with more than 80 foreign governments and 10 international organizations with projects ranging from providing assistance to foreign governments in improving their emergency preparedness and response programs, to joint collaborative activities to improve emergency management infrastructure worldwide. The team plans to conduct additional training in the spring with the IAEA.
The RSL is a center for advanced technologies, focused on the scientific, technological, and operational disciplines necessary to ensure the success of national security missions. Originally called “Aerial Measurements Operations," the laboratory was created in the 1950s in Las Vegas, Nevada, to serve as an integral part of the worldwide emergency system to provide rapid response to radiological emergencies. The RSL emergency responders represent the Department of Energy's Accident Response Group and the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. The responders can deploy to emergencies related to crisis management including nuclear power plant accidents and searches, NASA launches, and transportation accidents involving nuclear materials.
Over at the White House blog, Laura Holgate, Senior Director for WMD Terrorism and Threat Reduction, writes about prepreations for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Seoul, South Korea.
"Even though I’d been aware of many of these events as they happened, it was really impressive to see the progress piled up: over 400 kg of highly enriched uranium removed from over 10 countries – enough for 16 nuclear bombs. A dozen new countries joining the key international treaties. Over a dozen new nuclear security training and research “centers of excellence” opening their doors. Key tools for international cooperation on nuclear security, such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction extended into the next decade. Increased resources for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s support to its member states to improve security on nuclear materials. Tens of tons of Highly Enriched Uranium permanently destroyed by Russia and the US – raw material for thousands of nuclear weapons. Nuclear industry players adopting “Principles of Conduct” including commitments to secure materials at their facilities, and working together through the World Institute of Nuclear Security to identify and promote best practices in nuclear security. INTERPOL setting up a new radiological-nuclear center to bring law enforcement tools to bear more effectively on nuclear smuggling. "