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Podcast explains how plutonium powers Mars exploration

Mars Technica gives listeners the low-down on how nuclear batteries help drive space exploration
August 13, 2020
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Mars Technica is a new, limited- series podcast where experts talk about the science behind the Mars Perseverance mission.

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You can’t always rely on solar power, particularly when you’re far from the Sun or when dust storms might be a problem.- Jackie Lopez-Barlow

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Aug. 13, 2020—To have dependable power to explore the the frigid surface of Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is equipped with a type of power system called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)—which is what the latest episode of Mars Technica will tell listeners all about.

“An RTG is essentially a nuclear battery that uses heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutomium-238 to generate electricity,” said Jackie Lopez-Barlow, the radioisotopes power system program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “You can’t always rely on solar power, particularly when you’re far from the Sun or when dust storms might be a problem. RTGs provide long-lasting power that works no matter how far out in space you are.”

On this podcast episode, Lopez-Barlow explains how an RTG (also called a Radioisotope Power System) works and Los Alamos’ role in getting it onboard spacecraft such as the Perseverance rover, which is currently on its way to Mars. In addition, Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and DOE’s Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, and Thom Mason, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, discuss the important roles NNSA and the Laboratory play in building RTGs, and the exploration they enable.

This is the third episode of Mars Technica, a new seven-series podcast produced by Los Alamos National Laboratory, which delves into the Lab’s role on the Mars Perseverance mission.

Upcoming episodes explore topics including signatures of life and what secrets rock varnish might hold. You can stream episodes via the Mars Technica website.

You can also to find and subscribe to Mars Technica on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Podcasts.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.