[ RadSafe ] Nuclear fuel for Mars rover raises little concern

Mercado, Don don.mercado at lmco.com
Fri Sep 29 09:44:27 CDT 2006

Nuclear fuel for Mars rover raises little concern

COCOA - A power generator that uses plutonium dioxide would give a 2009
Mars rover more freedom to explore questions about life and water on the
red planet, NASA officials said in a hearing today.
In two sessions at the Florida Solar Energy Center on Wednesday, they
gave the public a chance to comment on a draft statement on the
potential dangers of a launch accident. The Mars Science Laboratory
would ride a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral.
Less than a half percent of launches would have the potential to release
radiological material, they said.
"The risks from this mission would be low," said Mark Dahl, NASA program
executive for the mission.
They received only one comment during the afternoon session, from
engineering consultant John Martin of Indialantic.
"This thing seems to be super safe as far as actually releasing any kind
of radiation," he said. "I hardly see any possibility."
Engineers and scientists want to use the generator, instead of solar
power, so the roving laboratory can go to areas where there might be
less sunlight and more slopes to climb.
Otherwise, the mission would be limited to a narrow latitude band on
"That certainly would limit us fairly significantly in being able to
pick a very scientifically interesting site," said project manager
Richard Cook of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
"I feel comfortable when we go through these kind of things," Brevard
County emergency management chief Bob Lay said. "I would not feel
comfortable if we didn't do this. This lets me see what kinds of
problems it might present for the county and then to look at those kinds
of problems and address those problems with some of the people here that
are leaders in this field in the nation."
The rovers now on Mars are about the size of golf carts. The Mars
Science Laboratory will be closer to Mini Cooper size, Cook said.
"It's just taking a step forward, not only scientifically, but
technically," Cook said.
It will include instruments that can identify chemicals that form the
basis of life.
"We want to understand if Mars has these chemicals present that life
seems to need and makes use of," said deputy project scientist Ashwin
The craft would launch in fall 2009 and arrive at Mars in 10 to 12
months. It would be the first to use a Skycrane landing system, in which
a flying descent module lowers the rover to the surface with wires.
The twin rovers, meanwhile, are still exploring, long after their early
2004 arrival at Mars. Wednesday, Opportunity made it to the highly
anticipated Victoria Crater after a nearly two-year quest.

Donald P. Mercado
Radiation Safety Officer
Explosives Safety Officer
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
O/9K-2S, B/157
1111 Lockheed Martin Way
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
Ph. (408) 742-0759
Fx. (408) 756-0504
Don.Mercado at lmco.com
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of 
arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but 
rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally 
worn out, and loudly proclaiming 
-- WOW!!! -- What a Ride!!!"

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