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[cdn-nucl-l] RE: " Hearings about nuclear-powered probe planned "
September 28, 2006
Nuclear fuel for Mars rover raises little concern
BY CHRIS KRIDLER FLORIDA TODAY
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 Mars.
"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
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,"
It will include instruments that can identify chemicals that form the basis
"We want to understand if Mars has these chemicals present that life seems
to need and makes use of," said deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
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.
See also http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/technology/
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