How did they make the nuclear power source for the Curiosity rover?
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla
28-11-2011 15:07 CST
Maybe it's because I was a kid during the Cold War; I always assume that information about anything nuclear only comes out on that "need-to-know basis." So it was a nice surprise to be pointed to this informative video about how it was built. It's from the Idaho National Laboratories, which assembled and tested Curiosity's radioisotope power source before shipping it to Florida for installation. (Even funnier for this Cold War kid, the person who noticed and posted the video about American nuclear technology is from the Czech Republic! How times have changed!)
The video is narrated by Steve Johnson, director of the Space Nuclear Systems and Technology Division (how cool a job title is that?), and it describes how the nuclear battery was built, beginning with hot little plutonium-filled iridium capsules. The initial steps are done inside glove boxes (some of them with engineers manipulating robotic hands while looking through 30-centimeter-thick "water windows"). But once the thing is inside its casing, the engineers need no extraordinary protection from it -- they are working in polo shirts!
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