In the high bay of the RTG storage facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Department of Energy contractor employee guides the external and internal protective layers of the shipping cask as they are lifted from around the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. The MMRTG no longer needs supplemental cooling since any excess heat generated can dissipate into the air in the high bay.
The MMRTG will generate the power needed for the mission from the natural decay of plutonium-238, a non-weapons-grade form of the radioisotope. Heat given off by this natural decay will provide constant power through the day and night during all seasons.
Waste heat from the MMRTG will be circulated throughout the rover system to keep instruments, computers, mechanical devices and communications systems within their operating temperature ranges.
MSL's components include a compact car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for evidence on whether Mars has had environments favorable to microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release its gasses so that the rover’s spectrometer can analyze and send the data back to Earth. Launch of MSL aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for Nov. 25 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin