A forklift approaches the airlock of the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission awaits transport to the RTG storage facility. The MMRTG is enclosed in a mesh container, known as the "gorilla cage," which protects it during transport and allows any excess heat generated to dissipate into the air. The MMRTG was in the PHSF for a fit check on MSL's Curiosity rover.
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. MSL's components include a compact car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and help determine if the gas is from a biological or geological source. 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. Launch of MSL aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is targeted for Nov. 25 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder