Mars Science Laboratory

Curiosity landed successfully at 11:31 p.m. MDT, Sunday, Aug. 5

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission has set down a large, mobile laboratory which will carry the most advance payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars’ surface. The rover’s electrical power is supplied by a U.S. Department of Energy radioisotope power generator assembled and tested at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The rover, named Curiosity, launched from Kennedy Space Center Nov. 26, 2011 and landed on Mars in August, 2012. It will investigate Mars’ Gale Crater for clues about whether environmental conditions there have favored the development of microbial life, and to preserve any evidence it finds.

NASA chose to use a nuclear power source because solar power alternatives did not meet the full range of the mission’s requirements. Only the radioisotope power system allows full-time communication with the rover during its atmospheric entry, descent and landing regardless of the landing site. And the nuclear powered rover can go farther, travel to more places, last longer, and power and heat a larger and more capable scientific payload compared to the solar power alternative NASA studied.

The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator is the latest "space battery" to reliably power a deep space mission for many years. In fact, NASA has used nuclear batteries to safely and reliably power 26 missions over the past 50 years.

(All images and videos on this page are courtesy of NASA.)

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