Three scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will discuss their work this afternoon on technologies for the Perseverance rover, which uses plutonium-238 produced at the lab and will touch down on Mars on Thursday.
Perseverance is scheduled to make its final descent into Jezero Crater on the surface of Mars on Thursday. It’s the first NASA mission that uses plutonium-238 produced at ORNL.
The plutonium-238 is encased in iridium-alloy cladding, and it is insulated by carbon-bonded carbon fiber. It’s used in the heat source module that fuels Perseverance’s multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator. As the plutonium decays, the heat that is released is converted into electricity, charging the rover’s batteries and powering the onboard advanced imaging and sensor systems. (Learn more about the Mars mission here.)
The online event today featuring the three ORNL scientists is hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, and it is scheduled to start at 3 p.m.
It will be a moderated discussion featuring ORNL’s Nidia Gallego, senior staff scientist in the Carbon and Composites group; George Ulrich, Radioisotope Power Systems program manager and Alloy Behavior and Design group leader; and Robert Wham, Pu-238 Supply Program manager, who will discuss the lab’s contributions to the mission.
The event is intended for high school and college students interested in STEM careers, and it is open to the public. Learn more about DOE’s STEM Rising initiative.
ORNL said the Perseverance mission continues a 50-year legacy of the lab’s contributions to space exploration, including technologies for the Voyager I and II, Cassini and Mars Curiosity missions. ORNL-produced Pu-238 also will power NASA’s 2027 Dragonfly mission to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
Read more about the Perseverance landing timeline, access educational resources, and learn how to follow the landing on Thursday on NASA’s Mars 2020 website.