Sunday, May 22, 2005
Photos Of JPL Open House: Nukes Are Good.
A man and his nuke. This JPL employee is leaning on a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. An RTG, as it's called, generates electricity from the heat created by the decay of its plutonium fuel. (Click here for facts about RTGs in space.) RTGs have been used safely and successfully in many robotic missions as well as in Apollo missions RTGs are not able to generate large amounts of electricity so NASA is developing a nuclear reactor for future space missions. Nuclear power is necessary if we are to make any progress in exploring the solar system. Missions to the outer reaches of the solar system cannot rely on solar power because the sun's light is too feeble in deep space. Human missions to the moon and beyond will also depend on nuclear power. Although current plans for a base on the moon assume solar power, we cannot realistically rely on solar power on the moon because of that pesky 14 day-long night. A nuclear power generator would provide a more stable power source during the long and cold lunar night. Human missions to Mars and beyond could be shortened tremendously with the use of nuclear propulsion, in place of the chemical rockets we rely on today. The other photos in today's set show examples of NASA's successful use of nuclear power in space and some of their plans for future uses.
Labels: JPL Open House 2005