On Sunday, a little piece of Idaho will be landing on the surface of the Red Planet.
For two years, rover Curiosity will making its way around the Martian landscape powered by a battery created right here at the Idaho National Laboratory.
“Once it gets down to the surface and it starts roving around, it's our power system that we fueled and tested here in Idaho at the INL that will be powering a lot of the systems that maneuver it, providing power for the camera that will be taking the first pictures, and powering all of the scientific instrumentation that will be collecting that ever so important data,” said Kelly Lively, Department Manager for Radioisotope Power Systems at the INL.
The space battery is called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator and the way it works is radioactive material decays and gives off heat, the heat is then converted to electricity which powers Curiosity. While on the Red Planet, Curiosity will make its way around the Gale Crater for two years. For those working on the project, Sunday's landing will be a payoff that's been more than 352 million miles in the making.
“I think it's just fantastic, keeping in mind that I’m just one of a group of about 70 people here from eastern Idaho at the Idaho National Lab that participated in this,” said Stephen Johnson, Director of Space Nuclear Systems and Technology, “and one of several hundreds of people at the Kennedy Space Center and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that contributed to this.”
“I can't tell you how exciting this is, we've been involved in this project for over six years now,” Lively said. “There was a two year delay after we assembled and tested it that we had to store it before we were able to launch it. So, we had the anxiety of the two years to wait for the launch, so now finally it's arriving on the Red Planet.”
Lively graduated from Idaho State University and says she never imagined her career would end up in the final frontier.
“There's so much that we don't know,” said Lively, “and I have to admit, my college education and then working on this program in addition to that has opened my eyes to the vast amount of things that I don't know and that I’m curious about and that I want to find out about.”
Curiosity will be landing around 11:30 Sunday night Mountain Time.
Curiosity's connection to the Gem State also gets a little deeper, 2005 University of Idaho graduate Matt Braley designed much of the instrumentation for data collection on the rover.