This weekend, a NASA rover named Curiosity will make a never-before-attempted approach to landing on the surface of Mars and begin a two-year mission exploring the planet's Gale Crater area for signs of past and present inhabitability. Curiosity was launched from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 26, 2011, aboard an Atlas V rocket.
Curiosity will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on the red planet. Those instruments will be powered by electricity generated from the heat of radioactive decay of Pu-238. The rover's power system was assembled and extensively tested by employees at Idaho National Laboratory.
The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator is the latest "space battery" to 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.
In Idaho, the landing is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 5, at 11:31 p.m. A live feed of video during key landing activities from the mission control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be carried on NASA TV and on http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl between about 10 p.m. and midnight MDT on Aug. 5.
Frequent updates about the mission, together with public feedback, are available by following Curiosity on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity. For more information on INL's contributions, see http://www.inl.gov/marsrover/.