"When most people think of Idaho, they usually think of the things the state is most well known for, like potatoes, Boise State football, world-class hunting and fishing, or any other of the numerous outdoor attractions popular in the State. One thing Idaho is not yet well known for is its contributions to deep space exploration -- but the work being done at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is doing much to change that perception.
"The men and women at the INL have played an integral role in the development of the small car-sized Mars Rover, named Curiosity, which blasted off last Saturday from Florida. The nuclear battery that will power Curiosity when it lands on Mars next summer was developed, built and tested in eastern Idaho at the INL.
"Why Idaho? Well, Idaho has a long history of leadership and innovation in the nuclear power arena. After World War II, Idaho was chosen as the new home of the Nuclear Reactor Testing Station, where for the first time it was demonstrated that nuclear power could be used to generate usable forms of electricity. In the 60 years since, over 50 nuclear reactors have been designed and tested in Idaho, leading to the development of extensive capabilities and expertise. This expertise in handling nuclear materials made Idaho an ideal location when NASA needed to develop the next space battery that would power its new planetary rover.
"This is not the first time that the expertise of the INL has been sought in powering some of NASA's most ground-breaking missions. A recent high profile mission, the spacecraft New Horizons, launched in 2006, is currently en-route to fly past and study Pluto, and it is powered by a plutonium battery built at the INL.
"Curiosity's mission has the potential to be the most productive Mars surface mission in history. That is due, in part, to its nuclear heat and power source. The rover Curiosity is carrying the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars' surface. The nuclear powered rover can go farther, travel to more places and power and heat a larger and more capable scientific payload than a solar powered vehicle would in the same environment. Curiosity will travel to locations on Mars that have been off-limits before and collect samples and perform analysis on a far larger scale than previously imagined. This is all possible because of Curiosity's unique nuclear-powered batteries.
"Every single day the talented men and women of the INL are making major contributions toward the success of missions like the latest Mars rover project. I couldn't be more pleased that this work is being done right here in Idaho, nor could I be more grateful for the efforts of those Idahoans who make INL such a tremendous national asset."