Idahoans have hand in Mars rover, decent to Mars on Sunday

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by KTVB

kvue.com

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 8:21 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 6:48 AM

BOISE, Idaho -- There will be a lot of people looking to the skies this weekend as the NASA rover, Curiosity, makes its decent Mars.

For those who are curious, Curiosity's mission is to check for former and present signs of life on the red planet. The rover, which is the size of a car, is powered from a battery built in Idaho.

When you work at, or for NASA, the future is now. Dr. Steve Johnson at the Idaho National Laboratory led a team to develop a power system that will run the one-ton rover.

"It's the very first power system of this type and we're just very, very excited that it's going to power such a spectacular mission going to Mars," said Johnson.

Based on nuclear power, the battery pack harnesses heat given off by the radioactive decay of Plutonium 238. It's a source that can last for decades.

"Will be used to both drive the rover, power the instruments and for those additional times when you need a little extra boost it will be able to charge the Lithium-Ion batteries so those can be used in tandem with it," said Johnson.

He's not the only Idahoan who had a hand in this project.

"I've been watching stuff go into space my entire life," said Matthew Braley.

Braley, a University of Idaho alum and NASA engineer, helped build and test Curiosity.

"Here, hopefully in a couple of days, the hardware that I helped put together and had a hand making sure it worked, will be running around on Mars," said Braley.

After eight months in space, traveling 350 million miles, the Atlas 5 will launch Curiosity towards the surface of Mars. Both Johnson and Braley will be watching the landing closely.

"This harrowing decent that's going to happen on Sunday is proving technologies that are going to allow us to send, basically, all kinds of larger spacecraft all over the universe," said Braley.

For the next two years, Curiosity will sample the red soil, record video and cut through rock with a powerful laser, all to help us understand the universe around us a little better.

"Even the things we learn there on Mars, we can actually use here on Earth to help better prepare us for the future,” said Braley.

The Curiosity will touch down on the surface of Mars, dropping from 13,000 miles-an-hour to zero in only seven minutes. That will happen around 11:31 p.m. Sunday.

Curiosity is much more advanced than previous rovers sent to Mars, the Spirit and Opportunity. The cost of the project is $2.5 billion.

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