To have the kind of dependable power needed to explore the sub-zero temperatures of Mars, the rover needs a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) — essentially a nuclear battery that uses heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate electricity as a kind of fuel. NNSA Administrator and Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the Department of Energy Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason and engineer Jackie Lopez-Barlow explain how it works.
Mars Technica is produced by Los Alamos National Laboratory. Cover art by Joey Montoya. Photo illustration courtesy JPL/NASA. With special thanks to Laura Mullane, Scott Faulk, Charles Poling, Arthur Bishop and Camille Dickson.