October 2nd, 2009

Plutonium Shortage Could Stall Space Exploration npr

NASA is running out of the special kind of plutonium needed to power deep space probes, worrying planetary scientists who say the U. S. urgently needs to restart production of plutonium-238.
But it’s unclear whether Congress will provide the $30 million that the administration requested earlier this year for the Department of Energy to get a new program going.
Nuclear weapons use plutonium-239, but NASA depends on something quite different: plutonium-238. A marshmallow-sized pellet of plutonium-238, encased in metal, gives off a lot of heat.
“If you dim the lights a little bit, it glows a little red, because it’s very hot,” says Stephen Johnson, director of space nuclear systems and technologies at the Idaho National Laboratory.
All that heat can be converted into electricity. “And this electricity is very, very useful, when you’re in a remote or a hostile environment,” says Johnson, “such as when you’re in space and when you’re too far away from sun to use solar power.”

March 10th, 2004

Robots to Race Across Mojave Desert npr

At the crack of dawn this Saturday, a 200-mile race across the Mojave Desert begins. The competitors are robotic vehicles taking on the form of SUVs, dune buggies and golf carts. It’s the DARPA Grand Challenge, a contest designed by the Pentagon and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to spur advancements in the field of robotics. The race is open to all-comers, so the government is hoping the $1 million prize will encourage university teams and garage scientists alike to come up with designs that may some day save lives on the battlefield.

March 6th, 2004

NASA Gets the Picture About Water on Mars (Audio) npr

The two rovers on Mars continue their pursuit of evidence that water once flowed on the Red Planet.
Earlier this week, scientists working on the rover called Opportunity said the rocks an soil at Opportunity’s landing site did shown signs of having been shaped by flowing water. Numerous images from Mars, promptly available to the general public, are proving to be a popular draw for Web users.

January 24th, 2004

Robert Zubrin Looks for ‘Mars on Earth’ npr

NPR’s Bob Edwards talks with Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, about simulating Mars on Earth. Zubrin traveled from the Arctic to the American Southwest with a team of scientists to find the best Mars-like conditions. Zubrin is author of the book, Mars on Earth.

June 7th, 2003

Destination: Mars npr

Every two years or so, Mars and the Earth are in just the right positions to make it possible to send a spacecraft from here to there. As NPR’s Joe Palca reports, now is that golden time.

April 27th, 2001

Talk of the Nation: Haughton-mars Project npr

This summer, scientists on Devon Island in the Arctic will test out a new robot, one that is designed with the ultimate goal of operating in another harsh environment–Mars. The robot is just one of the many projects planned for this summer at the Haughton Mars Research Station, a NASA-operated program that aims to shed light on the geology and biology of Mars.