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ORNL's contribution to help with NASA’s Mars 2020 mission

Mars 2020 is the first NASA mission that uses plutonium-238 produced at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to ORNL.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Oak Ridge National Laboratory collaborated with NASA on the development of the rover that will attempt to land on Mars on Thursday.

NASA’s Perseverance rover will make its final descent into Jezero Crater on the surface of Mars. 

Mars 2020 is the first NASA mission that uses plutonium-238 produced at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to ORNL.

Pu-238 is at the heart of the general-purpose heat source module that fuels Perseverance’s multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator. As the material decays, the heat released is converted to electricity, charging the rover’s batteries and powering the onboard advanced imaging and sensor systems.

ORNL has made several contributions to deep-space explorations, including technologies for the Voyager I and II, Cassini, and Mars Curiosity missions. 

ORNL-produced Pu-238 also will power NASA’s 2027 Dragonfly mission to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.