Included in NASA plans are the nuclear rocket to Mars; a new generation of Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators
(RTGs) for interplanetary missions; nuclear-powered robotic Mars rovers to be launched in 2003 and 2009; and the nuclear powered mission called Pluto-Kuiper Belt scheduled for January, 2006.
Since 1961, NASA has launched 25 spacecraft carrying radioisotope thermoelectric generators
, devices that convert the heat produced by decaying plutonium into electricity.
Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) translate that heat to electricity.
If there is an accident then, the radioisotope thermoelectric generators containing the plutonium would probably fall into "the ocean waters .
If the Titan IV or Centaur, or both, explode over Africa and the radioisotope thermoelectric generators "impact rock surfaces," as NASA euphemistically puts it, the probe would probably release plutonium on the continent.
The current generation of radioisotope thermoelectric generators
(RTG) uses a radiatively coupled unicouple configuration.
The radioisotope thermoelectric generators
powering the shuttles convert the heat from radioactive decay of the plutonium-238 core of the spacecraft into electricity.
There would also be the requirement of a reliable, steady supply of energy, so the use of radioisotope thermoelectric generators
(RTGs) would be preferred.
They've been able to travel so far because they each have three radioisotope thermoelectric generators