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The Curiosity rover is busy investigating Martian climate and geology, thanks in large part to a power system developed by the University of Dayton Research Institute’s (UDRI) Energy Technologies and Materials Division.

“The art of science resides in people and not equipment,” says UDRI’s Senior Research Engineer, Chad Barklay. He explains their contribution to the Curiosity project was the result of collaboration among a team of scientists from JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), NASA, Teledyn and Rocketdyne. “[We] determined which tests would be needed to ensure that the radioisotope power system (RPS) would properly function after entry, descent and landing.”

The result was a system that operates Curiosity’s wheels, robotic arm, computers, radio and other instruments. Needless to say, NASA is pleased with UDRI’s contribution. “Informally, there has been nothing but praise from various NASA program mangers regarding our efforts and contributions,” says Barklay, noting a few researchers on his staff have previously received formal recognition from NASA in the form of “Group Achievement Awards.”

As Curiosity continues its expedition 350 million miles away, Barklay continues his work in radioisotope power systems – something he says has a rich legacy in Dayton.

Dayton-based scientists Kenneth Jordan and John Birden developed the principle and first working model of the nuclear batter. “In 1959, they received a patent for their invention, and it is this technology that forms the basis for all RPS’s used in deep space missions today,” Barklay explains, powering some of NASA’s most notable missions, such as Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo.

“The legacy of this pioneering work that occurred almost 60 years ago in the Dayton area is amazing. It has travelled beyond our solar system and is still alive at the University of Dayton.”

Source: Chad Barklay
Writer: Joe Baur
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