Skip Navigation

ORAU provides radiation expertise in NASA launch prep of nuclear-powered space probes

NASA performance model of Mars lander

Photo courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab-Caltech

As National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineers test the mobility and suspension performance of a model of the Mars Science Laboratory at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in preparation for its 2009 launch, civilian and military emergency medicine communities are also getting ready with the help of ORAU.

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Launch Support Group, ORAU experts are educating emergency personnel in at least five hospitals on external and internal decontamination and providing technical review and comments on NASA planning documents.

ORAU personnel will also provide medical/health physics support during launch preparation activities, on-site during and after the launch, as necessary.

ORAU has provided similar support to NASA’s 1997 launch of the Cassini space probe, the October 1990 Ulysses launch, the October 1989 Galileo launch, and most recently the 2006 New Horizons deep space probe launch to Pluto.

New Horizons, a 1,000-pound, grand-piano-sized probe, is powered by the decay of 24 pounds of plutonium pellets as it journeys on a three-billion-mile, nearly 10-year trek to Pluto then Charon, Pluto’s primary moon. New Horizons is on a one-way trip into space and will not return to Earth.

While the odds were against a radiation accident occurring either during launch preparations or the launch itself, NASA and DOE enlisted the experise of ORAU health physicists to prepare emergency response personnel on the correct techniques in the event of an anomaly.

Read more radiation emergency medicine success stories.