July 27, 2015

INL Powering Reach Of New Horizons

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As we look with amazement at the close-up pictures of Pluto, the complex technology it takes to make those images possible is difficult to wrap one's head around.  But, beyond the fascinating and scientific advancement, this is also a proud achievement for Idaho considering the critical role scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have had in this development.

Technology developed at INL has made it possible to reach beyond the outer edges of our solar system.  The images of Pluto through NASA's New Horizon's mission were attainable in large part due to the meticulous work of INL researchers who developed the spacecraft's advanced power source, known as a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).  Before the New Horizons mission, INL's extensive work on RTGs has given the lab a paramount role in powering other NASA missions, such as the Mars Rover Curiosity exploration. 

The dedication and knowhow that went into this effort is remarkable.  This technology propelled New Horizons three billion miles into space.  The spacecraft came within 8,000 miles of Pluto.  NASAdescribes this proximity to Pluto as "roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India-making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth."  Pluto was discovered less than 100 years ago and now the immense work of INL researchers has allowed us to fly-by this unknown world.  The INL is extending humankind's reach to places that not long ago were unknown. 

This extraordinary achievement and the hard work of the scientists behind it are deeply inspiring.  I commend all the scientists who carryout and support the important work that makes these advancements possible, and I am deeply proud of the role INL played in making the New Horizons mission possible.  I look forward to seeing the new discoveries INL will make possible beyond our current horizons.  Achievements such as this are among the many of which Idahoans can be proud.  Congratulations, INL, on this outstanding success.

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