One of the greatest challenges of any space mission is creating enough power to operate it. While gasoline powered engines suffice on Earth, there are no refueling stations in space.
A potential solution is to harness the power of the Sun using solar panels, or even solar sails. But this is not always possible for various reasons. So researchers have begun designing highly efficient power plants, called Stirling Engines, which use the heat from radioactive decay and convert that energy into electricity.
These motors are being tested at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, to see how they will fare in the harsh environment of space. Eventually, these engines will make their way on to planetary spacecraft, and potentially provide the energy needed to create a human settlement on the surface of Mars.
To learn more, we ventured to the heart of the mid-west to talk with the scientists that are developing and testing these very efficient power sources. Tune in to this week’s Tomorrow’s Discoveries to learn about the power plants that will take us around the solar system.