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By Neil Schlager
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By extension, any project in 29 which the word “radioactive” appears has become the object of close scrutiny, and RTGs have been no exception. Opponents of RTGs point out that substances such as plutonium are lethal to humans in sufficient quantity. Since present-day launch vehicles have an undeniable track record of occasionally exploding during or shortly after launch, the possible dispersion of plutonium into the atmosphere has been held forth as a principal argument against the use of RTGs.
Alpha particles can then be emitted within the body. When this happens, alpha particles can inflict cell damage in any living organism, which can lead to cancer. To be inhaled or ingested by humans, plutonium must be ground into dust particles. However, the plutonium onboard Cassini is in the form of plutonium dioxide, a ceramic material that only breaks down into large chunks that are impossible to inhale and very difficult to crush into dust. This fuel is also highly insoluble in water, which KEY TERMS 31 sq m) area of the contaminated area.
4 billion km). A given solar array near Saturn only derives about one-hundredth the power from sunlight that it would near Earth. So the Cassini project combines an exploratory mission far from the Sun with a large, complex spacecraft requiring a relatively large power supply. This combination of factors meant that the only reasonable option available to power Cassini consisted of RTGs, the advantages of which are further described below. , to fail; in contrast, many other types of existing or potential satellite power sources require some sort of moving mechanism to generate electricity.