From Missouri to Mars: NASA’s new rover powered by batteries made in Show-Me State

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As loud cheers went up among NASA’s Perseverance rover team in California, after Thursday’s successful landing on Mars, dozens of employees at a Missouri company were also walking tall.

“It’s local people that went to Missouri universities that have helped develop a lot of the things that we’re dealing with today,” said Ron Nowlin, senior V.P. of aerospace systems for EaglePicher.

The Missouri-based company has a long history of providing the U.S. government with batteries going back to the 1940s.

“The way that it started, it was developed around lead mining in the Joplin area,” Nowlin said. “As they were mining lead and zinc deposits, the research lab here in the 1920s started looking at ways they could use those lead and zinc components and use those in different batteries.”

EaglePicher, with headquarters in St. Louis and a large research and development facility in Joplin, has been working with the space program from the very beginning.

Nowlin said EaglePicher batteries were involved in every aspect of the current Mars rover mission.

“The batteries are sort of similar to what you have in your cell phone or tablet,” Nowlin explained. “It’s a lithium ion chemistry, but it’s modified to be able to stand particularly the temperature of requirements and the cycle life that is needed for the Mars mission.”

This is the seventh Mars mission EaglePicher has worked on. Unlike previous rovers that used solar panels to recharge, Nowlin said the batteries on Perseverance will recharge using nuclear power.

“The system, instead of having a solar panel, it basically has a nuclear power source and provides power to recharge the batteries,” Nowlin said. “So as long as we can get power to recharge the batteries as needed, I think we can continue to operate the rover for at least 15 years plus.”

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