You cut short the rant. The full rant is:
I came up with a solution, but remember when I burned rocket fuel in the Hab? This’ll be more dangerous.
No, it would in no way, shape or form be. NASA technicians mess assembling probes and rovers do so without any special radiation precautions, just precautions against burning themselves. NASA technicians do not burn toxic hydrazine inside enclosed spaces that they're breathing that they can't ventilate.
I’m going to use the RTG.
The RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) is a big box of Plutonium. But not the kind used in nuclear bombs. No, no. This Plutonium is way more dangerous!
Completely false. It's far less dangerous.
Plutonium-238 is an incredibly unstable isotope.
It's an incredibly predictable isotope, with really only one meaningful decay branch, and that branch being to another element that decays in the same manner, just slower. The half life is certainly short compared to, say, U238, but there are countless isotopes with shorter half lives than it. Its rate of spontaneous fission are low, as are its fission cross section. This is hyperbole at best, completely false at worst.
It’s so radioactive that it will get red hot all by itself.
And? If he thinks something with an 88 year half life is terrible, he should see how elements with half-lives measured in days or hours are. Note that it only gets "red hot" when stored as a large enough lump inside an insulated container. The heat output on a typical RPG is similar to that of a blow drier or small portable space heater.
As you can imagine, a material that can literally fry an egg with radiation is kind of dangerous.
No, it is not, except for burning you. His freaking out about alpha radiation is totally ungrounded.
The RTG houses the Plutonium, catches the radiation in the form of heat
It "catches" it in the way your outer layer of dead skin, a sheet of tissue paper, or several inches of air would also catch it. Almost anything stops alpha.
, and turns it in to electricity. It’s not a reactor. The radiation can’t be increased or decreased. It’s a purely natural process happening at the atomic level.
As long ago as the 1960’s, NASA’s been using RTGs to power unmanned probes. It has lots of advantages over solar power. It’s not affected by storms; it works day or night; it’s entirely internal, so you don’t need delicate solar cells all over your probe.
No, but you need a giant cooling system and more complicated thermal management. And he seems to be talking about RTG-powered spacecraft, but then talks about "storms" and "day or night" which only applies to rovers, so I'm not sure exactly which he's thinking of.
But they never used large RTGs on manned missions until The Ares Program.
Because 238Pu is produced in quantities of only a couple kg per year costing many tens of millions of dollars per kilogram. It is a manufactured product, not a waste product, and consequently incredibly expensive. If one wants more power than can be provided from an RTG, the next step up is a small nuclear reactor, not a larger RTG.
It should be pretty fucking obvious why not! They didn’t want to put astronauts next to a glowing hot ball of radioactive death!
No, you're a moron.
I'm exaggerating a little.
No, you're writing complete nonsense. External alpha radiation is completely harmless.
The Plutonium is inside a bunch of pellets, each one sealed and insulated to prevent radiation leakage even if the outer container is breached. So for the Ares Program, they took the risk.
They are not "sealed to prevent radiation leakage". They're sealed to prevent plutonium dioxide leakage. The radiation is harmless. And on that front....
RTGs are designed to withstand (and have withstood) unshielded reentry. They don't just break. Even if you had a bare chunk of 238Pu sitting in front of you, it would not be harmful. It's stored as plutonium oxide, which already being oxidized, does not burn. It is incredibly water stable. It doesn't even melt until it hits 2400C. It fractures into large chunks, not dust. It's so stable that even the vast majority of a bare pellet is estimated to be able to survive reentry without vaporizing.
This should not be interpreted as meaning that all alpha emitters are harmless. Polonium metal, for example, is extremely dangerous. It has a far shorter half life and a low vaporization point, causing it to self vaporizes when it decays. It also forms readily soluble compounds. Between these two factors, it's easy to get into the body. Inside the body, unlike from the outside, it's incredibly damaging to tissue. But none of this applies to bulk 238PuO2.
An Ares mission is all about the MAV. It’s the single most important component. It’s one of the few systems that can’t be replaced or worked around. It’s the only component that causes a complete mission scrub if it’s not working.
Solar cells are great in the short-term, and they’re good for the long-term if you have humans around to clean them. But the MAV sits alone for years quietly making fuel, then just kind of hangs out until its crew arrives. Even doing nothing, it needs power, so NASA can monitor it remotely and run self checks.
Meanwhile, the Opportunity rover is still roving on Mars after years of working on a very simplistic solar power system. But anyway...
The prospect of scrubbing a mission because a solar cell got dirty was unacceptable. They needed a more reliable source of power. So the MAV comes equipped with an RTG. It has 2.6kg of Plutonium-238, which makes almost 1500 Watts of heat. It can turn that in to 100 Watts of electricity. The MAV runs on that until the crew arrive.
Huh? Weren't you just minutes ago talking about large RTGs? MMRTG uses 4kg. GPHS-RTG uses 7,8kg. 2,6kg is nothing.
RTGs absolutely have been used on manned missions. In fact, they were used on the prototypical manned mission to other worlds, the Apollo program - Apollo 12 through 17 each had an RTG Each containing, may I add, 3,8kg of 238Pu.
100 Watts isn’t enough to keep the heater going, but I don’t care about the electrical output. I want the heat. A 1500 Watt heater is so warm I’ll have to tear insulation out of the rover to keep it from getting too hot.
As soon as the rovers were un-stowed and activated, Commander Lewis had the joy of disposing of the RTG. She detached it from the MAV, drove 4 km away, and buried it.
Nobody would ever do that.
However safe it may be, it's still a radioactive core and NASA didn't want it too close to their astronauts.
One again, more idiotic freaking out about "radiation". It's alpha, Weir. It has no penetrative ability. Visible light has orders of magnitude more ability to penetrate than alpha. For god's sake, here's astronauts fiddling with an RTG on the moon. 3 is the RTG, 1 is the fuel cask, being held by a tool to handle it without burning themselves. That's how "freaked out" NASA gets about having RTGs around, that they'll have a guy in a clumsy spacesuit assemble one right beside their return craft.
Skipping him heading off to find it....0
Commander Lewis had buried it atop a small hill. She probably wanted to make sure everyone could see the flag, and it worked great! Except instead of avoiding it, I bee-lined to it and dug it up. Not exactly what she was going for.
It’s a large cylinder with heat-sinks all around it. I could feel the warmth it gave off even through my suit’s gloves. That’s really disconcerting. Especially when you know the root cause of the heat is radiation.
More stupid "radiation" freakout.
Seriously, how can you read this tripe without wanting to hit your head against a wall? How can you call a novel that has this sort of nonsense and does almost every single chemistry equation wrong "hard science fiction"? Does anything that spouts pseudoscientific BS qualify as "hard science fiction" these days?