29 September 2009

Could space travel be halted because of a plutonium production shortage?

NASA is running out of the special kind of plutonium needed to power deep space probes, worrying planetary scientists who say the U. S. urgently needs to restart production of plutonium-238.

Nuclear weapons use plutonium-239, but NASA depends on something quite different: plutonium-238. A marshmallow-sized pellet of plutonium-238 (pictured to the left), encased in metal, gives off a lot of heat.

It is uncertain whether or not Congress will provide the necessary funds to USDOE for restarting plutonium production.

To get NPR's whole story read the article.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder where they would begin producing plutonium-238 if they did get funding. And is it possible to produce it by itself (not as a by-product of plutonium-239)?