Current Events: NASA to produce Plutonium

No putting a pumpkin face on this.  This is plutonium!
Interesting thing about space probes--they need power to go.

And that's why NASA is a leetle concerned about the Senate turning down the request for the Department of Energy to contribute $15 million dollars to the production of PU-238, which is reactor-grade plutonium and is used to power deep space probes like the Cassini probe or Mars rover-type missions.

Why nuclear power?  Solar power can only do so much.  As probes get farther out in the solar system, the sun's rays just aren't enough to keep them going.  In cases like the Mars probes, the sands of Mars damage or deteriorate the solar panels.  Nuclear power is sure and long term.

Interestingly, we stopped producing plutonium in the 1980s.  (I could not find a sure answer why, but would guess it was because we had a lot and budgets were being cut, etc.)  We've since run out of our domestic supply.  We've been getting some from Russia, but in 2009, they reneged on a commitment to supply the Energy department with material in 2010 and 2011.  According to Space news, Sept 26, 2011, Russia's Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp. wants to renegotiate the contract. That's putting some space exploration projects in jeopardy.

Now here's the fun thing--we can't make our own anymore.  The infrastructure is gone, and according to Co-chair of the nuclear regulatory commission, "The people who know how to do it are retiring or dead."  So the first thing we have to do is--you guess it:  Study the issue!
Time to reinvent the wheel
So there's a few million dollars right there, maybe $7.5 to $10 million.  (Incidentally, Rob said that this number does not seem unreasonable considering the changes in technology and safety, plus all the security needed etc.  Since he's worked with high-level government stuff, I'll trust him, though I cringe at the cost of re-learning what we once knew.)

To make matters more fun, the Obama administration wanted to split the Pu-238 production project costs between NASA and the Department of Energy, but the DoE isn't interested in spending its budget for space instead of energy, and the Senate backs them up.

Now, I don't necessarily disagree, especially when I found this budget proposal (found in Space Politics.)  I think you can squeak out that $15 million.  Personally, I would take it out of the education section.  NASA does a lot of nifty programs that they offer schools and individuals, but these are only nifty and peripheral.  (I've seen and even used bits of them while homeschooling.) 

Science $5,016.80 $4,504.00 $5,100.00
Aeronautics $569.40 $569.93 $501.00
Space Technology $1,024.20 $375.00 $637.00
Exploration $3,948.70 $3,649.00 $3,775.00
Space Operations $4,346.90 $4,064.00 $4,285.00
Education $138.40 $138.00 $138.40
Cross-Agency Support $3,192.00 $3,050.00 $3,043.00
Construction $450.40 $424.00 $422.00
Inspector General $37.50 $36.30 $37.30
TOTAL $18,724.30 $16,810.23 $17,938.70

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