U.S. laboratory produces first plutonium in 25 years
"This is a major step forward," said Jim Green, head of NASA's planetary science division.
NASA uses plutonium when solar arrays are unable to power spacecraft visiting the outer solar system. Nuclear generators have powered 27 U.S. space missions over the last five decades, enabling exploration of the sun, the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. NASA's Curiosity rover exploring Mars is powered by plutonium, and the New Horizons probe, another nuclear-powered mission, is cruising toward Pluto for an encounter in 2015.