The Savannah River Site provided plutonium for the first reported spacecraft to ever leave the solar system.
On Thursday, NASA reported that Voyager 1 made history by traveling more than 11.5 billion miles from the sun, which is an area scientists call interstellar space.
The spacecraft is powered by plutonium from SRS, according to Department of Energy officials.
“The Savannah River Site produced the plutonium 238 program that produced the core of the batteries that are powering the probes to the outer reaches of the galaxy,” said Department of Energy spokesman Jim Giusti. “Pu-238, used by NASA in its deep space probes, has a half-life of 90 years. This means that the plutonium will lose half its punch in 90 years, half of that punch in 90 more years, and so on.”
NASA feels that Voyager 1 officially exited the solar system more than a year ago; however, it wasn’t until recently that the agency had enough evidence to verify the feat.
About six pounds of Pu-238 made at SRS is onboard each of the probes in a variety of different batteries. The plutonium was made at the SRS HB-Line, a chemical processing facility on Site. It was then sent to the pre-existing Mound Lab in Dayton, Ohio, to be turned into the batteries (RTGs) that power the probes.
“Those at SRS working on the plutonium 238 program knew that the materials they were producing were going into the batteries for the deep space probes,” Giusti added. “So there was a certain amount of pride when the probes started bearing fruit.”
In addition to Voyager 1, SRS also has or has had plutonium stakes in several other spacecrafts. These include Voyager 2, Cassini, Spirit, Opportunity, Galileo and Ulysses. Spirit and Opportu nity are exploring the surface of Mars. The Galileo is studying Jupiter and Saturn, and the Ulysses is studying the sun’s polar region.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard news team and joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and graduated from Georgia Southern University with a journalism degree in May 2012.
The journey of the Voyager spacecrafts
• Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 1977.
• In February 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space.
• Both Voyager 1 and 2 carry a greeting to any form of life, should that be encountered. The message is carried by a phonograph record – a 12-inch, gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in 55 languages.
• This month, Voyager 1 is at a distance of 18.7 billion kilometers from the sun.
• Science data is returned to earth in real time at 160 bits per second.