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ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark Designation

pu-238

Space voyages are among the most inspiring and iconic endeavors of the 20th century, yet practical realities have limited spacefaring ambitions. Providing electricity and heat to a spacecraft in flight is challenging, given the vast distances and intense cold of space. Beginning in 1960, the Savannah River Site (SRS) helped meet this challenge by making plutonium-238 to fuel radioisotope thermoelectric generators aboard spacecraft. These nuclear batteries power and warm spacecraft and the research instruments they carry, enabling exploration of deep space. SRS produced nearly all the plutonium-238 for every U.S. mission that has relied on these batteries. Together, the technologies represent a peaceful application of radioactive materials.