So you’re a scientist at NASA, and you want to, say, send a probe into the outer reaches of space. Because that’s just how the scientists at NASA roll. But you’ve got a problem. You, and your project, are out of gas.
Or, well, more accurately, Plutonium. You see now that the cold war is basically just history, and for the most part the world has disarmed its nuclear arsenal, NASA has a problem. A lot of their space exploration designs are centered around nuclear-powered craft, but we no longer produce Plutonium-238, the isotope used for space fuel.
Estimates had said that this resource crunch wouldn’t actually be felt until 2020 or so. But it’s only 2010 and scientists are already grumbling.
The problem is, everyone just kind of expected NASA to switch over to solar power, so the Plutonium Pinch wouldn’t really be a big deal. Except that not everything in space can be powered by a star. There are places in darkness that we also need to explore. The moon. Mars. Everything has a dark side. And the further you get from the sun, the less energy you can get from the sun. It’s a rather obvious relational equation, one would think. But one that missed its mark during the weapons-grade nuclear downsizing.
It’s a strange world when one considers that NASA may just have to shop around Russia for some nuclear materials to alleviate their shortage. But rumor has it, that’s exactly what is may just be happening to keep projects on schedule. It’s an eerie kind of beautiful. Now if we could just hold hands and sing Kumbaya…