[Note: The "Josh Baxter" email referred to in this exchange can be found here. -- rdh ]
To: "Daniel Handlin" <Daniel_Handlin@hths.mcvsd.org>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Your claims that there are some "Serious factual errors" in my "Stop Cassini
At 06:29 PM 10/6/2003 , "Daniel Handlin" <Daniel_Handlin@hths.mcvsd.org> wrote (clip; whole email shown below):
"It appears to be your intention to avoid facts and to simply engage in mudslinging."
This from the guy who starts off by calling my web site "ludicrous" and then accuses me of making "wacky claims"? Have you no sense of balance? It's okay for you to insult me all you want, right out of the gate, but if I respond in any way the least bit agitated by your uncivil behavior, you become highly offended and even more insulting? Get a life.
I didn't "shrug off" your statements. I told you that complete answers already appear at the web site, which they do. You clearly haven't read the major articles, such as the one by Dr. Poehler that I suggested in my previous letter. All the facts you claim you want to know are already posted.
Furthermore, I've already been through this sort of thing with other people before you. I don't need to repeat myself for your benefit just because you won't read what's already been posted. Our side won all the arguments and all the debates already. That NASA would not change their behavior in light of our facts was what was "ludicrous" and "wacky" -- and still is. That you now come along and read half of a few web pages and think you're ready to step in and prove something is pretty preposterous.
Also, you should get straight who said what at my web site before you present a few isolated quotes. It's not that hard to do because I was quite meticulous in laying that information out when I posted the original documents. It was a pro-Cassini person by the name of G. Herbert who said the line you credit me with about solar cell's efficiency, for example, and taken in context, it means something very different from the way you've misinterpreted it. It was part of a debate between Mr. Herbert and Dr. Ross McCluney, Principal Research Scientist, Florida Solar Energy Center, who handily resolved the details and showed, as other scientists before and after him have also shown, that Cassini should have been a solar-powered mission (or missions).
Quoting McCluney, pro-nuclear Cassini arguments against solar solutions ignore "the use of strong, lightweight concentrators, which could reduce the mass requirements by factors of 4 or more, even if the mass of the concentrators is factored in. It also ignores further reductions by using low-power electronics, and reduced mission sizes." I will note that even lower-power electronics are now available, so we could have delayed the mission a few years and then used these newer devices with no net loss of information and with greatly increased safety -- just as I said we could have done in one of my first essays about the subject, back in 1997.
Strange you missed all this, and now expect me to re-argue the same points. It just proves, as I said before, that you haven't read much at the web site and obviously don't intend to. It appears that you are too sure of yourself to be swayed by mere facts.
Your whole claim is mainly just a repetition over and over, expressed in slightly different ways, that "solar wouldn't work", and that's simply untrue, and I don't need to rehash it again. Your claims to have presented "facts" in your letters are specious. The fact is, even NASA's own scientists have stated that solar would have worked -- in 1981 -- for a mission to Jupiter, for which your same tired arguments were made at the time about the lack of sunlight -- or haven't you looked at the 1981 D. E. Rockey report yet ("THE SYSTEMS IMPACT OF A CONCENTRATED SOLAR ARRAY ON A JUPITER ORBITER")? It's 22 years later and solar power is much better than it was back then (that was for Galileo, but the principles apply to Cassini as well).
By the way Kaku was a favorite scientist of Dr. Edward Teller while he worked under the Doctor of Death (who is of course, now dead, himself) and has published "more than seventy scientific papers on superstrings, supergravity, and nuclear physics". He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and received his Ph.D. at Berkeley. You're quibbling to pretend he's not good enough for me to quote. You can always contact him directly: I believe his email address is still:
You still didn't mention your own qualifications for this argument you are attempting to engage me in (it's not a debate, FYI, though you are still welcome to turn it into an earnest one if you can, before my patience with your rude insults wears thin). You insult Grossman and Kaku as being unqualified to handle this topic. So what exactly are your own qualifications, since you have assured me that the RTGs are "robust", which is a claim I don't think any qualified engineer would make (instead, they rely on the statisticians, who will tell them that accidents are "unlikely" (even though they aren't), or on the health physicists, who will tell you a little radiation is probably good for you (even though it isn't))?
Have you studied the effects of a Cassini reentry on the RHU's (radioactive heater units)? Would you call THEM "robust" too?
At 06:29 PM 10/6/2003 , "Daniel Handlin" <Daniel_Handlin@hths.mcvsd.org> wrote:
I have responded to your previous e-mail. Quotes from your e-mail or website are in
"Your questions appear to be sophomoric and/or have already been answered in detail
at the web site."
The points I raised were direct rebuttals of points on the website and are not
answered anywhere there. That is why I requested a full rebuttal of each one, which
you did not provide; if explanations for my questions can be found on the website,
I'd like to know where.
"Also, you make claims which you undoubtedly have absolutely no proof of, for
example that the danger from plutonium already released by US and Russian space
missions and weapons testing is "statistically insignificant"".
I was careful to make a distinction between space missions and nuclear weapons. You
are not. The radiation released by any space missions is so insignificant that
sitting too close to a television is more dangerous; if Cassini should not have been
launched on this basis, we should also abolish electronic equipment and block out
Nuclear weapons have had a small but significant effect on our average annual
radiation. The US tested 317 nuclear bombs which released a total of approximately
330 trillion curies of radiation into the environment. These tests, combined with
all Soviet tests and other nuclear bomb tests, contribute a total of about 4 mrem of
radiation a year to our total dose. Less than 1% of a typical x-ray, but
significant. However, a vaporization and a hypothetical dispersal of Cassini's
radioactive contents (a scenario for which you have never explained why the RTGs
would not maintain their integrity, as they are designed to do), would not add a
significant amount of radiaition to the environment. You say that any dose is
significant; this is hypothetically true but misleading. Using this arguement is
similar to saying that splashing in the ocean is dangerous because it could cause
currents which lead to a hurricane. Extraordinarily unlikely but possible.
Establishing an abstract causation does not immediately condemn any particular
effort or endeavor unless specific evidence is shown. For example, coal miners in
Utah have a higher cancer rate. Is that due to their exposure to the incidental
uranium? To the coal dust? To other environmental factors. In the case of radiation
care must be taken to distinguish natural background radiation from exposure to
artificial sources. In some places on earth the background radiation exceeds U.S.
regulatory limits for occupational exposure. People living there get more radiation
exposure than astronauts or nuclear power plant workers. This is important because
the established causation alone is not grounds for altering public policy. You have
to show that certain specific practices have had a deleterious effect, not merely
that they could in the abstract sense.
Of 360mrem average annual dosage, 200mrem comes from radon and yet we do not see
massive outcry or panic against an epidemic due to radon gas. And only .01 mrem
comes from nuclear reactors, that is, assuming you live within 50 miles of one. This
(.01 mrem) is one-seventh the dosage of radiation you get from wearing a luminous
wristwatch and even less then what you get from your own bloodstream.
"Furthermore your initial assertion that my website is "ludicrous" is rude and
insulting and utterly inappropriate if you actually intend to have a reasoned
discussion of the issues, which I strongly doubt. "
Actually you are the one being rude and defensive. I asked for specific rebuttals of
numerous points, which you did not provide. You then proceeded to attack me on
several counts but did not actually provide any solid evidence - a typical reaction
of those who lack facts or knowledge of what they are speaking. I do not mean to be
overly rude here - I would like to keep this reasonable and civilized as well - but
if you have evidence to back up your claims I would like to see it.
The alarmist crowd, of which you are a member, wants special policy for plutonium,
and its elimination in favor of other materials and processes. But you seem
incredibly ignorant of (a) the policy already in place regarding plutonium, and (b)
the responsible handling of other equally hazardous materials in both the public and
The safeguards and precautions that accompany the storage and handling of plutonium
boggle the mind.
The methods NASA uses to build and test RTGs that incorporate plutonium are built to
assure extreme robustness of the RTGs. They are literally built to withstand any
conceivable force of man or nature, save an atomic explosion. Thus when you speak of
the danger of Cassini reentering the Earth's atmosphere during a flyby or a launch
explosion, I don't think you have the faintest clue what NASA does to ensure the
survivability of RTG casks or other plutonium-carrying structures. The procedures
NASA does to mitigate the risks of using plutonium make Fort Knox look like it has
no security whatsoever. RTG casks have to be Type-B Container certified for ground
transportation. For space use they have to be certified to:
(1) withstand re-entry and earth impact at orbital velocity with the fuel elements
(2) withstand intentional or accidental destruction of the launch vehicle and its
propellant load by conventional chemical explosive means at any altitude; and
(3) withstand subsequent immersion in salt water for 30 years without exposure of
the fuel elements.
(The DOE knows a thing or two about RTG casks because they design, build, and supply
all the RTG casks used by NASA.)
Literally, the most salient lasting public health effect from the use of plutonium
in space is the anxiety that mistaken belief generates. You're literally more likely
to worry yourself into hypertension over the perceived adverse effects of plutonium,
than to suffer any direct effects from exposure to it even if one does come apart in
the upper atmosphere.
RTGs have even been known to survive in a usable state the destruction of the launch
vehicle. You just wipe off the soot and wire 'em back up again.
Where plutonium is used in very small quantities, such as in wheel bearings, there
is insufficient material present to pose any health risk. In the worst-case scenario
of a low-altitude booster range-safety event, you would stand a much greater chance
of developing cancer from the propellants and coolants in the debris cloud than from
the plutonium. Your concentration on that particular threat belies your uninformed
"You seem very confused about possible trajectories, the possibilities of it
skipping off into space, and so on.
You are the one who is confused. You claim there is somehow some possibility of
Cassini returning to Earth, which is utterly impossible, as anyone who is even
slightly familiar with orbital mechanics knows. There were three possibilities of
the flyby; it could have performed exactly as planned, which is what actually
happened, it could have entered the Earth's atmosphere and skipped out, or it could
have entered the Earth's atmosphere directly, burned up, and the RTG would have hit
the ocean like a brick. None of these cases would have resulted in the release of
"By the way, other space missions have already relied on solar power despite going
I implore you to name one.
"And by the way, as Dr. Kaku described (and you evidently missed), besides direct
solar power, there are fuel cell options which could have provided power for
Which are also impractical.
"At worst, according to Dr. Kaku (who is not a journalism professor, but a nuclear
I was referring to Mr. Grossman. Also, Professor Kaku is a physicist but not a
specifically nuclear one.
"Cassini would have had to be divided into two missions, which would also have
greatly increased the likelihood of getting any science back at all. "
Why? Also, the "better, faster, cheaper" agenda is good for missions to a planet
like Mars, where discoveries can be rapidly followed up on and spacecraft quickly
replaced. However, as people have already pointed out to you, the cost of placing a
ball bearing in orbit around Saturn would be about $1 billion. Doubling the cost
while increasing the science return a millionfold or more seems to be a reasonable
strategy. Besides, splitting Cassini's instruments among separate spacecraft would
have done nothing to defray the impossibility of using solar panels to power them,
or fuel cells, for that matter. Solar arrays are simply not an option. As I have
pointed out, the intensity of sunlight in the outer solar system is less than 1% of
what it is around earth. The solar "sails" necessary to run a modest-sized
spacecraft at 1 AU are already bulky. Sails for the same spacecraft at 10 AUs would
occupy a launch bulk two or three times the volume of the entire launch vehicle.
Some additional points:
"4. Split the mission into more, smaller, better, faster, cheaper ones. Cassini is a
relic of the Cold War, and of the era of large, long-drawn-out, expensive space
missions, a direct violation of NASA Administrator Golden’s much touted new dictum
for "smaller, better, cheaper" missions. Yes it would probably take a lot of time to
split the Cassini probe into several smaller ones, basically redesigning much of the
vehicle that delivers the payloads to their destinations, but what’s the rush"
Cassini is not in any way part of the Cold War. Cassini's large design results from
the fact that it was designed in the 1980s, when planetary missions had to fill the
Shuttle's massive cargo bay. Since then, missions to the inner planets have been
redesigned with the "better, faster, cheaper" idea, which was not entirely
successful and the Mars program has since been slightly modified. To launch smaller
missions to the inner solar system, especially Mars, is helpful because new
discoveries can be rapidly followed up and new technology taken advantage of. But to
get to the outer solar sysetem takes far more time and energy, so that the cost is
much higher. To launch a series of small missions would not defray the costs in any
way and would in fact raise them, as it would require several launches to get all of
the spacecraft to Saturn. And this would still not allow solar power to be used on
the mission; solar power is simply too feeble at Saturn's distance or even Jupiter's
distance to allow the operation of a spacecraft of any size.
You speak of new methods which could increase the efficiency of solar cells by a
factor of 20%. This would not do; the level of sunlight at Saturn's orbit, 1% of
that at Earth's orbit is much too feeble for this to compensate for; likewise for
your other described techonological advantages.
"Generally, solar cells work more or less as well under low light as they do under
more intense light. "
This is totally unsupported by facts. You shrug off the fact that sunlight at Saturn
is 1/100th of what it is at Earth's orbit with this sentence. It does not change the
fact that this would not be nearly enough power to operate a spacecraft at Saturn's
distance. This statement is not true; if you were powering one solar panel with a
100-watt bulb and another with a 1-watt bulb you would definitely see a distance.
This statement shows a failure to understand the physics of light, upon which I base
the statement that I made in my previous e-mail (namely that you fail to grasp some
basic concepts of science and physics).
I have spoken with Mr. Baxter and he claims he either did not receive your reply or
it was accidentally deleted. If you could resend it that would be appreciated.
I would like to see a complete rebuttal of all the points I have raised in this
e-mail and my last one. It appears to be your intention to avoid facts and to simply
engage in mudslinging. I ask multiple questions about the validity of your website,
after which you do not actually respond to them but immediately go on the defensive.
You do not intimidate me with your insults or mudslinging. As I said earlier, I
would appreciate it if we both keep this civilized, so please refrain from such
tactics in the future. If you actually have facts to back up your wacky claims,
which I highly doubt, I would like to see you, as I have said, fully address each
and and every one of the points I have raised in these two e-mails.
To: "Daniel Handlin" <Daniel_Handlin@hths.mcvsd.org>
Subject: Re: Your claims that there are some "Serious factual errors" in my "Stop Cassini" website.
I don't know why Mr. Baxter said I didn't respond. I most certainly did. I can send him the response again if he likes.
Your questions appear to be sophomoric and/or have already been answered in detail at the web site. Also, you make claims which you undoubtedly have absolutely no proof of, for example that the danger from plutonium already released by US and Russian space missions and weapons testing is "statistically insignificant". It may be statistically very hard to find, but that hardly means it's insignificant to the billions of people on Earth who will get cancer in their lifetime. Would YOU consider ONE cancer on Earth to be "insignificant" if it was YOU that was dying from it? So what does "insignificant" really mean to you? How many people have to die (in your opinion) before a problem is "significant"?
Furthermore your initial assertion that my website is "ludicrous" is rude and insulting and utterly inappropriate if you actually intend to have a reasoned discussion of the issues, which I strongly doubt.
Your "facts" on nuclear weapons are truly "ludicrous". At the very least, before you write a letter like you've composed below, you should look up basic facts that everyone on both sides agrees on.
Cassini could have come down over Canada during the flyby phase, depending on when things started to go wrong. It could have come down anywhere. You seem very confused about possible trajectories, the possibilities of it skipping off into space, and so on.
By the way, other space missions have already relied on solar power despite going PAST Saturn, so your claims that I don't understand "basic physics" are as hollow as the rest of your assertions.
And by the way, as Dr. Kaku described (and you evidently missed), besides direct solar power, there are fuel cell options which could have provided power for Cassini's experiments. At worst, according to Dr. Kaku (who is not a journalism professor, but a nuclear physicist), Cassini would have had to be divided into two missions, which would also have greatly increased the likelihood of getting any science back at all. There are MANY OTHER scientists quoted at my web site, but you missed them all. Dr. Poehler has a great essay called "Cassini Cancers". Have you read it? Obviously not!
What is your actual educational and technical experience? You don't sound like a seasoned engineer at all. I suspect your still in school, and it's clear you should stay there. Go back to your books, you have a lot to learn.
obviously is quite uneducated about the things he attemps to argue about. I've
skipped over most of his rude insults and inane theories, but near the end of
his rambling, I've interjected a few comments. Suffice it to say the rest of
his claims are pure unscientific malarkey. He'll probably be Science Advisor
to the President some day at the rate he's going.. -- rdh ]
At 11:39 AM 10/6/2003 , "Daniel Handlin" <Daniel_Handlin@hths.mcvsd.org> wrote:
Dear Mr. Hoffman:
Greetings. I have responded to some points I saw while going through your ludicrous
website. Direct quotes from your website are in quotation marks. Some of these
points were brought up in an e-mail sent to you by a Mr. Baxter some time ago, but
he tells me you did not reply to them. I would appreciate it if you fully addressed
each of these points in turn.
"NASA could have avoided the danger by using a solar-based power source. There is no
doubt that either now or in the very near future this mission could have been
nearly, or even completely nuclear-free."
Solar powered outer solar system missions will never be feasible. There is not
enough available solar energy in the outer solar system to power a space mission.
Although nuclear power does this quite nicely.
"Thus, if Cassini goes dead, like the communications satellite Galaxy 4 did
recently, it will pose a threat to Earth for centuries to come. And, if it goes dead
and we can no longer communicate with it, it is too small and going to fast to be
found again and recovered. We will simply have to leave the speeding hunk of junk
out there on its own and hope for the best. This is proper science? "
Yes, it is. If Cassini fails during Saturn Orbit Insertion, it will be flung out of
the Solar System. A failure while in Saturn orbit will leave it in a slowly decaying
orbit of Saturn and eventual entry into the Saturnian atmosphere. There is no
possible scenario in which it returns to Earth.
"It should never have been launched, and NASA should be instructed to redirect the
probe into a trajectory that will cause it to fall towards the sun and be engulfed
Talk about a high-energy trajectory. At Cassini's current velocity only a fully
fueled upper stage of the Titan booster which launched it could send it back into
the inner solar system, or even send it into solar orbit at Saturn's distance. And
that would require Cassini to intersect the Earth's orbit, unlike any realistic
plans. Spacecraft intended for specific missions are provisioned with the fuel and
engines consistent with that mission. Changing the mission is possible only within
the parameters of the original provisioning.
"As Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, one of the three astronauts, put it in his book,
Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, upon which the film was based:
On the surface of the moon, the tiny generator posed no danger to anybody. But what,
some people worried . . . would happen if the little rod of nuclear fuel never made
it to the moon? What if the Saturn 5 rocket blew up before the spacecraft even
reached Earth orbit, dropping the [plutonium] who knows where? . . . now Apollo 13's
LEM was on it's way home, heading for just the fiery reentry the doomsayers had
Not only were the three astronauts in danger of losing their lives. Millions of
people were in danger of nuclear contamination if the astronauts' high-risk return
to Earth went awry.
That quote by Lovell was taken grossly out of context. The sentences that were left
out as "..." clearly debunk this theory and go on to show that the conspiracists's
fears are completely unfounded. In fact, not only is this said but is mentioned
several times, quite strongly, that the fuel rod, which was encased in an extremely
heavy ceramic container (also neglected by the writer of this page) which could have
even survived a launch explosion of the Saturn V, would cause no harm in any
scenario at all. However, the way Lovell is quoted, to someone who had not read the
book it would make it sound like Lovell was supporting this wacky viewpoint.
"Why was the plutonium story left out of the movie? Michael Rosenberg, executive
vice president of Imagine Entertainment, which produced Apollo 13, says the omission
was "an artist decision." NASA, no doubt, was grateful. Apollo 13 posed a much
larger danger than NASA wants the public then or now to realize. "
To include the fuel rod in the movie would have been pointless; it was not an
important part of the mission. What would they have done? Spent 10 minutes in a
movie which already misses events which actually had an impact on the mission (like
the PC + 2 burn) to debunk an insane theory that a cermaic cask designed to survive
reentry would not?
"As Apollo 13's SNAP-27 lies in the depths of the Tonga Trench, people can only hope
its ceramic casing will last for 2,000 years. "
The reason that it was dropped into the ocean was to allay fears that anything would
go wrong, even if there were a leak. Apparently this move did little good.
"But Cassini can be run on solar power"
It's difficult to replace the power source of a spacecraft which is beyond the orbit
of Jupiter. I'd also like to note that a large number of articles at that website,
including this one, and an anti-nuclear power book were written by Karl Grossman,
who is a professor of journalism - hardly a position from which one should be
debating the foremost scientists and engineers in the country.
"the 18000 mrem we naturally receive
May I ask if the "natural background" (into which a full release of Cassini's Pu 238
contents would be statistically insignificant) includes the already released
radioactive material from Russian and American nuclear spacecraft, from atomic
testing, and from nuclear reactors worldwide?"
Yes. The effect from reactors and spacecraft is so negligible that it can barely be
calculated. Weapons are a different story, but they are not pertinent to the subject
at hand, namely whether Cassini is dangerous.
"All this has been tested.
No, it has not been tested, not with full-scale experimentation. If so, please
advise me the citations where I can find these full-scale re-enacted studies of
RTG's containing 72.3 pounds of plutonium re-entering the atmosphere and
disintegrating, or not; hitting hard surfaces, or not; dispersing or vaporizing, or
Actually RTGs can and have survived launch explosions and reentries and have
subsequently been reeused. In 1968 a rocket carrying an RTG exploded. The RTG
survived the explosion and impact in the ocean and was still intact so that it was
reused on a later mission. But to do such a test of an RTG intentionally would seem
to go against your purposes.
"--Forget (for a moment) the one-in-a-million probability that ANY kind of flyby
mishap will even occur which leads to reentry and vaporization.--
One in one million is NASA's number and is disputed by scientists and NASA's own
past failures with such numbers, for example in estimating the Shuttle failure rates
before Challenger, and also in estimating the SNAP-9A rocket's failure rate in 1964.
Apples and oranges. You can't compare the safety of a launch with that of a flyby.
You try to say that since a given launch system is insafe, that an Earth flyby of a
spacecraft in unsafe. This cannot be done because each situtation is entirely
"--another type of celestial mishap with the same probability, impact of a mile-wide
asteroid, would kill over a billion people.--
So what? We can't stop an asteriod.--another type of celestial mishap with the same
probability, impact of a mile-wide asteroid, would kill over a billion people.--
So what? We can't stop an asteriod. Even with an interplanetary nuclear arsenal we
couldn't stop such an asteriod and could well make things worse by trying. "
Sure we can stop an asteroid. Even one nuclear weapon could be enough to deflect a
"--The fraction of Pu that ends up landing where people live (say, the 20 largest
cities) is roughly their area fraction or say 0.0001.--
Here is your most faulty mistake. The question is, what happens if it does come down
where it shouldn't? Is NASA prepared for that? Will NASA pay? Will the individual
scientists such as yourself take personal financial responsibility for what you are
risking? Why not?
Cassini cannot come down where it cannot come down. The chances of it crashing in,
say, Canada, were zero, because it did not fly over Canada during launch.
"While we still are able to communicate with it at all (we could loose that ability
at any time), we should direct it to use it's remaining fuel in such a way as to
slow it down and cause it to fall into the sun. "
A typical deep-space probe will not have enough enough delta-v capacity to leave the
orbit of its target. To send Cassini into the Sun is both impossible and requires it
to cross the Earth's orbit, unlike any realistic plans. Cassini lacks this Delta V
capability by at least a factor of 10 to 100.
"It is impossible to calculate the exact trajectory of a lost probe."
Not if you know its position and speed. Being able to calculate the position of
spacecraft allows us to communicate with them. If our math was that poor we wouldn't
be launching interplanetary missions.
"Avoiding the flyby maneuver would have been possible, but far better would have
been to avoid the danger by eliminating the RTG's and RHU's from the probe in the
first place. Then, the flyby would not be dangerous even if it did fail. "
It would not have been possible to avoid the flyby with current boosters; and would
you like us to launch a spacecraft without power? A heap of metal? An outer solar
system probe without nuclear power cannot return data. A little at Jupiter, nothing
"There's enough energy being put out by THAT nuke, which is a comfortable 92.9
million miles away from Earth, to create nearly all the light and heat we have here
on Earth. Saturn, at less than 10 times our distance from the sun, gets enough solar
energy to power NASA's little science experiment. There were, are, and will always
be, solar solutions for missions as far out as Saturn, and probably quite a bit
Incorrect. 10 times the distance from the Sun means 100 times less light. Simple
application of the inverse square law. Outer solar system spacecraft equipped with
solar panels can return a little data at Jupiter, no more.
"Even many, if not all, of the "RHU's", the small heater units, could probably have
been replaced with solar parabolic heat sources. Sure, the sun is far away from
Saturn and Saturn gets only about 1% of the light that Earth gets. But look at the
"plus" side: The sun is nearly a million miles in diameter, its mass is 99.86% of
the mass of the entire solar system, and it is a sustained thermonuclear fusion
reaction producing temperatures in the corona as hot as 3,600,000 degrees F
(2,000,000 degrees C). "
The Sun's mass doesn't mean that it can produce significant energy for a probe which
is almost a billion miles away. Also, the corona is an extremely diffuse, hot gas
which is not responsible for any significant transfer of light and heat to the solar
system. Your statement belies your failure to grasp basic solar physics.
"To have avoided the flyby maneuver, NASA would have needed either more thrust
available at takeoff, "
Not with chemical boosters we have now. Solution? NTRs.
"The Titan used to launch Cassini is our most powerful operational rocket"
Not true. The Shuttle has slightly more payload capability.
"but the number of experiments might have been reduced, which would have been in
keeping with NASA's "faster, smaller, cheaper" philosophy. "
That is for small missions which can be launched every 26 months. They are designed
to rapidly take advantage of new technology and can replace failed missions.
Experience has shown that large, expensive inner solar system missions generally are
not optimal because of possible failures (i.e. Mars Observer). But Cassini is the
only mission to Saturn in the foreseeable future. It has been estimated that to put
a ball bearing in orbit around Saturn would cost a billion dollars; doubling the
cost while increasing the science return by a factor millions or billions is a
reasonable strategy. And nuclear power still would have been required, anyway.
The solar "sails" necessary to run a modest-sized spacecraft at 1 AU are already
bulky. Sails for the same spacecraft at 10 AUs would occupy a launch bulk two or
three times the volume of the entire launch vehicle.
I would love to see you and other solar energy advocates attempt to engineer an
actual system -- any system -- according to the principles you espouse.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously isn't going to actually support it where it counts -- by demanding funding for solar alternatives. -- rdh ]
How can we do this? Never mind, you say. The engineers at NASA "are so smart,
they'll figure it out." Your (il)logic is that since the engineers were smart enough
to figure out how to get the highly dangerous Cassini and its highly dangerous Titan
IVB (which has over a 90% success rate, by the way) off the ground, then surely they
can figure out a way to send Cassini into the Sun. Never mind that it doesn't have
enough Delta V - the NASA engineers can figure that out.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously isn't aware that a 90% success rate is lousy for a mission carrying 72.3 lbs. of plutonium dioxide.. -- rdh ]
Sorry, not even NASA engineers are smart enough to implement the ignorant ravings of
"In conclusion, it's unfair to ask me to supply an alternative power source TODAY
for CASSINI. There are some pretty clear ones coming. And, if NASA had been forced
to consider the alternatives... well, they're supposed to be pretty bright and I
think they could have come up with something. Something that we all here on earth
could have benefitted from. "
NASA was forced to consider alternatives, and continues to do so to this day.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously hasn't actually ever tried to influence NASA to change one of their many errant behavior patterns. -- rdh ]
Again, people who don't know what they're doing put themselves in the position of
directing those who do. I can't think of a more useless segment of the population
than those who deliberately impede progress just to feel good about themselves, such
Oh, but NASA engineers can do anything. I really have little patience for people
like you who believe they have the solution to all the world's ills, yet cannot
demonstrate even one tenth the knowledge and skill of those who actually labor to
solve the world's ills.
Obscene numbers of people die daily from malnutrition, yet the well-fed activists
who decry "Frankenfoods" (i.e., genetically enhanced foods) can't speak
intelligently about biology or genetics or any of the other sciences that apply to
their argument. They play their little hysteria games while real people die.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously has a problem with people who have a social conscience and who care about how wealth is distributed on Earth. -- rdh ]
People all over the world lack basic sanitation, light, heat, and many other
energy-related necessities. Yet these "activists" sit in their 70F houses and beam
out their doomsayings from 3 GHz laptops.
So science should figure out how to solve hunger? Well, it has. It should find a
solution to the problem of energy? Well, it has. But you self-appointed moral
guardians stand in the way based on ignorant and superstitious fears. Fine, if you
won't lift a finger to help your fellow man. But what gives you the right to stand
in the way of others who labor diligently to improve their lives and others'?
Sad how you consider yourselves experts on what to be done and not to be done, but
then you always conspicuously place upon other people the burdens of actually
designing and building the solutions.
"Plutonium needs to be stored and safeguarded on earth for 10's of thousands of
years and I don't see how something like that can ever be cost-effective, as a fuel,
a weapon, or even as a smoke detector."
There's so much to say here that it's hard to debunk it all. Plutonium needs to be
stored after use in a nuclear reactor. Uranium is natural. Plutonium is not used in
smoke detectors. As a weapon it's quite cost-effective in terms of yield per dollar.
It's the same case with power generation. The length of time it needs to be stored
doesn't reflect on how cost-effective it is in generating electricity.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously doesn't understand what happens inside a nuclear reactor. -- rdh ]
Storing plutonium is not especially difficult, at least in terms of safety.
It costs a lot to make, so it's valuable. We safeguard valuable things to protect
[Note:D. Handlin obviously can't do basic economic cost/benefit analysis or projections. -- rdh ]
It's a remarkable power source, and so we safeguard it to keep it away from people
who would misuse it.
I doubt you has seen how plutonium is stored in the U.S. In order just to see the
storage facilities at the DOE labs you have to go through two layers of security,
bearing prior arranged credentials. They are no-fly zones. The security is greater
than that at military bases.
"So NASA shouldn't have had the plutonium option available in the first place. When
I say nuclear is "old technology" what I mean is that it has been proven to be a
boondoggle in virtually every other way imaginable (if not as an RTG). Even X-rays
have increasingly been able to be replaced by MRI's and other even newer imaging
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is the funniest thing I have
read in a long, long, long time. Thank you for writing that - you have brought a
laugh into my day. You have no idea how hard I'm laughing. MRI - Magnetic Resonance
Imaging. Original acronym - Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The "nuclear"
qualifier was dropped for fear a radiophobic public would not receive the
technology. Obviously it worked.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously knows nothing about how MRIs actually work -- rdh ]
"As a weapon, nuclear weapons are in my mind less safe than chemical and biological
weapons would have been, but we banned those by International Convention. At least
those types of weapons could have been properly destroyed when they were no longer
needed. Nuclear weapons cannot be effectively destroyed and must be safeguarded even
when we no longer need them."
Not true. With nuclear bombs you just need to dismantle them. You can still use the
plutonium for electricity. Chemical and bioloigical weapons leave unsafe chemicals
or biological agents that must be costily disposed of. The "physics package" of a
nuclear bomb that has been decommissioned goes to a DOE lab where the plutonium is
reclaimed for other uses. The rest of the weapon is dismantled as any other
[Note:D. Handlin obviously knows nothing about how nuclear waste is handled these days, or what powers your average nuclear power plant. -- rdh ]
A specific chain of events must be initiated, bringing about a physical change in
the "physics package" in order to set off a nuclear weapon. The fissible material
itself is not dangerous unless inhaled, eaten, or held in the hand for too long.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously knows nothing about radiation dangers. -- rdh ]
However, chemical and biological weapons are forever held in check. The material
itself is hazardous, and the weapon merely holds it at bay until it's to be
unleashed. The chemical and biological facilities are what terrify me.
"I personally would have rather seen NIAGARA FALLS stopped up completely than the --
what is it, about 10 -- nuclear reactors that run instead just so we can watch that
mighty waterfall. "
One nuclear reactor can provide many times the yield of a hydroelectric plant. A
typical nuclear plant might have four reactors, each with a yield of 500 MW. Some
quick research reveals that Hoover Dam puts out 2000 MW of power. Not to mention the
extremely severe ecological damage dams cause.
Do the math, and your assertion just doesn't hold water.
[Note:D. Handlin obviously can't do basic math! -- rdh ]
"The speed of CASSINI on the flyby will be about 43,000 MPH. A slight miscalculation
or extended firing of the positioning rockets that bring it closer to Earth would
mean an extremely shallow re-entry slope. "
Good. So Cassini will skip out. It's much more likely to cause problems on an
extremely steep trajectory than a shallow one. Why are you emphasizing the
shallowness? That would make it less dangerous. A shallow trajectory spreads out the
heat load over time. Besides, you want the RTG to survive re-entry.
[Note: Ho Hum. D. Handlin obviously doesn't understand basic physics! -- rdh ]