STOP CASSINI Newsletter #26 -- August 8th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index



In this newsletter we present a recent NASA press release, answer some questions about what we think NASA should do instead of risking nuking us all with Cassini, and we respond to a comment about our earlier comments about the (now-famous!) 1981 Rockey CSA (Concentrated Solar Array) report.

Sincerely, Russell D. Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #26, August 8th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

* NASA takes a leak in stride: Countdown test reveals Centaur fuel leak.
* Alternatives to NASA (a rebuttal to a February 1997 article about aliens.)
* ... And more alternatives, like Mag-lev launch systems...
* I have been called yet another name! Now, I am a "random non-expert".
* How to contact NASA directly.

****** VOLUME #26 August 8th, 1997 ******

By Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman

NASA Takes A Leak In Stride: Countdown test reveals Centaur fuel leak

The following news report was posted by NASA yesterday. Our only comment is that the Centaur Upper Stage has proven itself in actual operation to be quite unreliable, and this is perhaps one of the reasons. However since (as you are about to read) NASA does not seem terribly worried, this is probably not the ONLY reason Centaurs are unreliable...

Here is the URL where the NASA press release shown below is available:


Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC August 7, 1997
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

George Diller
Kennedy Space Center, FL
(Phone: 407/867-2468)

Lt.Col. John Martin
45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, FL
(Phone: 407/494-5933)

RELEASE: 97-173


During the Tuesday, August 5, terminal
countdown demonstration test, Air Force and
Lockheed Martin engineers observed leakage in the
Centaur stage of the Titan IV-B rocket for the
Cassini mission to Saturn. This test, in which the
Centaur is fully fueled, is normally conducted to
identify problems which could affect the
performance of the Titan IV. Leakage of this
nature can occur on occasion when the Centaur is
first tanked with cryogenic propellants. During
this test, engineers observed some liquid hydrogen
and liquid oxygen leakage in the thrust section.

Engineering assessments are currently being
performed to determine the cause of the leakage and
what corrective action is necessary to ready the
vehicle for the Cassini launch. Until this has
been done, what impact this might have on the
planned October 6 launch date, if any, cannot be
definitely determined. A repeat test will be
performed to assure that there are no additional
leaks or other issues.



Alternatives to NASA.
In February, 1997 I wrote an article called ALTERNATIVES TO NASA about the likely uselessness of the search for aliens. Recently I received this alternative opinion:

At 10:40 PM 8/4/97 RR wrote:

I just completed reading your "Alternatives to NASA" article (A very long rambling article). I agree with most of your conclusions on the environment, I can't disagree more with your conclusions about NASA. I believe that there is life on other planets and think that communicating with them is very important. The goal of establishing communication with them is very noble. The time of travel for a radio signal is small compared to any ship. Communication in person is unnecessary. The transfer of knowledge is what is important, not physical contact.

I also believe that faster then light travel _might_ be possible in the distant future.

I think it is the role of the government to represent it's people! For my money, time and effort the space program in this country (and the world) is one of the best investments in the future we can make. One of the problems we have had in the past is that politicians have made policies for the hear and now and not made policies that are an investment in our future. NASA is one exception to this point (Although they keep cutting away at the financing). NASA also inspires our children to follow science and technology career paths. I am one of those children, One of my earliest memories is sitting around the TV watching our space program evolve. That was what inspired me!

The most greatest thing that this country ever did was to land an entire planet on the surface of the moon. The live TV pictures from the moon was the first (and largest) audience ever to explore a place never set foot upon by a human! For a short time people were not Americans, not Russians, not Japanese, but were people of the earth exploring the next frontier. This was the single most important event in human history!


"Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying" A.C. Clarke

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" A. Einstein



Thank you for your email and for reading my "Alternatives to NASA" article. Sorry you found it rambling, but I can't deny it could probably be shortened (same with this email, I'm finding...).

I think you might want to consider the following (see below) which I just sent off to the last person who emailed me. It is about my view about supporting NASA. But concerning the search for life, remember that for the past 50 years we have been doing everything we can to contact other lifeforms in other star systems and show them a complete picture of ourselves, our cultures, our current events... I'm referring, of course, to the T.V. and Radio signals and so forth we have been broadcasting to who-knows-where for half a century. I heard recently that over 1000 stars have received that signal, so far.

I do not think the search for life outside our little blue planet will yield anything useful, and I do think that if by some miracle it does turn up another species with a good intelligence, it's pretty obvious from the way we (#1 here) treat Earth and the other inhabitants of our known Universe, that we would eat the aliens if they tasted good and were not poisonous. Our experience is sorely lacking in data, but it appears from the one species we know (us), that the #1 dominant species doesn't give a hoot about other species' rights! Why should it be any different in outer space? Give me one good reason! If it's simply because you expect the aliens to be strong enough to defend themselves, what's to say they won't eat us?

Like your A.C.C. quote says, all choices are terrifying, but that's NOT why I "oppose" SETI. I don't strictly speaking oppose the search, I just think it's a waste of time. I doubt with all my heart that the phenomenon of life is likely to have been duplicated within earshot or spaceshot or anywhere close enough to matter. If mankind is able to keep his own species going for 1000 more years (a rather unlikely scenario, I'm afraid), I nonetheless am extraordinarily confident that we will not find other lifeforms with any significant intelligence.

I do feel that if a cockroach can develop, anything is possible, including intelligent life.

However, all that being well and good, there is certainly a fair enough number of people that need to search for other life, that need to try to find it, that need to have reached out. That's fine, but I personally just don't think that NASA's dollars are well-spent there. But that's certainly an issue where the public has a right to decide to do the search -- as long as it's done with a reasonable degree of safety.

Here's the email I wrote to someone else today, which also answers, I think, some of your issues.


...My dream is to see ballistic mag-lev launch techniques, which I think are the best. My understanding is that they work especially well with non-living (because of the G-forces) and relatively small payloads, but once the stuff is launched it could be aggregated into a larger mission.

I think also it would just about completely end the multinational "space race". No other country could possibly touch our price OR OUR RELIABILITY if such a system were in place.

It would solve many of the fuel-related space debris problems as well, which are probably more than 50% of the Earth orbital problem!

I think you are right that it's sometimes easy to mistake me for someone who is anti-space exploration. I do not, after all, follow every anti-Cassini rant I write with a message supporting space exploration in general. It is the reason that I have attempted to adopt the phrase "pro-nuclear Cassini people" to describe those who oppose me, because were it not for the nuclear component, I would not be upset. (Note that another benefit of a mag-lev launching system would be that it would undoubtedly not have nearly the effect on the ozone layer that current launch technology appears to have.)

If there are minerals to be mined in space, I am not against that. (If done with a reasonable degree of safety.) If there is knowledge to be found out there I am not against going out and searching for that knowledge (If done with a reasonable degree of safety!)


A few final comments:

As to calling landing on the moon the single most important event in human history... I agree, or at least it's right up there. And the comraderie that seemed to envelope the world that day, that month, that year, was wonderful (I was a young teenager.) It gave us all hope, didn't it?

It is unfortunate that possibly, the designing and building of the Supermarine Spitfire, a World War Two fighter plane, might also deserve that status, for without it, Britian might not have won the Battle of Britian, the Allies might then not have won the war, and free thought would not flourish as it does today.

Einstein's little invention that goes boom might rate right up there, as well, of course.

So might the printing press. Or paper. Or the "invention" of language.

Thanks again for writing,

Russell Hoffman

Here is the 2nd email to me, which the above inner clip were a response to:

At 10:31 PM 8/4/97 CB wrote:

Mr. Hoffman,

I've been receiving your Stop Cassini Newsletter via the Democracy Now mailing list. I'd like you to know, first of all, that I agree with your cause. My husband and I are very much into the space exploration cause, but have felt Cassini was a bad idea for a while. We feel a large part of the problem is "putting all your eggs in one basket"; Cassini has too many projects and is too big. Instead of creating mega-spacecraft, which require incredible amounts of energy to run, several small spacecraft with different experiments on each craft would be better because they would also run more effectively on solar power. If something does happen to Cassini, millions of dollars of experiments will be lost. If it happens in reentry to Earth, millions of lives could be lost.

While we support the work you are doing, we ask that you please promote this idea as could help your cause among those who feel you are "anti-space"...

Your friend,

I have been called yet another name! Now, I am a "random non-expert":

The RTG question does, eventually, come down to one thing: What are the alternatives (including "no fly")? Because if a good alternative exists, why not just give up the fight and use it? Why work so hard to make RTGs safe if a clean alternative or combination of alternatives exists?

We have heard from a number of people about solar alternatives and are preparing a report for an upcoming newsletter and/or web page. We have already shown how NASA misused a 1981 JPL report by D. E. Rockey et al, in the Rebuttal to NASA's Rebuttal which the published in the June 1997 FSEIS See this URL, item 12(e):

Here is a response to someone who posted some comments about the solar alternatives and specifically about our discussion of the Rockey report, which were posted on a newsgroup. The author of the posting also maintains a pro-nuclear Cassin web site. Here is the URL of his arguments against a solar Cassini and for the RTG alternative:

Here are his comments about my comments about the 1981 Rockey report: [...CLIP...] Re: Nukes In Space - Policy debate.
From: (George Herbert)
Date: 1997/08/06
[More Headers]
[...CLIP...] A few points. Firstly, this was for Galileo (a Jupiter mission), not Cassini (a Saturn mission); even assuming that CSAs at Jupiter would be pound-for-pound as good at producing energy, at Saturn they would be 4 times less efficient and you'd have broken the mass limits on Cassini again.

Second of all, CSA arrays have not yet been developed and flown to my knowledge and the initial estimates from the early 80s are now percieved to have been overly optimistic. One of the key problems with having random non-experts trying to assess technical issues like solar versus RTG power is that there is a tendency to latch on to any scrap of evidence that supports the non-experts preconcieved notions, even if that evidence was in fact wrong and has since been refuted within the industry. If concentrated solar arrays were really all that easy and beneficial you'd see them replacing standard ones right now... nobody gains anything by using less efficient systems. That hasn't happened. . .

[...END OF CLIP...]

MY RESPONSE (Note that the comments were forwarded to me, hence the 3rd party references)


Thanks for sending me this stuff. The gentleman's comments about "random non-experts trying to assess technical issues" is interesting. Who does he think pays the bills for all this stuff? We deserve clear explanations. Wasn't it Ernest Rutherford who said something about great concepts should be describable to a waitress? (And back then waitresses didn't all have College degrees!) This man is warning us right off the bat that when the going gets tough, he's going to hide behind his degree and his technospeak. But that's not his real problem. His real problem is he cannot see the big picture...

It is true that the report is from 1981 and about Jupiter, not Saturn. BUT NASA USED THAT VERY REPORT IN THEIR 1995 EIS!!! And NASA misquoted it at that, too! Can he explain THAT to me with his theory that it is some useless old dusty report that doesn't prove a thing and is being misread by non-experts after being refuted in the industry?

Besides, Karl Grossman has much more recent quotes, especially from the European solar space community, which support our view. The case for RTGs is very weak.

As for the possibility that a switch to solar would have "broken the mass limits on Cassini" the writer acts as though this is a hard and fast thing. It isn't. If one or two of the mission goals were sacrificed for weight, that wouldn't be the end of the whole mission. He acts as though we would cross a barrier and be able to not fly at all, but it just isn't like that.

Which means, in essence, that we are risking all this plutonium danger not for the entire mission at all, but simply for those one or two facets of the mission which weigh the most and are the most easily given up. Those are the ONLY mission goals that you could possibly need to balance against the dangers! The rest would get to go on, either way! What does the gentleman say to that argument?

It is utterly surprising that this man would brush away the determined efforts that Karl had to go through to get the document, somehow assuming a benign explanation. There is NOT a benign explanation. What are we coming to that this is not a major, major concern anymore? Isn't science all about truth, openness, and honesty? Can science afford such secrecy? And besides, if all this gentleman's answers can respond to all our criticisms, why did NASA rely on a 1981 report in the first place in the 1995 EIS? And then, why did they additionally misrepresent what it said?

Does he think just anyone can even succeed at all at doing what Karl did, or would be so dogged and stick with it so long (years)? After all, Karl Grossman is a professional and award winning investigative journalist and videographer, he is a professor of journalism at SUNY in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, and teaches, among other things, how to use the Freedom of Information Act.

Thank goodness we have Karl to find ANY documents that support our view! And this person insists we have not found enough, because the one I quoted from, which NASA quoted from incorrectly in 1995, was written in 1981 for a mission which eventually flew in 1989.

Finally, two related questions: First, if RTGs are so safe why are they criminally under-insured, through the illegal and immoral use of the Price-Anderson Act, which never should have existed in the first place? Second, if an accident occurs NASA claims it will dig up irradiated soil and put it in a waste site. No such site exists. So how can NASA/DOE make that claim?


Russell Hoffman


The above debate will hopefully continue and will eventually be posted at our web site, and probably at his as well, and who knows where else... If he wishes to respond here, of course, he is welcome as long as he keeps it to about the same length as my comments, above. Longer responses (if he chooses to send them, that is) will presumably be posted at the STOP CASSINI web site.

Email address for NASA

NASA says that they want to hear from you! If you cannot find the information you seek at NASA's web site or if you wish to make a comment via email, here is the email address they give for you to use to contact them directly:

However, from the comments they have, I suggest you do not expect a response. If you want a response from NASA, it is best to use low-tech written correspondence. Here is a NASA web page giving physical addresses to write to for various branches such as JPL, JSC, KSC, etc:


Please feel free to post these newsletters anywhere you feel it's appropriate! THANKS!!!

Welcome new subscribers!

Thanks for reading,
Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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First placed online August 8th, 1997.
Last modified August 17th, 1997.
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