STOP CASSINI Newsletter #56 -- October 9th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #56 - October 9th, 1997


CONTACT CLINTON ONE MORE TIME! We've heard that the Clinton phone line will go on vacation (presumably to watch THE ROCKET'S RED GLARE) at 5:00 pm EST on Friday. Anyone wishing to contact him should try to do so before then... Phone: (202) 456-1414

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #56, October 9th, 1997 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #56 October 9th, 1997 ******

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

*** What's left to do?

I have not heard how the various last-minute legal attempts to postpone the launch have gone, but clearly they are our last best hope, barring a "natural" delay of some sort such as the one we were granted from October 6th to October 13th.

Actually, I suspect they always wanted to launch on Columbus Day since they could get a PR boost from doing so, and unlike what they say, every day doesn't matter that much. We COULD still have hearings and yet have a completely successful mission if afterwards we decide to launch, as explained in the previous newsletter (#55).

There are a few rallies left, and the ongoing vigil at the gates of KSC.

October 11 (Saturday)

Westlake Park -- 4th and Pine, downtown Seattle, Washington, 1 pm. Contact: Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia, (206) 547-0952. STOP Space Program Madness. Participatory Street Theater, marching to Pike Place Market and other downtown sites.

October 12 (Sunday)

Bear witness at the gates of the White House with a sunset candlelight vigil the night before the (re)scheduled launch. Sunset is about 6:27 that evening. Next day is a holiday. The protest will go on all night until (Yecch!) the launch. Start time 2:00pm.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: Daniel Ellsburg (Manhattan II Project), Dr. Ernest Sternglass (Radiological Physicist, University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine), Harvey Wasserman (Greenpeace), Winona Hatter (Public Citizen), Art Laffin (Atlantic Life Community); possibility of Congressional and other speakers (including the editor of this newsletter).

MUSICIANS: Little Friends for Peace (children and song); Big Village; Georgie Jessup; and Barry Balladeer.

*** NSS gets AOL publicity to promote their Cassini misinformation campaign:


There is now a National Space Society area online at AOL being advertised every time people log on to America Online, at least right now (don't know how long they'll do this today, as that advert usually changes every half hour or hour), puffing the Cassini Mission. They've set up a whole area online advertising the mission, with a News section which has puff pieces like what I've quoted at the end of this note, complete with assurances that they've had an "independent" review of the mission's safety, but not discussing any protests, as though no one is worried at all or as if there has been no discussion worrying about the mission. I suggest that everybody who knows an AOL member get them to go to KEYWORD "Cassini" and then to find the Cassini bulletin board message area where they can go in and leave comments.... And you can fill up those bulletin boards with so much protesting that they won't want to put this up in advertisement form on AOL again. If we don't make a showing of our true concerns they will try to seed the bulletin boards with bogus idiotic protests about "aliens", so as to paint all activists as lunatics. The main NSS area, of which the Cassini area is a subset, is at KEYWORD "space"...:


We have interspersed commentary on this propaganda piece by NSS using:

[* brackets and asterisks on separate bold lines *]


From the National Space Society.

(for additional detailed background go to: Cassini : Mission to Saturn Nuclear Safety Issues and Answers )

We support Cassini because it is safe and this nation cannot afford to have deep space exploration jeopardized by misrepresentation. Opponent's claims of deaths, cancers and other risks are untrue. They have been asked repeatedly to submit numbers to support their claims, and nothing has ever been submitted.

[* This is absolutely absurd. The EIS and SEIS are full of opponents statements, which have been poorly answered or left unanswered by NASA. Also submissions were made to Dr. John Gibbons, who made no official response other than to approve the mission anyway. *]

1.Cassini is safe. Cassini is the most scrutinized and reviewed planetary mission in history. Every phase of spacecraft design/operations/reliability has been reviewed and validated in a peer review, multi-agency and independent process requested by NASA.

[* According to NASA Cassini has also been the most objected-to mission ever. The opponents have scrutinized NASA's published reports and found them lacking in integrity as well as in actual facts, being mostly simplistic conclusions based on mathematical conjecture (ie, computer program analysis instead of real-world analysis). The review process NASA used included NO true "independent" review, if by independent it is meant people not connected with and/or picked by NASA itself. The many respected scientists who oppose Cassini do so of their own free will and with their own reputations at stake and for no money whatsoever. That constitutes a pretty good "peer review" environment. *]

2.Cassini will conduct outstanding, unique science.

[* For the $3.4 Billion final cost, more than twice the original estimate when the project was approved, we BETTER get some good science out of it! Had the same amount of money been put into school science programs it would have produced many new scientists who could give us even BETTER science. *]

After reaching Saturn in July, 2004, Cassini will orbit the planet for four years, carrying out a series of detailed studies of Saturn's atmosphere, its numerous moons, its magnetosphere and its fabled ring system. Saturn's complex ring system is a model for the dust disk that produced the Solar System, giving scientists insight into how planets are formed. Cassini will also deploy a probe called Huygens {Hoy-gens}, which will explore Titan, a moon with a dense, organically-rich atmosphere. For scientists, Titan represents a model for the chemical evolution that preceded the origin of life on Earth.

[* MIGHT represent one POSSIBLE model of Earth. *]

3.The Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs), which will provide power for Cassini, enable deep space exploration. There are 22 space systems still in space or on Mars or the Moon powered by nuclear power sources, including the Pioneers, Voyagers, Vikings, Ulysses (1990) and Galileo (1989) missions, as well as the Apollo lunar landing missions. It is the heat caused by the decaying Pu 238 that is converted to electricity to power the spacecraft and its instruments.

[* These are facts the opponents and everyone agrees on, except we should note that Fuel Cells, Concentrated Solar Arrays, and not to mention Ion Beam Systems, all promise to be able to replace RTG technology for supplying electricity demands to deep space missions. (Note: Ion Beams are generally thought of as being for propulsion but they can no doubt also be used for supplying electrical power.) *]

4.RTGs are proven safe. They have no moving parts and cannot meltdown or explode. They are NOT "nuclear reactors." The plutonium dioxide (Pu 238) is contained in 72 marshmallow-sized ceramic pellets which are then encased in layers of iridium, then a graphite impact shell and finally an aeroshell. The aeroshell is constructed of material much like a solid cloth with a third dimension of threads going in and out. If one "thread" breaks, the cloth doesn't break; stresses are redistributed and the aeroshell remains intact. . (For an in-depth analysis of RTG safety, read Ilya Taytslin's excellent article.)

[* We have answered that irrelevant exercise in the dilution solution to pollution. Dr. Horst Poehler has written a good article about the RTG containment system titled "CASSINI CANCERS" which is available at the STOP CASSINI web site. *]

5.Solar cells cannot be used to power Cassini. The Saturnian system only receives 1/100th the sunlight we receive here at Earth; arrays required to power Cassini would be too heavy to launch with any rocket available today or in the near future. Individuals opposing the launch are using the same argument they used in 1989 -- that NASA ignored information that Galileo's Jupiter orbiting mission could have been performed with a concentrated photovoltaic solar array (CSA). This was not true then, and is not true now.

[* We posted the D. E. Rockey report this comment refers to for all fair minded souls to decide for themselves if NASA misused it in the June 1995 Cassini EIS and ignored it for Galileo. *]

In 1989, NASA learned that CSAs could not be ready at least until 2010.

[* They learned after how much investment in the possibility? *]

Opponents also suggest that NASA can take its time to develop a solar alternative, that Saturn "will still be there." But it won't. The planetary alignment that provides the necessary gravity assists for Cassini occurs only every 175 years and will be lost in just a few years, long before we can expect improved solar technology or larger booster rockets.

[* WRONG: According to a high NASA official, it only would be another 13 years. *]

Delaying Cassini by years or decades also unnecessarily wastes the work of the many scientists who have dedicated their careers to this mission.

[* A delay won't waste the effort entirely by any stretch of the imagination. And, they should have thought of that BEFORE deciding to try to slip the RTG solution quietly past an unsuspecting and trusting public. *]

6.The opposition insists that solar cells developed by the European Space Agency's (ESA) to power the comet-explorer, Rosetta, can be used for Cassini. This is not true. ESA recently confirmed with NASA again that similar cells could not be used to power Cassini.

[* Actually, what Rosetta proves is that right now Jupiter missions could be done with solar. *]

7.Opponents omit information that would provide valuable context. In noting a 1964 spacecraft which burned up on re-entry and released its plutonium source,they do not mention that the craft was designed to do just that.

[* We do actually ALWAYS mention that. Which opponents are they talking about? Unnamed ones as usual... *]

Since then, nuclear generators have been dramatically redesigned.

[* Yes, but below (item #10) you confidently state they have been used for "37" years. Don't you guys even proofread your own stuff? *]

No plutonium was released in two accidents involving missions carrying RTGs since the units were redesigned in 1965 to contain their plutonium fuel source. The details on the two accidents are: Nimbus satellite launch from Vandenburg failed, RTG recovered from the Santa Barbara channel and plutonium re-used in another satellite; Apollo 13 RTG in lunar module survived re-entry at 25,000 mph.

[* Show me the body, you know? Where is this RTG? At the bottom of the ocean IF it survived! How many planes did we send up to be sure there was NO release? Two? One? How big an area did we survey? How accurately do we know where it landed considering how bad we often are at such predictions, especially when it's a landing far from our tracking stations. *]

8.There is less than one in a million chance that an accident could occur when Cassini "flies by" the Earth in 1999.

[* NASA said the chances of the SNAP-9A (the 1964 accident) returning to Earth was one in ten million. NASA said the chances of a shuttle failure was one in one hundred thousand. And last weekend the U.S. sent off a rocket that was to demonstrate the safety of future shots -- and it crashed 10 minutes after launch. *]

We are in greater danger of Earth suffering a catastrophic impact from a comet or asteroid next year.

[* It is true that asteriods and comets may well spell the end of civilization. Of course, the effects are cumulative. Just because God puts us at some level of risk doesn't mean the correct response is to try to match that level of risk with our own efforts. Rather, we should work to reduce the risk to civilization's end, by building a permanent moon base, exploring underground living, and increasing our ability to track such objects, and perhaps, if we really love humanity, we can also try to come up with a way to prevent such impacts. Cassini's global risk is unnecessary. *]

The expected radiation dosage a person might receive is only one millirem (unit of radioactivity). To put this in perspective, we receive an average of 360 millirems each year just by living on Earth.

[* That figure includes manmade AND "natural" background radiation. *]

Luminous dial wristwatches give about 2 millirems (mrem) per year; television from 1 to 10 mrems per year; dental x-rays, 1000 mrem per series; a chest x-ray, 500 to 5000 mrem per exposure.

[* Voluntary exposures from external sources, all. Plutonium particles lodge within the body causing far higher local radiation levels.*]

9.Developing Cassini has resulted in other benefits, including new technologies that will have commercial applications. Engineers developed a solid-state data recorder that has no moving parts, a new-generation gyro (also with no moving parts), a new solid-state power switch, and a new-generation radio receiver.

[* These developments would have occured for a solar Cassini mission as well, if not more so, since a solar solution would probably have been cheaper, leaving more money for these things! *]

10.Opponents continue to state that "NASA has been contaminated by a militaristic purpose," that "NASA is advancing the nuclearization of space" and that "Cassini is about nuclearization and space weaponry." This is not true and is an argument again recycled from the late '80s which is not relevant to today. Deep space exploration programs such as Cassini are run by NASA, not by or for the military. NASA employs RTGs because they are the best tool for the job; they have used them for over 37 years.

[* The military wants to loft bigger and more dangerous nuclear payloads into space and must be stopped. 37 years includes the SNAP-9A horror. *]

*** Did Clinton really say "go" to Cassini?


At 04:25 PM 10/8/97 "E" wrote:

Today's news in "El Pais" (the most widely read newspaper in Spain) say Cassini has the final blessings of Clinton and the launch will be on October 13th.What do you know about that? I mean, Is that true?

Though I don't know wether you read Spanish, I send you a copy of the article.





Thank you for writing.

The official word is indeed that "The White House" has "approved" the launch. I have been calling on President Clinton to make a statement as leader of the United States, explaining how he came to do this, but so far no luck. (See newsletter #54, online at the web site.)

"White House Approval" presumably does mean it can be launched without further comment from the White House, but it also means Clinton is wimping out on his duties as the nation's leader.

Queen Elizabeth had to speak about Diana -- the public outcry demanded it. Clinton needs to speak about Cassini. The nation -- and the world -- beckons, do they not?

Russell Hoffman

*** From the 'in' box:


At 08:54 PM 10/9/97 "RD" wrote:

You accuse NASA of deceit and misinformation, yet your web pages are replete with examples of same, not the least of which is your treatment of plutonium 238 used in the RTG's as though it were plutonium 239 used in nuclear bombs. While both are radioactive isotopes, the former is not fissionable like the latter, and they decay differently. To suggest that plutonium 238 is not a hazardous substance would be false, but so too is it false to suggest that the hazards are identical either in quantity or quality to plutonium 239.

Uranium 235, a fissionable isotope of Uranium, makes nuclear bombs, Uranium 238, a non-fissionable isotope is used to make weights used in the tail sections of Boeing 747's and used as ballast on submarines. You've got tons of Uranium 238 flying about over our heads all the time, and airplanes do crash from time to time, even 747 jumbo jets. So perhaps you should start a campaign to ground all 747's (and probably other jumbo-jets) lest some 1-in-a-million accident turn all of that uranium 238 into a powder and the winds disperse it over populated areas inducing millions of cancer deaths. After all, cancer is a terrible thing.

I tell you what is truly terrible, ignorance, the kind that is exemplified in this web site, and the kind that is forced upon humanity if we are denied the opportunity for greater knowledge through efforts like yours.

Are the risks involved zero? No. Are they anything like you suggest? No. I suspect there is a greater risk from having a large chunk of debris fall on you and kill you, than getting cancer from scattered pu-238 in the event of a launch accident.





Thank you for your email.

I do not claim in any way shape or form, as you say I do, that the hazards of Pu 238 "are identical either in quantity or quality to plutonium 239". You will not find one statement to that effect anywhere at the web site. Instead, as you say, we state that they "decay differently". However, unlike you (and NASA) we are MORE specific about the differences -- and the similarities.

What we say is that the risk of health effects from equal masses of Pu 238 are in fact, far worse than Pu 239. About 280 times worse. Or, put another way, the risk of health effects per Curie of either substance is about the same. If you have a problem with this statement, you are in a distinct minority.

Pu 238 particles, by weight, give off about 280 times more alpha particles per unit of time, hence the far shorter half life (about 280 times shorter). This makes Pu 238 a far more hazardous carcinogen and a far more dangerous mutation trigger when vaporized and inhaled such as after a flyby accidental incineration. If not for its ability to be formed into a bomb, I would rather NASA be launching 72 pounds of "weapons grade plutonium" if given a choice, because the health effects that would result from an accidental dispersion of the material would be about 280 times less.

Note that, according to NASA's June 1995 EIS, page 2-18, about 15% of the Pu in the RTGs is, in fact, what you are calling "weapons grade plutonium", ie, Pu 239. That would be about 10 pounds' worth.

Regarding Depleted Uranium, D.U. is currently being used as ballast or counterweights because it is VERY cheap (DoE essentially gives it away) and it is easy to machine and form, not because it is vital. It is also used, both in military applications and in civilian applications, because, like so many other radioactive substances (it IS radioactive) its health effects have been unreasonably discounted by the "authorities". Radiation exposure standards have been set too high, they have come down by orders of magnitude over the past few decades, and they are still too high, as recent studies continue to indicate (Latest report to that effect was in this month's New Scientist.)

The public outcry from D.U.'s use during the Gulf War is growing steadily as people find out about its hazards.

As to whether the risks are "anything like [I] suggest", how do you know? What figure did I suggest? What are your figures? Do you think the risks are as NASA presents them? Why? Because you trust NASA's numbers? Since you are obviously unwilling to investigate their lies, I guess it's not surprising that you would trust them...

What science can there be that is in the public good, that needs such lies and deceit to go with it? The sum total of NASA's efforts is that a substantial portion of America distrusts them, and with good reason. This is a stain on all of their research that did not come from me, and will not go away unless they change their behavior.

You have of course not answered our charge, that NASA does in fact use deceit and misinformation when presenting "data" about Cassini and its RTGs. Nor has NASA.

Then to accuse me of the same level of deceit, and do so with such poor examples as claiming I've misrepresented Pu 238's capabilities, reeks of true ignorance and an unwillingness to investigate enough to learn the truth yourself. Such ignorance, as you say, is truly terrible. I support good, honest scientific research in the public good.

Thank you again for voicing your opinion.

Russell Hoffman


*** A correction:


Dear Mr. Hoffman,

In issue 54 of your "Stop Cassini" newsletter you wrote:

"Mark Anderson wrote a Front-Page article about Cassini for the Valley (MA) Advocate recently... Shortly thereafter the Massachusetts State House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for the cancellation of Cassini. Coincidence? You decide."

The resolution passed by the Massachusetts House was dated September 11. The article by Mr. Anderson was published September 18 (check the Valley Advocate home page for this date). It would appear that Mr. Anderson's article had no effect on the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Also, thanks for including references to our online poll at SpaceViews. To explain the message about the missing votes: at some point last weekend someone gained access to the site and reset the vote count at zero. We restored the vote using values saved from the beginning of the weekend as well as any votes tallied since the reset, but some votes were unavoidably lost. The security measures there have been increased so that it's much less likely a similar event will happen again.

Jeff Foust
Editor, SpaceViews


We replied, thanking Mr. Foust for his information, and we are publishing this as a correction. Don't forget to go vote at his online CASSINI poll! But if you haven't contacted Clinton, do that FIRST!


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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