STOP CASSINI Newsletter #82 -- November 14th, 1998

Copyright (c) 1998

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Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #82 -- November 14th, 1998
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This issue contains a discussion of the upcoming Leonid meteor shower and what a collision with space debris might mean for Cassini -- and Earth's inhabitants. Also, information about an important NASA request for comments.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #82 -- November 14th, 1998 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #82 -- November 14th, 1998 ******

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

*** NASA again requests opinions they will again ignore

Having begun their nuclear assault on Earth's peaceful neighbor Saturn, NASA has announced that it intends to attempt an assault on PLUTO and Europa (a moon of Jupiter) next.

NASA Notices 98-136 and 98-137 are about "RPS" nuclear power supplies for the Europa Orbiter mission and the Pluto-Kuiper Express mission. They are Notices of Intent to prepare Environmental Impact Statements and to conduct "scoping".

We only have until November 23rd, 1998 to respond to these requests for public comment regarding the proposed EISs. The "scoping" phase has until December 18th, 1998. In both cases, notice was originally made on October 7th, 1998 but it was not until November 3rd that my letter from NASA was postal-metered and it then took at least a week to get here, severely cutting down the time to respond.

The proper response is to suggest to NASA that they should abandon both of these nuclear-powered missions and utilize the fact that solar will now work for missions even as far out as Saturn and Jupiter (as proven by European efforts), and we should be planning THOSE types of missions instead, along with asteroid watch missions, comet encounters, the "terrestrial planet finder", a new generation of Hubble, a permanent moon colony, and about 100 other more worth-while missions than the ones planned for Pluto and Europa.

It is clear, however, that it wouldn't make any difference. NASA makes up the "need" for deeper and deeper missions just to force the need for nuclear power! Just to have a reason to set up the system for extracting the plutonium 238 dioxide and developing the SNAP or RTG or RPS or whatever-they-want-to-call-it power supply. And why do they want to have this capability? For military missions!

So, what they have the practically-unconscious-American-public support, is we barely even touch one planet, arriving with perhaps a few dozen simple experiments, then we barely touch another, but hardly any real science gets done there either, and then it's off to an even further planet, deeper, deeper, so far away from old Mr. Sun that we need nukes to do it. Thus, the mad scientists justify their madness. Instead of concentrating on what they could study safely, NASA pretends it is essential to flit from planet to planet to planet, and NASA ignores anyone who thinks the risks aren't worth the gains.

Pluto! And what does NASA say we'll learn? The usual: The origin of life.

This is their excuse for virtually every single mission since Gemini. The secret of life. This they claim they will discover. At a cost of how many lives will we learn this secret? And how far from Earth do we need to go to discover this great secret, when we haven't even explored the Tonga Trench in any great detail (but which, not coincidentally, NASA uses as a nuclear dumping ground)?

Pluto is over 3.5 billion miles away. There, NASA believes we will find the secret of life. At a potential cost of millions of lives. NASA's crazy.

One or two little pipsqueak robotic probes, will tell us all that, when 100,000 scientists on Earth working on the problem can't even figure out how to slow down the aging process (to buy us each a little more time to figure out what is going on in our own lives), or find a cure for cancer, or find the missing links (whom I admire very much -- the missing links, that is!)? Yet Pluto, icy and unchanging, is worth this risk, using "substantially less" plutonium for an RPS than for the "old" RTGs? And what, pray tell, is "substantially less"? So far, NASA isn't saying in great detail, but around the time of Cassini's launch last year, they claimed their next generation of nuclear power source would use "only" 20% of the plutonium used by the current generation of RTG, for the same amount of electricity. But even 20% is way, way, way too much to allow.

NASA should be stopped dead in her tracks before she stops us dead in ours.

The NASA contact person for these two comment periods is:

Mr. David Lavery
Advanced Technology and Mission Studies Division (Code SM)
Office of Space Science
NASA Headquarters
Washington DC 20546-0001

I'm not sure, but I think the SM stands for Sado-Masochistic. ;)

Comments must be submitted on or before November 23rd, 1998! The Notices of Intent were published in the Federal Register (Vol. 63, No 194, pp. 53938 - 53939). "Scoping comments" must be submitted by December 18th, 1998 and directed to the person named above. The notification adds that written comments must clearly identify which of the two NOI they are directed at. (NASA is easily confused -- about a great many things.) Email will be accepted but -- presumably because NASA is improperly equipped to deal with modern technology -- they state that written comments are preferred. No phone numbers are provided.

The email address to comment on the Europa Orbiter mission is given as:

The email address to comment on the Pluto-Kuiper Express mission is:

In both cases your comments will probably be ignored so be sure to "cc" your elected officials and local newspapers as well. The more people that have to ignore you, the better. You never know; one of them here or there might actually listen.

*** NOFLYBY questions and some suggested answers

At 09:26 AM 11/14/98 -0500, jonathan ( wrote:
Hi friends,

The upcoming Leonid meteor shower beginning this Monday and lasting through November 18 is related to the risks of the Cassini Earth flyby, because of the possibility of the probe being hit by a meteor or space debris this coming August. If anyone has more information on this, please consider submitting a report to post at NoFlyby.

Also, I am seeking more information on the prophecy by Nostradamus for "castastrophe coming from the sky" in the eighth month of 1999 and on any publication that you would think could report this and publish the noflyby website address. I recently spoke with the National Enquirer and plan to contact others to consider reporting this to help expose the dangers of Cassini while there is still time. I am not so concerned about predictions, but any avenue to help expose plans to whip 32,8 kg of deadly plutonium at speeds in excess of 64,000 km that could explode into our atmosphere is a good idea. Any leads, contacts, telephone numbers, addresses or your involvement would be appreciated.

peace take care,



Hi Jonathan,

Regarding your email shown above, first, just a small suggestion, that you not use the word "explode" as in the phrase, "explode into our atmosphere". I would suggest you use the word "vaporize" instead. The pro-Cassini people will claim, if you use the word "explode", that you must think it can explode like a bomb (or worse yet, an "atomic" bomb) when in fact it will simply melt extremely rapidly (over a period of a few seconds) and boil off into a gas (vaporize). A spectrum of particle sizes will result.

The containment shells have holes in them anyway (to outgas the helium particles produced by the decay of the plutonium itself). In a reentry accident, the radioactive contents will melt and turn to gas, and presumably be forcibly spewed out those holes in vaporized/liquid form. The containment system, which is completely untested at the required speeds and temperatures, is supposed to prevent this by breaking the three RTG units away from the probe in the very first moments of the accident, and these decelerate somewhat, and probably break apart, releasing the individual GPHS modules, which then decelerate somewhat, and ablate (melt away) somewhat, but hopefully not enough or at fast enough speed to release the innermost containment systems. That's NASA's theory, anyway.

The most likely failures of the system are probably one of the following:

1) The RTG breaks apart sooner than expected, releasing the GPHS units at too high a speed. The GPHS units then ablate completely before having had a chance to slow down to a speed which will NOT vaporize the inner contents when it's their turn to streak through the atmosphere (all this takes mere seconds).

2) The GPHS units when released, strike other GPHS units and other parts of the spacecraft and are broken apart, again releasing their contents at too high a speed.

3) The GPHS units or the RTG units (or the innermost containment system) get "hung up" in other parts of the Cassini space probe even though they are supposed to get flung away from the main body. Those units that get caught in with the rest of the debris experience adiabatic heating for far longer than expected.

Each of these scenarios is different; each represents what might happen to a few pounds of plutonium, or, one could say, 10's of billions of potentially lethal doses, which would then be distributed so finely around the planet that in NASA's opinion, practically no one will get hurt. But NASA's false calculations can ONLY understate the true danger; there is NO WAY that NASA has overstated the true potential consequences. NASA has taken the results of 1000s of "Monte Carlo" roulette spins and assumed every one of them will go their way. If NASA went to Monte Carlo, NASA would come home broke, because life doesn't work that way. Things go wrong. Humans make errors. Calculations and estimates don't always represent reality. Fly-by-wire planes refuse to accept what are actually correct signals from pilots sometimes. (Though admittedly, pilot error is still the ultimate cause of most airplane accidents.) Incorrect backup versions of software are sometimes accidentally loaded into machines. Sometimes the right version has bugs. And in Cassini's case, NASA has taken all the different ways it can fail, and made the assumption that in every case, the luck of the draw will favor NASA. They should be investigated and perhaps even shut down for this decision to gamble our lives when non-gambling (i.e. solar) alternatives exist.

The 42,300+ MPH collision with our atmosphere which might occur next August, 1999 if NASA made any miscalculations OR if anything goes wrong which NASA forgot about or assumed wouldn't happen, would decelerate the probe to a few hundred miles an hour, probably in under 20 seconds, and possibly in as little as only two or three seconds. It depends on the "angle of attack". ("Attack" is the operant word, of course!) There are some explosive fuels on board Cassini, whose rupture at the time of "impact" with Earth's atmosphere might damage the containment system, but the plutonium itself will not "explode".

Plutonium dioxide does not "incinerate" or "burn", if sufficiently heated it merely redistributes itself into very fine (respirable) particles. This is the worst thing it can do, from a medical standpoint and from the standpoint of providing a "source term" for a subsequent global distribution over a period of decades. The fact that it will happen at high altitude only protects the perpetrators of the crime from punishment; it does not protect the victims other than to delay the onslaught somewhat, but only by hours, days, weeks, months, years or perhaps decades, as the plutonium descends from a few miles up, over time. The stuff falls to Earth in a deadly, invisible, odorless, tasteless, widely distributed rain. You will NOT be able to identify the victims. They might appear to die from this cancer or that leukemia or whatever, but what caused that death will remain unknown. And it might have been Cassini. So, the perpetrators will go unpunished and even, will deny (at least publicly) to their own deaths that they might have done any such harm.

As for Leonid, the best viewing times are probably going to be early Tuesday and early Wednesday morning, that is, the mornings of the November 17th and 18th, 1998. If Leonid lives up to its potential, it could literally light the night sky to where you could read a newspaper without the moon or sun being out. This is the first time a potentially strong Leonid has arrived when there are a lot of (approximately 500) operational satellites. Every 33 years or so Leonid is extra-strong and this may be one of those years, but the real worry is that every 800 years or so (unknown time frame) Leonid is extra-extra-extra strong. Billions and billions of micrometeors might smash into the hundreds of satellites, creating oodles of new space debris fields which Cassini will have to thread its way through.

99.9% of the Earth-orbiting debris right now is untracked and in unknown locations. That's 99.9% of what is known to be dangerous to spaceships traveling at 22,000 mph, let alone at 42,300 MPH like Cassini. Leonid could increase the danger from Cassini by a lot, if it (Leonid) does the damage it is predicted it MIGHT do. This is simply by substantially increasing the amount of debris in orbit at the time of Cassini's passing.

There are some who will want me to point out here, that at that point, if Cassini is on a proper course NOT to impact Earth, a collision with a small (compared to the size of Cassini) particle of space debris will NOT cause an immediate descent to Earth. The remnants of such a collision will continue on, past Earth, and remain in orbit about the sun; in an orbit which may recross Earth's path many times, just as the remnants of the original comet the Leonid's dusting comes from, regularly intersects Earth (and might be particularly powerful this year).

At 42,300 miles per hour, Cassini will be in Earth's main debris field for over an hour -- half an hour coming in and half an hour going out. There are several "bad" altitudes with especially thick debris fields. The debris might hit one of Cassini's non-nuclear fuel cells, causing Cassini to explode. This in turn might knock one of the three RTG's (which protrude from Cassini like three sore thumbs stuck into its backside) back and away from Cassini -- and towards Earth.

Originally Cassini was scheduled to do the flyby of Earth at UNDER 200 miles altitude!!! This was raised repeatedly as if to appease the opponents and it is now expected to be a little under 800 miles above Earth. (only about 750 miles above our atmosphere, depending on where you measure it out to*). So can one of the RTGs be blasted away hard enough, and in the right direction out from Cassini, in the event of a collision with a piece of Earth-orbiting debris in the final half hour before the flyby, such that it impacts Earth?

Can it?

If such a collision occurs at the furthest out point of Earth's debris field (beyond which there are still other particles, but far less of them) -- let's say, 25,000 miles from Earth -- and the probe is scheduled to fly 800 miles from Earth, then in the half hour that it will continue traveling towards Earth after the collision, a dislodged plutonium powerpack would have to travel 800 miles -- actually, more like 750 miles because if it hits Earth's outer atmosphere, it would slow down and be "captured" and incinerated. (Actually, Earth's atmosphere sometimes goes as far out as 600 miles during a solar storm; if that's happening during the flyby (unpredictable) then the required deflection resulting in Earth impact becomes much less!)

So, can an RTG which has been explosively detached from Cassini at 25,000 miles away travel 750 miles "sideways" in half an hour? It might have somewhat more than half an hour, since it can be flung back from the probe as well as out.

This isn't worth betting one's life on, let alone the lives of 6 billion inhabitants of the "target" planet. But that is just one of many potential accident scenarios, including the fact that all those pieces that don't impact Earth right then and there will be left in an orbit which might, at some future and unknown date, impact Earth anyway. And in that intervening time period the containment system NASA trusts so well but has tested so little, might become brittle and worthless from the additional decades or even centuries of radioactive bombardment from space and from its own contents.

NASA knows none of the answers to what will actually happen. It is NASA who should be looked on as soothsayers and the modern embodiment of medieval scientists. It is NASA who are making the unscientific predictions that everything will always go right with whatever they do. It is NASA who considers the averaging of "all possible" accident scenarios to be the proper way to present a "worst case scenario" when really it is nothing of the kind.

NASA acts as though God will protect us from them for taking chances with our lives when in fact, it is those who do not roll the dice, and do not demand God's intervention, who do God's work. There are solar options available for all the space research projects money can buy. There is no need to go with the nuclear options. Furthermore, America needs research into better solar technologies for Earth applications, NOT wasteful and dangerous nuclear energy solutions. Solar solutions would have direct benefit on Earth. Instead, NASA's nuclear nuttiness brings us is lies and coverups, with a significant potential for disaster mixed in.

Cassini was a bad idea when it was launched, and Leonid may make it even more risky, and may also increase the launch risks for all future nuclear (and other) missions, such as the Pluto plans described in the first item of this newsletter.

--Russell D. Hoffman
Editor, STOP CASSINI newsletter

* Note: The numbers shown below are for normal conditions; sun spot activity can cause significant increases in these values:

Troposphere: 0-7 miles out (11 km)
Stratosphere: To 30 miles out (48 km)
Mesophere: To 55 miles out (88 km)
Thermosphere: To 435 miles out (700 km)
Exosphere: To 1,500 miles out (2,414 km)

From: The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference, Macmillan, USA, 1995


*** STOP CASSINI web site wins a statistically-derived award:

This is self-explanatory. We are duly proud. All this with virtually no press attention and very little monetary outlay. Thank God (and the U.S. Military) for the Internet!

At 07:52 PM 11/10/98 -0500, Links2Go wrote:
Congratulations! Your page:
has been selected to receive a Links2Go Key Resource award in the Saturn topic!

The Links2Go Key Resource award is both exclusive and objective. Fewer than one page in one thousand will ever be selected for inclusion. Further, unlike most awards that rely on the subjective opinion of "experts," many of whom have only looked at tens or hundreds of thousands of pages in bestowing their awards, the Links2Go Key Resource award is completely objective and is based on an analysis of millions of web pages. During the course of our analysis, we identify which links are most representative of each of the thousands of topics in Links2Go, based on how actual page authors, like yourself, index and organize links on their pages. In fact, the Key Resource award is so exclusive, even we don't qualify for it (yet ;)!

Please visit: to find out more about this award, and to download graphics if you wish to display this award on your page.

Once again, congratulations on your award!
Links2Go Awards

P.S. If you are not the author or maintainer of this page, please accept our appologies. We would appreciate it if you would forward this email to the appropriate person.


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


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First placed online November 19th, 1998.
Last modified January 4th, 1999.
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