Subject: The reincarnation of Carl Sagan: STOP CASSINI #148
Date: July 1st, 1999
Time Frame: Cassini is scheduled to do the flyby of Earth August 18th, 1999 (August 17th in the USA) near Africa.
In 1989 the late Dr. Carl Sagan wrote what I can only describe as a confused and disjointed statement about Galileo. NASA pulled it out and posted it for Cassini, claiming it "addresses many of the issues"; it is available at the following URL:
When I read David Grinspoon's article in the August, 1999 issue of ASTRONOMY, I found many parallels to Dr. Sagan's article. Here are some of them:
Sagan (about Galileo, in 1989): "It is a trailblazing mission."
Grinspoon (about Cassini, in 1999): "...priceless knowledge to be gained".
(Both of these statements are gross exaggerations. Actually, Cassini is not "priceless" at all! It is a few billion dollars, which is less than a few months' worth of the spoiled milk the United States throws away, to put the term "priceless" in a more proper perspective. (USDA figures from 1995 indicate, for example, that Americans threw away $93 billion in unused (spoiled and good) food that year.) -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "Galileo will not only be exploring other worlds; it will help us to understand and safeguard this world."
Grinspoon (1999): "Planetary exploration is essential for a truly holistic understanding of Earth."
(Safe and reasonable planetary exploration is what America wants, not this! We would gladly support properly designed and powered missions. -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "Galileo ... will be powered by radioactive plutonium. There is no alternative."
Grinspoon (1999): "There is talk now of solar-powered missions to Jupiter..."
(So one lousy decade, perhaps a little more (according to Grinspoon himself), is all it would have taken in order to not have risked Galileo's plutonium payload against the Earth. So why did they do it? The reason is because the United States military wants production of RTGs for their own Earth-orbiting spy satellites, and the civilian RTGs are just "covers" for the military operation! -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "But plutonium can be deadly, and the Galileo RTG's have now begun to alarm many people."
Grinspoon (1999): "Maybe you thought the battle ended in October 1997 when protesters failed to prevent the successful launch of Cassini, but activists are now gearing up to protest this August's Earth flyby."
(We are always "gearing up" as David Grinspoon puts it, or have "begun to alarm" as Carl Sagan put it, or as Bruce Gagnon puts it, "This is a chance for us to alert the world". In fact, we are ready, willing and able to present our case, and what we want is a RATIONAL policy, and CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS and INTERNATIONAL DEBATES are the first steps towards that policy. -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "Concern about the environment and, especially, about the threat of nuclear war has been a thread woven through my life. I was a member of the team that discovered nuclear winter; I've twice been arrested at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site for demonstrating against continued American testing of nuclear weapons in the face of the Soviet unilateral moratorium;..."
(Sagan went on for a while on similar ancillary items, such as that he was for quarantining the astronauts when they came back from the moon (so was I). -- rdh)
Grinspoon (1999): "The first time I was involved in political action, I was in a stroller being pushed by my mother in a 1962 march against atmospheric nuclear testing. That protest movement succeeded because of compelling scientific evidence provided by leaders such as Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling...."
(Grinspoon goes on at length about his fear of nuclear weapons, but never makes the connection between THE PROBLEM WITH NUCLEAR WEAPONS TESTING -- which was the health effects it was having on "downwinders" and everyone else on the planet, and Cassini's 400,000+ Curies of plutonium and its frightening possibilities for harm. Indeed, he does not ever compare the radiological equivalence from the plutonium releases, as we discussed in detail in newsletter #146, "What is a half-life?" -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "I've felt torn on the Galileo RTG issue for years."
Grinspoon (1999): "This controversy is especially painful for those of us who believe strongly in both environmentalism and space exploration."
(I am pained too, because prior to learning about Cassini, I thought NASA was a civilian organization dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space. To learn that they have been duping the American public for so long on so vital an issue was distressing. Indeed, it doth torment my soul to think that I was silent for so long, because I knew not the truth. But now I know, and it is my solemn duty as a citizen to cry out about it to all who will listen.)
Sagan (1989): "Less than a year before the Challenger explosion, NASA spokesmen and contractor personnel assured us that at the then current rate of launch, you'd have to wait ten thousand years before a catastrophic launch failure."
Grinspoon (1999): "The chance of an accident are very low..."
(Note that the late Dr. Karl Z. Morgan stated in sworn testimony, that NASA had assured him that SNAP-9A had a "one in ten million" chance of a reentry failure. Yet it happened, spewing 2.1 pounds of plutonium (mostly 238) into the environment! -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "The safety program for containing the plutonium in the Galileo RTG's and for understanding the risks has cost NASA about S50 (sic) million."
Grinspoon (1999): "I do know that NASA has not been casual or callous about nuclear safety. It has devoted great ingenuity and vast resources to ensuring the safety of RTGs."
(NASA didn't mind using unprotected plutonium -- despite strong criticism from Dr. Morgan and others -- until "one in ten million" became "one in one" in a flash, and protests and hearings propelled the problem to the front pages. Then NASA proposed a publicity stunt for a solution -- these supposed "containment systems" that are untested at anything near reentry speeds and conditions -- and which are EXPECTED (NASA's own word, on page 4-51 of the June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission) to fail a significant percentage of the time as it is! See page 4-51 of the June 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission, in which the "ingenious" RTGs are EXPECTED to release "32% to 34%" of their payload at high altitude. These values were reduced in a supplemental EIS by deciding (for no apparent reason) that the probe would tumble "just so" and behave exactly according to a narrow set of parameters as it returns uncontrollably -- in other words, NASA decided the probe would have a "perfect" accident! -- rdh)
(Note that Dr. Sagan states that Galileo's Earth flyby speed was only 30,000 miles per hour. That compares to Cassini's flyby speed of 43,000 miles per hour, which is far worse (not just 43000/30000 worse, more like three TIMES worse ( (43,000^3)/(30,000^3) )! At either of these speeds and conditions, the containment system is UTTERLY UNTESTED! -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "It would be enormously diluted in the air."
Grinspoon (1999): "...tiny particles of plutonium..."
(This is known as the Dilution Solution to Pollution. See Dr. John Gofman's recent letter regarding the hazards of even one atom of radioactive substances for why this is NOT a good solution (presented in newsletter #127). Cassini's 400,000 Curies of plutonium (mostly Pu 238) would be a horrendous radiological burden on the human race (and other living things), whether it spreads globally or is confined to a small area. -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "there a chance that around 1000 people would get cancer over the next 50 years -- although, in our ignorance, it might be that not even one person is injured."
Grinspoon (1999): "IF the craft did vaporize in our atmosphere... hundreds or even thousands of people might eventually die of cancer."
(Both these estimates are not the estimates for "worst case" scenarios at all! They are for even, global dispersals, and make numerous unreasonable assumptions. Dr. Ernest Sternglass has estimated that tens of millions might die in that very type of accident; his statements are ignored by Grinspoon. And all of this does not include the deaths that could result if the probe comes down over a rainy New York or some other populated area, spewing plutonium all the way into the troposphere during a thunderstorm, as described in the previous newsletter #147, in item #3. In such a scenario thousands or even millions of acres could be rendered uninhabitable in a matter of minutes. -- rdh)
Sagan (1989): "The JPL engineers have listed the remote contingencies: The spacecraft might be hit by a meteorite in interplanetary space and by accident redirected towards the Earth. There might be a programming error so the spacecraft veers much closer to the Earth than had been planned. There might be an accidental firing of the onboard rocket motor that would have the same effect. There are many possibilities. Every one of them is extremely unlikely. Even if they occur, there is little danger, because unless Galileo itself is crippled in some way, the spacecraft can be commanded to alter its trajectory. When the JPL engineers add up all conceivable sources of trajectory error and their probabilities, plus the likelihood that the error will make the spacecraft hit the Earth rather than miss it by a bigger distance, plus the probability that simultaneously the spacecraft will be unresponsive to commands from the Earth, they derive an overall estimate of the probability of accidental impact. This number is 1 chance in 2 million.
"So there's only 1 chance in 2 million that instead of swinging by the Earth and being flung on to Jupiter, Galileo will plummet in flames into the Earth's atmosphere, fragment, burn up and release its fuel as plutonium dioxide vapor into our atmosphere." (Note: Cassini's "odds" have been consistently presented by NASA as half that good, at "one in one million". All such "odds" are preposterous guesses.)
Grinspoon (1999): "extremely unlikely...far more likely to miss us by thousands of miles...this is the kind of thing that NASA is very good at estimating..."
(Both writers "play the odds". The simple logic of prohibiting this madness (or at least, the logic of having international committees and the public at large discuss and approve any launches with more than, say, 0.001 Curies of radioactive material on board them) is as incomprehensible to Grinspoon as it was to Sagan. This is particularly astounding in Grinspoon's case, because he states that Sagan's pet nuke project, the very one the 1989 article is about (Galileo) could now or soon have been done with solar! That happened WITHOUT the proper investment in solar technology! Imagine what we could have done if we had actually tried! The question is: WHAT WAS THE RUSH? And what is the bullheaded, arrogant, undemocratic, underhanded, militaristic rush now? -- rdh)
David Grinspoon's article is misleading. He marginalizes the anti-Cassini movement as being not even worthy of the anti-nuclear movement in general. In fact, Cassini is a quintessential issue; and the list of those who have spoken out against Cassini and against nuclear power in space reads like a Who's Who of the anti-nuclear movement. Why? Because 400,000 Curies of plutonium spread throughout the environment is a very, very bad thing. If the odds of it truly are one in one million, that does not mean the chance should EVER have been taken. But just as not every anti-nuclear activist is a medical doctor, neither are they all engineers AND astronomers. Yet to really understand Cassini, you have to be all these things or trust various experts in whichever "leg" of the triangle you are weak in. That is why some otherwise-reasonable anti-nuclear activists try NOT to take a stand against Cassini specifically -- because to take a stand professionally, you must generally profess expertise in multiple areas. But thankfully, we do have some who have stood up to be heard, great scientists like Michio Kaku and Ernest Sternglass. Grinspoon has knowledge in two of the areas, but from what we can tell is very weak in the medical corner, thus he must rely on NASA's statements that 400,000 Curies will only kill "hundreds or even thousands", and he does not accept the possibility that that figure is off by many (four, five, or perhaps more) orders of magnitude. Then he complains that the "dozens" of anti-Cassini web sites he claims to have visited offer values that vary "by a factor of 109" as if that is so big a difference compared to how far off NASA was when they said the space shuttle had a "one in one hundred thousand" chance of blowing up, or that the SNAP-9A had a "one in ten million" chance of reentry. Those are far greater errors than the "factor of 109" cited (without references) in the article. (Indeed, the "dozens of web sites" are all unnamed! I challenge Astronomy magazine to present where it got this data -- the URLs of these "dozens" of web sites!)
Grinspoon marginalizes the anti-Cassini movement first by stating we make outlandish claims, namely, that "billions" will die and "large areas" (whatever that means) of the Earth will become wastelands, then by claiming the anti-nuclear movement is not/should not align itself with us, and finally by claiming that environmentalists in general have more important things to worry about.
His claim that we say "billions will die" is not true. We have stated, and it is true, that if Cassini's plutonium were divided out evenly and deposited in the lungs of every human being on Earth, we would all die. This statement is true, probably 50 times over. Cassini's plutonium could do that, without re-using a single particle. (In fact, they can and WILL be re-used, for example when someone who has died of leukemia, cancer, or birth defect caused by the plutonium is cremated. The particle that caused the death would be "liberated", and would drift off, perhaps to cause another leukemia, cancer or birth defect.) In addition, if NASA is correct and the containment system works, then whoever finds the GPHS or RTG or GIS or whatever portion, if they know what they've got (and God help them if they don't) will have a hell of a good terrorist weapon. If they could find a way to vaporize the plutonium (easy to do, actually. The trick is to not breath any of the vapor while you do it) they could lay waste to a large city (or its water supply) with just one pellet of the stuff, and there are 216 such pellets, each with a third of a pound of plutonium dioxide (mostly Pu 238. See newsletter #146, "What is a half-life?" for a discussion of Pu 238 versus Pu 239, the "weapons grade" variety).
If NASA and its backers are wrong and some of the plutonium vaporizes, then each pellet can release enough plutonium to lay waste to some unknown area of land -- perhaps a few square miles, perhaps dozens, perhaps even hundreds of square miles. Ask yourself: Would YOU want to live in the fallout zone for a third of a pound (nearly 2,000 Curies) of plutonium 238, if that area was just a few square miles or even a few hundred square miles? (An area 20 miles by 10 miles is 200 square miles, which is hardly an unreasonable dispersal area for such a catastrophe. Manhattan, New York is just over 30 square miles in area, and rather "plume shaped" at that.) And that's just ONE of the "pellets" -- there are 216 of those pellets in the three RTGs! There are also about 130 "RHU's" (Radioactive Heater Units), each of which have 2.7 grams of plutonium -- enough to kill millions of people if deposited in their lungs, which is what happens when you vaporize the plutonium. These RHUs are ABSOLUTELY going to incinerate in a Cassini reentry. Together the RHUs have about three quarters of a pound of plutonium on board. And NASA admits (but David Grinspoon does not mention) that they will ALL completely vaporize in a Cassini reentry accident. Regardless of what the RTGs do.
Grinspoon assures us that solar options were not available for Cassini, yet that argument is the same one Galileo's supporters used for THAT mission ten years ago -- and Grinspoon himself admits that now, or very soon, a solar power mission to Jupiter would be possible, and he even suggests that "...perhaps we can learn to use solar power [as far out as] Saturn and beyond". "Perhaps" is the wrong word. The correct word is "inevitably". The correct sentence to follow is "So what's the rush? What is "priceless" (Grinspoon's word) knowledge about Saturn today that could not wait until solar options were ready? What was similarly vital about Galileo ten years ago, that Carl Sagan dropped his anti-nuclear views for? NOTHING! Carl Sagan made a mistake. (It happens to the best of us.)
Grinspoon mentions that the Apollo astronauts "rode in a craft carrying RTGs" but does not mention that we do NOT know what the current state of the RTG on board Apollo 13 is! We know some or all of it might have ended up in the Tonga Trench, but we have NEVER gone and investigated what is actually there. I think NASA is afraid of what we might find.
Similarly he mentions early nuclear missions by NASA but fails to discuss the particulars of the SNAP-9A disaster in 1964. Here are the particulars:
SNAPs used unshielded Pu 238 thermoelectric generators. This allowed NASA engineers to use far less Pu for a given amount of energy output, by the way. NASA got the idea for these things from the Russians in the 1950s, as documented in Outer Space Propulsion, Hearings before Subcommittees of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the United States, 85th Congress, Second Session (pages 124-130). Dr. Karl Z. Morgan stated in sworn testimony that the folks at NASA assured him that the SNAP rocket had a "one in ten million" chance of reentry. However, it reentered the Earth's atmosphere shortly after launch and released the 2.1 pounds of plutonium in "a spectrum of sizes" as Dr. Morgan described such releases to me in 1997 when I spoke to him about NASA's nuclear launches in general and Cassini in particular. The "spectrum of sizes" was found to be roughly 5 microns to 58 microns, with an arithmetic mean of 10 microns (NASA's June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission, page D-9). 10 microns happens to be just about the "perfect" size for lodging in a person's lung. (Any medical reference will confirm a value about this size.)
None of this is mentioned in Grinspoon's article, presumably because he is insisting that the anti-nuclear movement -- which admittedly is made up mostly of people who are NOT very familiar with the technical issues of "rocket science" -- should not support the anti-Cassini, anti-nukes in space movement. (Note: I believe the MAJORITY of American citizens are against nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and I believe if they spent the time to inform themselves about the nuclear space issues, they would be against that too.)
The entire anti-nuke movement all around the world, not to mention all space enthusiasts who care about the environment, SHOULD care about Cassini and SHOULD be ashamed that they have been duped into backing this awful mission. As I have stated, this is really a "quintessential" issue and ALL environmentalists, whether generally "anti-nuclear" or not, should be able to see the folly in risking the spread of such vast quantities (400,000 Curies) of plutonium, arguably the most carcinogenic substance known to the human species, into the biosphere -- into a place packed full of nearly 6 billion people, a place which even Grinspoon eloquently described in his own article as "a tiny blue ball of life spinning in infinite darkness."
LET NOT THE DARKNESS PENETRATE OUR MINDS!
Please put two and two together! Cassini was not necessary, it was undemocratically foisted upon the world (or even upon the scientists whose experiments are now threatened by a possible cancelation of the flyby and the mission. They were offered RTG solutions, or "no fly" solutions. Abhorrently, they chose RTGs and now perhaps WE will pay for that decision with our lives.).
Grinspoon states, "There are some exploration goals for which nuclear may be our only option." If this is true, Galileo was not one of them. Cassini is not one of them. NASA should redouble its efforts to build solar and fuel-cell options for these types of missions, and redouble its efforts to use the latest low-energy technologies as they become available. NASA should spend more time in Earth-orbit missions (which have no need for RTGs, although military spy launches into Earth orbit REGULARLY carry nuclear power sources -- IMHO, of course!). NASA should be studying our sorry and dilapidated biosphere while waiting for the technological knowhow to complete the deep-space missions using alternative power sources. If, somehow, there are still some missions and money left, for which nuclear options really truly ARE needed, THEN, and only then, there should be CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS and UNITED NATIONS DEBATES and WORLDWIDE DISCUSSIONS on the "need for the information" that might be obtained from *each* of these missions, versus the risk to the global population posed by such things as Cassini and the other upcoming nuclear launches that will inevitably follow, and which are in the planning stages right now.
If, after honest and open public debate all around the world, the public still wants to risk Cassini's 400,000 Curies of plutonium dioxide spread amongst itself -- well, then that's the way it will be. But I doubt that would happen: What true environmentalist or humanitarian would want to spread hundreds of trillions of particles of plutonium 238 in the 10 micron (invisible) size around the ecosystem? Who would want that radiological dose risked simply in order to "jump the gun" on a slightly later and just as useful solar mission? Is the public as mad as the mad scientists? I doubt it.
But the public has been lied to by NASA, and Grinspoon has done little to set the record straight. And the last thing he deserves is an apology from me. He accused me of prejudging him. I most certainly did not do that. There was NO WAY I could have predicted how biased his article really would be. I expected to tear it apart, and I believe I have done so fairly. It is not me who is asking permission from the public to do this awful thing. It is Grinspoon and his ilk. It is thus THEIR duty to be discussing the things I am forced to discuss, but they will not do it. Their article could have appeared in time for my response to appear in their magazine BEFORE the flyby, but they chose not to allow that to happen.
This is exactly how Galileo was foisted upon the world, and even if there is a brief "moratorium" on civilian nuclear launches as Grinspoon indicates he is in favor of, as long as we allow trickery, treachery and treason to rule, then sooner or later, the "mother of all space accidents" will happen. (If there is to be a moratorium, I recommend it last a minimum of about 100 years. Pluto isn't going anywhere.)
Cassini is a gamble, played by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying little more than a small step for some mad scientists. If every piece of knowledge the world needs is gained with this much arrogance and danger, then we will eventually pollute every portion of every planet in this solar system, starting with Earth, which we need the most.
Win, lose or draw, Cassini is a giant leap backwards for humankind, for democracy, for reason, for the space industry, and for science in the public interest.
It is a shame that David Grinspoon would back such a folly. My last question to him is this: If 400,000 Curies is not enough to worry about, what if Cassini had 4,000,000 Curies on board, all other conditions being EXACTLY the same? Would that be too much? How about 40,000,000 Curies of plutonium 238? Would that be too much? If not here, where would David Grinspoon draw the line? 400,000,000 Curies in one mission? I mean, he must have a limit? Why is 400,000 not way above it? And what number is?
-- Russell Hoffman
Suggested further reading:
Presentation by Karl Grossman about the military connection: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/kg9905ha.doc
Dr. Horst Poehler on Cassini Cancers (written prior to launch) http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/hp9708ps.htm
Dr. John W. Gofman's recent statement on Radiation Hazards http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/nltrs/nltr0127.htm (that issue also contains a further look at the RHU (Radioactive Heater Unit) issue ignored by Grinspoon)
Dr. Ross Wilcock, comparing radiation dangers to that posed by land mines: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/rw9709lm.htm
Dr. Michio Kaku on accident risks for Cassini (written prior to launch): http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/mk9708so.htm
Dr. Earl Budin discusses the International Treaty violations and other issues: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/nltrs/nltr0120.htm
Dr. Ross McCluney on the solar alternatives for deep space missions (in a debate with a pro-Cassini person): http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/rm9708so.htm
Dr. Helen Caldicott speaks to NASA Ames Research Center: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/nltrs/nltr0125.htm
Alan Kohn was Emergency Preparedness Officer on the Ulysses and Galileo missions. He spoke out against Cassini prior to the launch. These comments are equally appropriate regarding future plutonium launches: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/ak9707fl.htm
Scissors, Paper, Stone: The triangle of excuses that experts rely on to convince themselves Cassini is safe (Grinspoon relies mostly on the medical corner, presumably because his own area of expertise is furthest from that corner; not once in his article does he accept the possibility that deaths from Cassini could number in the millions, "hundreds or even thousands may eventually die of cancer" is as far as he will go -- three or four orders of magnitude less than Dr. Ernest Sternglass's estimates!): http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/nltrs/nltr0143.htm
See here how NASA has DESIGNED THE FLIGHT PATH to threaten Africa the most and the Northern Hemisphere the least, in the unlikely event of a Cassini Earth flyby reentry: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/nltrs/nltr0137.htm
Home page of the STOP CASSINI web site: http://www.animatedsoftware.com/cassini/cassini.htm
In newsletter #147 we presented a critique of Fred Walter's statement about Cassini. We received a response from him this morning, which is included in its entirety below, along with our imbedded comments. I should note that I had asked him if he had "triple-checked" his figures in my cover letter to my critique which was published in yesterday's STOP CASSINI newsletter (#147).
Thank you for your response. I have interspersed some comments, but wanted to also mention that your article vaporized the plutonium all the way to individual atoms. According to the June 1995 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Cassini mission, the "spectrum of sizes" (as the late Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, the "father of health physics" (the study of radiation dangers) put it to me in a conversation in 1997) from the SNAP-9A reentry was approximately 5 microns to 58 microns in size, with the arithmetic mean around 10 microns. Cassini's plutonium would presumably vaporize to similarly-sized particles.
That completely changes your equations as no one will be breathing "16 atoms" with each breath. Some will get less. Some, however, will get more, and there will be plenty to go around if a reentry occurs.
By the way, the Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home Edition, 1997, gives the breath rate for an adult as once every 4 seconds (15 per minute) for "quiet breathing" (something which poor people who work at manual labor tasks do a lot less of than affluent people who sit at desks all day). The capacity during quiet breathing is about .5 Liters with each breath, according to Human Anatomy and Physiology, 1990 edition (it gives "quiet breathing" breath rates as "12 to 16 times per minute"). At periods of peak exercise the rate can reach about 35 breaths per minute and the total "inspiratory capacity" multiplied by that rate is as much as 84 L/min for women and 133 L/min for men. Quite a bit more than the 12 liters you used as a baseline, which may indeed be the average, for the average person, but it does not represent hundreds of millions of people who live a more strenuous lifestyle.
At 10:25 AM 7/1/99 -0400, Fred Walter wrote:
Dear Mr, Hoffman
Thank you for your critique.
The background of this item:
I wrote this item about the time of the launch.
I wrote it to attempt to assuage the fears of small number (2 or 3) students
in a continuing-ed course about the impending launch of the Cassini mission.
They quoted (and gave me copies of) articles written by prominent
anti-Casini activists who did claim that Cassini was a very dangerous mission,
and could indeed kill everyone on Earth.
Please show me what the statements say exactly and who said them. These activists should be discredited.
While most of the anti-Cassini activists are working with the best of intentions, and with unimpeachable motives, I find that their fears are mostly based on ignorance.
I find many of them are ignorant as well, but as you say, most of them have good intentions.
Yes, there is a possibility that Cassini could hit the Earth -- but it is very small, and the loudest of the activists tend not to be the types to go out and estimate just what the odds are. A notable counter-example is Michio Kaku, but some of his assertions are (for a physicist) highly questionable.
If you are going to slander Dr. Kaku, I suggest you point to the actual assertions you say he makes which you find "highly questionable", rather than condemn him with such a blanket accusation (which I consider to be utterly false).
I find that most anti-Cassini activists cannot be swayed by facts or calculations -- they are intellectually paralyzed by a fear of radiation.
Hundreds of billions of potentially lethal doses of plutonium IS rather frightening.
I stand by the mathematics. I urge you to do similar calculations. If you are not competent to make back-of-the-envelope calculations to back up your assertions, then I suggest that you too are arguing from ignorance.
I didn't say I couldn't do the calculations, nor did I say that I have not done similar "back-of-the-envelope" calculations. I merely asked if you had double-checked and triple-checked your own statements. In part I asked this because I found it fascinating that you went right down to single atoms of plutonium dispersed, when nobody credible thinks that would happen.
What is there to fear? Launch was the most likely event for a disaster, and we have passed that point.
Navigation errors, space debris collisions, unrecoverable loss of control, misfired rockets -- these are a few of the fears. As NASA put it on page B-4 of the June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission, "Failures on legs targeted towards Earth or Venus would tend to result in spacecraft trajectories that remain in the vicinity of Earth's orbit." Add to this the statement on page 4-104, "With respect to the long-term inadvertent reentry accident, the performance of the materials used in the RTGs after many years (a decade to millennia) in a space environment is highly uncertain."
Thus, those are legitimate fears.
Since that time Cassini has operated perfectly. It has twice flown by Venus (at altitudes of a few hundred km), and is now on course to miss Earth by a significantly larger distance.
RTGs have accidently re-entered the Earth's atmosphere before, with no disastrous radiation leaks. The Cassini RTGs are better engineered than those made in the 1960s.
Yeah? The SNAP-9A had NO containment system at all! You clearly don't know that, since you think there were "no disastrous radiation leaks" when in fact 2.1 pounds of Pu 238 (mostly) were released right there (oh yeah, you don't consider that disastrous). Well, *I* call that a disaster. As to the Apollo 13 RTG, it's final state is unknown despite NASA assurances otherwise. They haven't pulled it up and looked at it and neither have you. The fact is, NASA's own documents PROVE that the containment system will not work very well, as I have pointed out many times (see page 4-51 of the June 1995 EIS, especially.)
The odds that an impacting Cassini would strike a gas tank is absurdly low.
I didn't say they weren't. But why risk it when solar options would have worked instead? It is NOT something we "engineered" against, it is just chance whether it happens or not. We could have eliminated the chance entirely, which is a whole lot better than your insistence on playing the odds with so many people's lives. Not everyone likes to gamble, especially with other people's lives. If it was the scientists only who were taking the risk, I really wouldn't care.
Meteorites land every day - when did one last land on a gas tank? Calculate the fraction of the surface of the Earth covered by gas tanks or similar combustible items and prove it for yourself.
I am glad that you are more concerned about groundwater pollution. We have a large number of environmental problems that are clear killers, and that need to be cleaned up. Focus on those, and not on the highly improbable events, and you'll accomplish a lot more good.
Cassini was launched amidst unfair actions on the part of the government, and doing so was a crime. I shall continue to oppose the mission and shall consider any "science return" that might come of it to be tainted by lies -- in other words, useless to society. Good science does not come of lies.
But I must state that I am troubled by the tone of your last paragraph. Where is the illogical thought on the part of the Cassini supporters?
I have described in many times, perhaps best, IMHO, in newsletter #143, in the first item ("Scissors, paper, stone").
I urge you not to just parrot convenient "facts", for facts without understanding can be very misleading.
Thanks for the advice, which I will always continue to follow. I have read NASA's own documents very carefully, I have also read everything else I can find both for and against Cassini, and I have talked to leading scientists on BOTH sides of the issue. I can't imagine, frankly, how I could have studied the facts more carefully.
Thanks for writing,
STOP CASSINI newsletter now in its 147th issue
To learn about the absurd excuses NASA used to launch Cassini in 1997, ask them for the June, 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission. At the same time, be sure to ask them for ANY and ALL documentation available on future uses of plutonium in space, including MILITARY, CIVILIAN, or "OTHER" (just in case they make a new category somehow!). To get this information, contact:
Cassini Public Information
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
(818) 354-5011 or
NASA states that they do not have the resources anymore to answer most emails they receive. Liars! They have $13 billion dollars to play with. They can answer the public's questions!
Here's NASA's "comments" email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Goldin is the head of NASA. Here's his email address:
Here's the NASA URL to find additional addresses to submit written questions to:
YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT NASA IS DOING TO YOUR HEALTH.
Be sure to "cc" the president and VP and your senators and congresspeople, too.
Always include your full name and postal address in all correspondence to any Government official of any country.
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Published by Russell D. Hoffman electronically.
Written in U.S.A.
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