To: President William Jefferson Clinton
From: Russell Hoffman, Concerned Citizen
Re: Today's big news event -- could be a precursor, should at least be a lesson (STOP CASSINI #193)
Date: September 23rd, 1999 (late edition)
Dear Mr. President, others:
Here are some silly excuses for NASA's debacle which have been compiled by Jim Spellman and kindly forwarded to me by him, along with my rebuttal which follows.
Founder and Editor
STOP CASSINI newsletter
"There can be no democracy without truth, no justice without mercy, and no nuclear dispersals without ill consequences."
Jim Spellman of the National Space Society has very kindly forwarded to the editor of this newsletter a collection of answers he has received which he describes as "valid" and "credible". They are in fact unscientific bunk, and I debunk them following the email from Jim. But I like Jim's phrase about it being neither "Signs from God" or "pure chance" but rather NASA's own goof-up of an as-yet unidentified sort (or maybe it hit a piece of space debris, too! We don't know for sure yet!).
Like there is some great difference, Jim. It all just proves what anyone with common sense already knew -- accidents DO happen!
-- Russell D. Hoffman
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 00:28:44 EDT
Subject: Re: A sign from God?
X-Mailer: AOL 4.0 for Windows 95 sub 214
In a message dated 9/23/99 7:08:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
If this loss of a probe is a sign of anything, it is a sign that NASA cannot calculate the odds against a catastrophic miscalculation or other error in their operations. Not just flybys. Everything. They are not perfect but they have claimed they would be.
Then, at "about 2:00 am" this morning, according to JPL, NASA lost all credibility. Thus the timing couldn't have been much sweeter. I regret that NASA scientists had to lose their 100+ million dollar probe, but if the lesson is learned it will be well worth it for them in the long run.
Even if it's pure chance and not a sign from God at all, I can't help but gloat -- for who really knows?
"Signs from God" or "pure chance" had nothing to do with it. Here are valid, credible comments I received from others which are appropriate here. . .
From [Note: These are apparently Chris Jones' words. See note:] -- [NOTE: On September 29th, 1999 we received an email from Mr. Dwayne Allen Day, who was originally "credited" with these words, wherein he stated that these are not his words. See newsletter #199 for the sequence of emails on that day. Subsequently, we were shown additional documentation by Jim Spellman indicating these are indeed NOT Mr. Day's words and Jim had "mis-spliced" them, and mis-attributed them, apparently by accident. These are apparently the words of Chris Jones. -- rdh 9/29/1999 and 10/02/1999]
One way of looking at it is to blame it on the "Faster Better Cheaper" mindset (well, maybe it was "Lower Hotter Cheaper" in this case) and say that any probe with plutonium on it ain't gonna be holding a FBC ticket.
Something else to consider; the upcoming aerobrakings that are supposed to take place directly from interplanetary flight, rather than first establishing a high orbit. The reports are that Mars' atmosphere is pretty variable from an aerobraking standpoint, so there's some uncertainty about the density at a given altitude and time. Couple that with navigational errors (I hope the apparent MCO error is a one of a kind thing!) and you get even more unpredictability. We'd better start sending swarms of probes rather than one or two if we're going to have such unreliability.
From James Oberg --
The difference is, Earth is much easier to fly accurately by, because you are tracking FROM Earth and know precisely where both YOU and the approaching probe are. With a flyby of another planet, there must be tracking of both the planet and the probe, and the accuracy of the relative position of the probe and the planet to each other is much lower.
From Ian Kluft --
Looks like the Martian Resistance got another one. . .That's turning out to be a hazardous destination for probes lately.
From John Lewis --
CNN's coverage of the story says a navigation error may have accidentally taken the spacecraft into the atmosphere during what was supposed to be its orbital insertion:
The US has now lost two probes during Mars orbital insertion. The Russians also had a Mars orbiter and rover fail to leave Earth orbit, and are now at the bottom of the Pacific.
* * * * * * * *
POSTSCRIPT: Out of a total of 30 space missions that have been sent to Mars since 1964 -- only 10 have been successful (all by the U.S., I might add).
Considering the distance that is being traversed (500 times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon), and the low rate of success (1 in 3) -- it's certainly no reason to give up, but to keep learning from your lessons and "Press On" instead.
The future isn't for the weak or faint-hearted.
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
(Note: In contrast to the quote by the late Isaac Asimov, note that Woody Smith (aka Dr. Planarian) said, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you")
You all have completely missed the point.
To [Note: This is responding to what are apparently Chris Jones' words. See note above]: --
FBC = let's not double-check our numbers since after all, this is only a $125 million dollar bird? Gimme a break. You don't even know what went wrong and yet you're sure it's not like Cassini -- because this was "FBC".
Besides, Cassini was not shake-tested once assembled, remember, as a cost-cutting measure? Who knows what mistakes THAT might have let through, that have yet to surface? Cassini has another planet it has to do a flyby of -- Jupiter -- which is a whole lot further away than Mars. What are the odds Cassini will fail during that maneuver, rendering the risk we suffered during the 1997 launch and recent flyby completely without benefit?
And as to Mars' atmosphere being variable: So is ours, especially during solar flares such as were going on during the Cassini flyby. Plus we have millions of pieces of space junk no one knows the exact position of, which could have destroyed Cassini (less than 10,000 of the largest pieces are tracked). NASA got lucky, but they were unprepared for the disaster that could have happened. With the loss of the Mars probe, there was no disaster. Just $125 million dollars lost. A slight setback. Compared to Cassini's potential for millions of deaths and billions of dollars lost if not trillions, they are not in the same league. They are millions of times different -- six, seven -- maybe even ten or more orders of magnitude different.
AND the flyby was originally scheduled to be less than 312 miles above the Earth originally. The comparison is valid that this indicates NASA's assurances were hollow. There was no "one in one million" chance against an accident with Cassini during the recent flyby. And would only 120 people have died as NASA claimed? Even other government documents disputed that by several orders of magnitude!
To James Oberg:
You know something, Mr. Oberg? When I thought about who was going to say that Mars is SO FAR AWAY WE HARDLY KNOW WHERE IT IS (OR WHERE OUR PROBES ARE WAY OUT THERE) I thought it would be you.
Not that I'm clairvoyant or anything, but it is a good excuse, technically probably the best there is, and I would have used it too. That is, if I was incapable of apologizing for being in error and would rather cling to anything left, however weak it is. Good try. In fact, unless you've gotten more of your insider information already, we have no idea what kind of an error it was and we might never know. But does it really matter? No, not at all! Of course these missions should continue! Accidents will happen -- I've never denied that!
But they should NOT continue with thousands -- or even dozens -- or even a few -- curies of Plutonium on board them! That is ALL THIS PROVES. Your excuses are fine if you are talking about whether we should spend another $125 million dollars on another Mars mission -- we should.
But risk millions of cancers? NO! This proves that such risks are NOT "one in one million" even if it doesn't prove NASA can't do ANYTHING right! And besides that, Saturn is much further than Mars and much can go wrong. We may have taken Cassini's risk for NOTHING if we lose track of Cassini. It still has a possibility of reentering Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA's original 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission. The risk is lower, but hardly gone (see page B-4). If the reentry occurs late in the next century, the Pu 238 will have barely decayed to half its current radioactivity level, but the so-called containment system may have become brittle and useless, as NASA points out (on page 4-104 of that same document). These are the sorts of reasons we should be more careful.
But I never said, "don't go!" Just do so with a proper consideration for the risks involved. Instead, NASA lies to me and to every other concerned citizen.
And you, Mr. Oberg, are in denial of the dangers of plutonium. Of that I have no doubt -- it's in your Space Power Theory book (which I really must review for you soon, having read it last spring).
Because of your obvious misinterpretation of the effects of low level radiation, your logic fails utterly. Not because you are not correct that probes out by Mars are harder to know exactly where they are, etc. But because that's a side issue anyway.
What if NASA can do Earth flybys two orders of magnitude better than they can do Mars orbital insertions? That's a hundred times better. If NASA had claimed to be a hundred times better at Earth flybys than Mars orbital insertions, that would still mean only "one in ten thousand" should fail, but this isn't the first failed orbital insertion at all! But are you saying NASA is 1000 times worse at Mars orbital insertions? 10,000 times worse? Come on. The similarities ARE frightening, and that's a fact.
By the way, thanks for NOT arguing that orbital insertions are all that different. I'm sure someone will claim it, but I didn't want it to be you.
NASA claimed they could do Cassini with a "one in one million" accuracy -- despite frayed wiring discovered on Columbia. And despite this latest goof. And despite countless other failures. Yes, accidents happen. And yes, that is a good reason to take reasonable precautions to reduce the severity of the accidents when they inevitably do happen. Instead of denying the dangers, as NASA has done over and over and over.
I'm not against science. I'm for public safety. And honesty from those who claim to be serving humanity, such as these "rocket scientists" at NASA. And at Boeing and Lockheed-Martin and so forth.
To Ian Kluft:
Sorry, but I've never heard of you. However I agree with you completely. But the question is, who gives them their orders? Do we assassinate the leader or just rattle their cages? Blow them to kingdom come? Nuke 'em? The Martian Resistance? The whole lot of them? Commit genocide against the peaceful people of Mars just because one or two kooks have been blowing up our rockets (along with their cohorts here, I presume, who have taken out many Titans lately, and a bunch of other rockets as well)? What would you do about those rebels, Mr. Kluft? Nuke them too? Right in our own front yards?
To John Lewis:
(Sorry, never heard of you either.) We don't know where Mar's '96 is and James Oberg, Karl Grossman and others have written documents which suggest strongly that it landed over South America.
Furthermore it may have incinerated into 10 micron-sized particles (average size) with a spread, according to data from NASA's own SNAP-9A accident in 1964, of from 5 to 58 microns. (See page D-9 of the 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission.)
These are the ideal sizes for lodging in a person's lungs, according to a wide variety of medical texts. And according to many of those same texts, A) There is nothing anyone can do to prevent cancer at that point, B) There is no minimum dosage below which cancers never form, and C) The rate goes down as the dose goes down, but the severity of the health effect remains the same -- cancers, leukemias, and birth defects. None are like a common cold. All are horrific, often fatal.
And finally, to Jim Spellman:
I agree, missions will be lost. If people are on board those missions, those people will be lost, which is why they must volunteer for the missions, and are not forced to go (and why they are called heros later, if they survive (or even if they don't). In all cases, when things go wrong, one thing is sure to be lost: Money. Let's leave it at that, or at least as close to just that, as possible.
I have NEVER said these sorts of things are reasons not to go to Mars. Not to establish a permanent colony on the moon. Not to set up a system to save the planet from asteroids. All these are noble goals NASA could have.
But use the nuclear demon -- in Cassini's case, plutonium 238, which is far worse that the plutonium they are generally talking about in Paducah right now -- for spy missions? For underwater listening devices? For Cassini and the dozen missions that are to follow? The argument isn't against space exploration, it's against bone-headed irrational disregard for human health -- and for the realities.
What I said is not "this proves there is a God (or isn't)" but rather "this proves chance isn't always on NASA's side". What I said I enjoyed about the timing was that I had just suggested a thing like this might be a good idea -- and it happened. That works for me! It's a personal thing. The free publicity my cause got will do it well -- worth $125 million dollars in advertising, at least! And what is my cause?
It is to give reasons why you don't fling 72.3 pounds of plutonium 238 dioxide across our skies, or launch it into space at all (or a thousandth that amount, or even less -- it's all too much!).
I said that WHEN mistakes happen, which they inevitably will do, we should learn from them. We should learn, most of all, that mistakes DO happen. That is all I'm trying to say. That is the only scientific fact that can be accepted right away by everyone. And that fact alone, proves Cassini was folly.
What we have here is denial. Stupid, but classic, denial.
We (the public) as yet have NO IDEA what went wrong, but each of these prognosticators have come up with a theory that proves WHAT?
That accidents happen? That if it isn't one thing, it's another? That things built by humans and flung across the heavens sometimes fail? What exactly does all this prove, in a scientific sense?
That NASA makes mistakes? That "one in one million" might have been off just a tad?
Next time, the lesson may be worse. It might include actual casualties. (Of course, if it is a high-altitude release of plutonium, I realize many space cadets will still deny any deaths occurred from it.)
Here are some questions for all of you:
Do any of these lame excuses you have sent me really disprove my most important point -- that accidents do happen? Of course not. Nor do they disprove that, when ranked by severity, there is no question that nuclear war is the worst possible accident. And nor do they disprove that, when ranked by most likely moment, Y2K is the most likely moment ever in history to possibly result in an accidental nuclear war.
Is any of this surprising? No. It's simple statements of fact. But is any of it worth doing something about NOW instead of after the fact? Yes, all of it is. America is NOT properly preparing for Y2K. Because ACCIDENTS DO HAPPEN.
Who can assure me, a concerned citizen, that Y2K won't be a nuclear disaster? Who can assure me there won't be an electromagnetic pulse as I have described in numerous documents, rendering all hospital equipment useless throughout the country, and causing nuclear meltdowns at the same time?
There is nothing to argue about which is not relevant to a general discussion about technology and the fact that IT FAILS.
I see that among this crowd there are none willing to admit that facts have proven (again) that Cassini was a mistake even though it has successfully done its flyby (it might still go dead tomorrow). But the Mars probe WASN'T a mistake EVEN THOUGH it went dead today (or was it? Did it have ANY plutonium on board?).
Founder and Editor
STOP CASSINI newsletter Now in its 193rd issue and stronger than ever...
NASA needs to be told in no uncertain terms NEVER to launch nuclear rockets of any type ever again!
To learn about the absurd excuses NASA used to launch Cassini and its 72.3 pounds of plutonium in 1997, ask them for the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission, and all subsequent documentation. 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
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.
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