A look at the recent past

by Russell D. Hoffman

In 1966 the United States, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom were the "depository Governments" for a treaty on the Exploration and Use of Space. In January 1967, MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS AGO the treaty was opened for signatures by the three depository Governments. So far, 91 countries have ratified the OUTER SPACE TREATY.


Treaties are sacred documents and they should not be broken. The activity of breaking a treaty is a dangerous activity for a country to engage in. Breaking a treaty leaves a scar upon that country's reputation that can last for centuries. The United States signed -- and helped write -- this treaty just over 30 years ago. We were already well into the space program, so it's not as if this was written by people who had no idea what they were getting into. It was not written based on idle conjecture by some science-fiction authors. It was written by people who were already at the time going into space--the forefathers of the industry. It is hard to believe that the current people in the industry would take this material lightly. But apparently, they do.

Specifically, they ignore it entirely.

In the preamble to the treaty it recognizes "the common interest of all mankind" that outer space presents. Then it says, in effect, that outer space has been deeded to the citizens of the world by all who can reach it, to be used for peaceful and beneficial purposes only (my italics).

The treaty contains nine principals.

CASSINI violates eight of them.

the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
By being the province of all mankind, it means that spy satellites and all secret space missions are illegal. Numerous parts of any nuclear mission are kept secret from the public. Also, the inherent dangers and our failure to properly insure the mission mean the Cassini mission is not being carried out "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries."
outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
If Cassini fails for any reason, it can become a deadly mass circling Earth, Venus, Jupiter or Saturn or a moon of one of these planets, or it can fall to Earth, or it can end up circling the sun on a trajectory that crosses Earth's own path numerous times for thousands of years. So Cassini with its pack of deadly plutonium, can get in the way of all future interplanetary missions, limiting the "free" use of space.
outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
While it is true that Cassini is not designed to appropriate outer space, nevertheless it can lay waste to a portion of it, which will ruin that portion, and which is as good as appropriating it, except no one gets the benefit.
States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
Any object in orbit around the Earth, or even passing close to Earth (Cassini will get within 312 miles!) is capable of falling to Earth if it hits an existing piece of space debris. So if that object contains 72 pounds of plutonium, it is, by its very nature -- by its very existence! -- a weapon of mass destruction! 72 pounds is a devastating amount of plutonium to risk for any reason, let alone NASA's science experiments.
the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
Crashing 72.3 pounds of Plutonium into Saturn or perhaps, by accident, into Jupiter, Venus, or Earth, is not a peaceful purpose. The consequences of carrying a weapon to the scene of a crime (or to the scene of a scientific experiment) are that people might get killed. It is an act of aggression to launch Cassini.
astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
Cassini does not violate this one! There will be no people on-board Cassini.
States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental activities;
This one is violated by the inappropriate use of the Price-Anderson Act to insure the Cassini mission (see next principal). The Act is being used to allow us to duck our responsibilities in the event of an accident involving nuclear fuel.
States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects;
As described in another document at this web site called Insurance for Cassini? Hardly! the United States has promised to pay only a tiny fraction of the damages that Cassini can cause.
States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
If Cassini fails it can fall to Earth in a fiery plume. But if Cassini succeeds, eventually it will fall into Saturn, and since Saturn is so much bigger than Earth, it will probably completely incinerate on the way in, much more than even during the Earth flyby. It will probably be going MUCH faster, too.

One of NASA's stated goals for the mission is something about studying "the origin of life". Plutonium is harmful to all known forms of life, so blasting Cassini into Saturn is probably harmful if there is any life there to find! Besides, if we ever decide to go there ourselves, we will have polluted it beforehand by sending Cassini there first -- even if Cassini is a 100% "successful" mission!

The Outer Space Treaty has been ratified by 91 countries including the U.S.


By Russell D. Hoffman
Related pages at this web site:
Stop Cassini Home Page
No Nukes In Space! Not now, not ever.
Space Debris Home Page
A series of articles on this shameful problem.
Related pages outside this web site:
United Nation's web site containing the treaty and many other space-related items.
U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
Note verbale dated 2 June 1997 from the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations (vienna) addressed to the Secretary-General.
U.N. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly.
47/68. Principals Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space. December 14th, 1992.
Principals Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space.
As adopted by the United Nations.

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Written April 9th, 1997.
First placed online April 9th, 1997.
Last modified October 9th, 1997.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman