Correspondence about Cassini between Mark Schembri and Russell Hoffman (May, 2001)

To: "Mark Schembri"
From: "Russell D. Hoffman"
Subject: Re: NASA's Cassini probe -- gone but not forgotten (nor should it be)
Cc: NASA email addresses

To: Mark Schembri
From: Russell Hoffman
Re: Your comments about Cassini
Date: Memorial Day, 2001

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your email. I have interspersed some answers [[[ in triple brackets ]]]. I would be very interested to know your actual level of expertise in this area. I can guess, but it would be nice to have my guess confirmed or not as the case may be.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

At 03:29 PM 5/28/01 +0000, you wrote:
You really should learn a bit more about reality.

[[[ Starting off rather friendly, I see... -- rdh ]]]

I must admit that most of what you say is true and you have a point but I would like to point something out to you.

You said that it is possible to do all that NASA is doing with the Cassini probe with one probe that was powered using solar cells and light energy. That may be true but there is a problem. You also say that too much money is being spent.

[[[ Before we get any further, I'm going to guess that you have not read the D. E. Rockey report, which is available at my web site. It indicates that NASA could have used solar panels for Galileo, AND it would have been cheaper for them to do so. That's a JPL report. You really should read it. And that was about 20 years ago; solar technology has made many advances since then. Granted, Saturn is further than Jupiter, but ESA (European Space Agency) has a solar-powered probe that will go PAST Saturn at its furthest points. It CAN be done. NASA could find a way, either with fuel cells, solar panels, a combination of the two, or with some other energy source. These RTGs don't provide a whole lot of electricity anyway. -- rdh ]]]

If NASA was to send a solar powered probe instead of a nuclear powered probe, the size of this thing would be enourmous. We wouldn't be talking about a few metres, this thing would have to be huge, the size of many football stadium.

[[[ Actually, NASA itself only estimated that it would need two panels each the size of a tennis court. Dr. Michio Kaku calculated that two solar missions would have easily been able to provide the full science return. -- rdh ]]]

When this thing would stretch out to get energy, the size would be so big that it would probably hit some debris in space of non formed planets.

[[[ It could be "stretched out" to it's full size only when it gets to Saturn and the full energy load is needed. -- rdh ]]]

This means that it would probably crash and the money used would be wasted.

[[[ What's money compared to lives? Okay, I suppose you can calculate a balance point of money versus lives, but NASA loses rockets and probes pretty regularly. We can afford such losses as a nation. But what we can't afford is a Cassini "worst case scenario" and by that, I don't mean NASA's averaged-out "worst case scenario". I mean the real full potential to humanity of that poison pill. -- rdh ]]]

I remind you that the probe had to pass an asteriod belt, and no one knew whether Cassini would make it out in one piece.

[[[ This is clearly an argument AGAINST using nukes, not FOR it. The creation of a 72.3 lbs plutonium "poison pill" floating uncontrollably and invisibly in our solar system would be criminal. The creation of another hunk of dead rock would be of negligible importance. Money can't buy lives. Plutonium causes cancer, leukemia and birth defects, at rates which are incredible -- rates which have caused it to be called "the most deadly substance known to man". It would not be destroyed in a reentry accident, only diluted. And no amount of dilution renders it harmless. It would still create the same types of health effects. Only the rate within a population is changed, not the severity of the effects or the total number of the effects. I hope you can understand the importance of that statement. Many pro-Cassini people seem oblivious to it, presumably because they just aren't trained in thinking about the health effects of what they want to do. -- rdh ]]]

Another problem is that when we go to planets further than earth, we need to start thinking a lot about solar energy. The sun gives out a lot of energy, but when we travel millions of kilometres away most of this energy is changed into another type or form when it hits objects. We normally say that the energy is lost (although this is impossible). In other words, the probe would get VERY, VERY, VERY little energy from the sun, which is why the Cassini probe does not rely on solar energy.

[[[ I'm sorry, but the statement above doesn't really say anything! Yes, there is less solar energy available out near Saturn than near us. That's well known, inverse square rule and all that. However, if ESA can put a solar probe out past Saturn, one would think we could too. Of course, ESA had little choice since they don't currently have access to large enough quantities of plutonium such as we have, and they don't have the DOE -- a criminal and corrupt civilian/military agency -- pushing nuclear options everywhere they can think of, regardless of the logic of those nuclear solutions over other solutions. (Which is not to say Europe doesn't have serious nuclear problems of its own.) -- rdh ]]]

It my be possible to make a solar powered probe to do this operation but the size of the solar cells would be ridiculously big and we would be talking silly numbers, plus the size of the probe would have seriuously encouraged it to crash into debris and to be destoryed. So the tax payers' money WOULD be wasted.

[[[ That's just reiterating your (unsubstantiated) claims made above. -- rdh ]]]

Therefore, I do agree with NASAs choice on this one.

[[[ Therefore???? Well, if you repeat, I'll repeat -- read the D. E. Rockey report, for starters. Read Dr. Kaku's comments, Dr. Poehler's comments, or any of a dozen other scientist's contrary opinions (all are available at my web site). NASA lies, and agreeing with them on this issue only indicates to me a lack of understanding of the issues. Have you read about the hazards of plutonium? Do you know what amount it takes to cause lung cancer, for example? Do you know how many of those "portions" are on board Cassini (nearly 300,000,000,000 "potentially lethal doses", about 50 for every man, woman and child alive, each of which could cause cancer over and over and over within our population). -- rdh ]]]

You also said that "secret space mission are illegal" but I would like to remind you of one thing, because I take this accusation personally: ANY operation or mission that protects and/or is a danger to a nation's security and that could seriously damage a nation, or any operation or mission that has been given the authority can be immediately regarded to be "top secret", and therefore/or a matter of national security.

[[[ There are international laws and treaties which need to be obeyed (some of which need more bite in them, but that's another story). We are NOT a "rogue nation" or at least we pretend that we don't want to be. YOU may not understand that there are limits of decency beyond which we choose not to go, even in war (ever hear of the Geneva Convention, for instance), but thankfully, YOU are not in charge. Furthermore, according to NASA's charter THEY ARE A CIVILIAN AGENCY dedicated to the betterment of all humanity. AND Cassini was supposedly a completely civilian mission -- but the fact is, it's use of RTGs had military overtones. AND the fact is, the use of RTGs in space by the military is -- or should be -- strictly forbidden. If we do it, others will do it, and then we'll have a hell of a mess above our heads, falling inexorably towards Earth. -- rdh ]]]

I remind you that anything that involves national security can overide ANY law that is made, simply because that thing may cause a nuclear war or any equivilent. Trust me, no one knows what every government has above our heads, but that treaty cannot overide the security of a nation and because of that I don't judge neither the United States of America nor any other country for breaking a treaty like this, when national security is involved.

[[[ Well, such thinking is the most destructive I've ever heard. For the sake of humanity, and this country, and in the hopes that God will continue to "shed his grace" on us, I pray you are never in a position of power to execute your ideas. Do you really think the use of RTGs above our heads by each and every government on Earth will somehow prevent nuclear war? That's really strange thinking, but that's what your saying! In addition, the Constitution of the United States doesn't give government agencies, like NASA, the right to violate our laws and treaties -- even by claiming it's protecting national security concerns. A national emergency would have to be declared first. -- rdh ]]]

Yes what you say is true, but I doubt that anyone can take NASA to court for it because of many reasons. There are laws and treaties, but other laws and treaties can overide these, so learn every law in the book before making an accusation like that.

[[[ I don't think you can substantiate the claims that no one can take NASA to court, or the that one needs to learn "every law in the book" before accusing NASA of violating any law, and especially the spirit of the law. I am quite comfortable with the accusations I have made against NASA, and I think they will stick and they have stuck. -- rdh ]]]

PS: NASA has done a lot for the world and has probably saved your ass much more than just once.

[[[ How do you figure? The nearly half a trillion dollars we have put into NASA in the past 40 years, if it had been put into directly into environmental protection and health care instead, would have saved a lot more lives. Spin-off technology is never going to be as cost-effective as putting the money directly into some of the life-saving programs we need to work on. -- rdh ]]]

Judging them because of one mission is incorrect, even if it is your first date with them the courting period, I would just like you to give them some respect.

[[[ NASA has launched at least 26 nuclear missions since the early 60's -- June, 1961 being the first one. They have had accidents with substantial releases of plutonium. There have been cover-ups and lies. They have been caught in these lies, and their shoddy work has cost them lives in the past. This is not "just once". This is an ongoing problem that needs to be fixed. -- rdh ]]]

Maybe what they did was wrong

[[[ Well, if you actually think so, say so. You don't think risking the spread of nearly 300,000,000,000 "potentially lethal doses" of plutonium into our environment is a crime, so I can't really imagine what limits you do have. -- rdh ]]]

but they have reasons, even if those reasons are wrong ones, and besides, the Cassini probe is gone

[[[ See page B-4 of the 1995 Final EIS for the Cassini mission, and you'll see that EVEN NASA admits that Cassini could come back to Earth if it become uncontrollable right now. This statement, like so many others you are making, indicates you have not studied the issues very thoroughly. -- rdh ]]]

, someone needs to investigate those places, mistakes happen, look at Challenger,

[[[ "Only" seven people died when Challenger blew up. That's not in the same league as what Cassini could do. -- rdh ]]]

but NASA learn from their mistakes, they did that from Challenger. What really pisses me off is that you say that NASA use too much money,

[[[ Unless you can produce the words, I'd say that's not an accurate description of anything I've said. -- rdh ]]]

but the Challenger disaster probably wouldn't have happened if the money was given.

[[[ Obviously you haven't studied what happened with the Challenger and the O-rings and the ridiculous "chain of command" NASA had at the time which prevented those that were worried about the freezing temperatures from successfully stopping the launch. Money didn't matter. It was brains at the top that were needed. They are still what's needed. -- rdh ]]]

That disaster happened because of the poor funding that NASA had.

[[[ Wrong, although a lot of NASA supporters blame money for every problem they have, so you're in good (or at least common) company saying such trash. -- rdh ]]]

Things in this world are expensive, you can't compare them though. Rather than fighting against NASA you should work with them, to avoid future incidents, not against them, because that puts pressure under them, and pressure can be a right man's best friend but a wrong man's worst enemy, and trust me, you don't want NASA to make a mistake in the future.

[[[ Work with them? I made every effort to get straight answers out of them for my questions. Perhaps you would do the world a lot more good if you asked NASA to work with ME, since they -- and NOT me -- are the stumbling block to such cooperation. -- rdh ]]]

NASA needs money to work properly. The more cash they have, the safer we are from them. Advise NASA NEVER complain about them publicly.

[[[ We are a country that values openness and honesty, and our system of government was set up to try to prevent rule by secret decisions. It took Karl Grossman 10 years of dogged effort to get NASA to cough up the D. E. Rockey report. After all his work, I bet you haven't even read it. NASA needs more than simply cash to become an agency we can all be proud of. It -- like many of its supporters -- needs an attitude adjustment. -- rdh ]]]

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[[[ Comments in brackets by Russell D. Hoffman -- rdh ]]]



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First posted June, 2001.

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