To: Michael Carland <>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Re: Some facts about Cassini
Cc: NASA email addresses
To: Michael Carland, Univ. of Melbourne, Australia
From: Russell Hoffman
cc: NASA/government points of interest
bcc: Wouldn't you like to know?
Re: Your two letters to me today regarding Cassini (both are included below)
Date: January 29th, 2002


So, you have a more thought-out opinion after all!  How nice, but it is clearly not based on a whole lot of research into the matter.  For example, you seem not to know that even NASA has described the sorts of circumstances by which Cassini, even now, could become targeted towards Earth.  A few random flybys of various planets is all it would take.  Unlikely?  Sure, it is NOW, but hardly impossible.  With a solar mission, it never would have been possible at all (I mean, it could happen, but it wouldn't make any difference).

You say I want to punish NASA?  Do you have a problem with punishing liars, cheaters, and scam artists?  If so, civilized society has little use for you.

Here's a related letter I wrote to NASA scientist David F. Doody in answer to his request which might be summed up as being your attitude, but by the guilty party (namely, forget the crimes that got Cassini launched):

Have you tried my Cassini Quiz yet?  44 questions.  Send me your best attempts as soon as possible without looking anything up.  You can find a copy of the questions in newsletter #156:

And yes, there are follow-up questions if you get that far.

As for your comments that I am "scaremongering and obfuscating so as to unduly alarm people" you haven't proven it.  My attempts to alarm people are reasonable, and your ability to understand that Cassini is, right now, moving away from us, seems to be the sum total of your knowledge.

As for "GM", I'll take a wild guess at what that stands for, since it's totally out of context.  Personally, I think General Motors should build windmills for a few years so we can shut off the nukes and switch to renewable energy.  Do you have a problem with that, or do you love those nukes you mentioned as being scarier than Cassini (although you neglected to mention that although they may be closer than Cassini's 700 miles was, they aren't traveling by us at 43,000 miles per hour, so I'd say you're a REAL PRO at obfuscating the truth)?

By the way, you should visit some web pages I've created since the flyby of Cassini before accusing me of being "hell bent" for NASA -- which is not a bad idea, as long as they keep flying nuclear missions (including RHUs).  You might consider restraining yourself with your comparisons of Cassini to other nuclear-based technologies.  Here's one on nuclear power plants in America:

And here's one on my local nuclear power plant and related issues:

Here's an essay about the Effects of Nuclear Weapons.  With India and Pakistan's current tensions, it's particularly relevant these days:

It's nice to see you can do basic math (although I didn't check your work).  But it sure would be nice to see you indicate you've also studied the necessary down side of the equation --radiation's effects on humans at extremely low levels.  Do you have any idea how much Pu NASA is using these days?  Do you know when the next nuclear mission will be?  Will it have any RHUs on it, or both RHUs and RTGs?  Is the U.S. military using RTGs and RHUs?

If you want to know why it still matters, the answer is because NASA has not announced plans to curtail the use of plutonium in space in any quantity it sees fit, and has in fact announced plans to use Pu-based RTGs on a number of upcoming missions.  Nor have they promised never to use Earth for a plutonium flyby again.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Below is your recent letter to me, and your prior effort (with my first response).

At 10:45 PM 1/29/02 , Michael Carland <> wrote:

I think your original opposition is misguided (see later) but your
apparent continued push to stop the project is just silly. And a waste of
effort that could find a much better focus. 
As I write this, Cassini is about halfway between Jupiter
and Saturn - or about 750,000,000km away. And it is moving at (I think)
34,000km/h in a direction that takes it further from the Earth. That makes
it about as potentially harmful to humans as cattle acquiring sentinence
and punishing us for making beef out of them.

From here the worst thing that could happen to Cassini is it's rocket
misfires as it goes into orbit around Saturn and it explodes scattering
its bits everywhere. Those bits will either orbit around Saturn for all
eternity or, because the craft is currently going too fast to be caught by
Saturn they will be flung on - and out of the solar system.
But let's suppose that the bit of it that's got you worried somehow
acquires an orbit that sends it back toward the centre of the solar
system (the probability is 1/6.6 x 10 raised to the 27th power against).
As you state, the Plutonium isotope used has a half life of 87 years. The
earth is 8000km across and so occupies a space equivalent to 1/56,249th of
it's orbit. Even in a worst case senario where the fragment went straight
through the orbit of the Earth twice yearly then we could feel safe in
seeing out about 170 half lives of the
payload before the fragment struck it lucky. That would leave 6.68x10-52
of the original plutonium left - ie none of it. Virtually all of the
radioactive daughter nuclei would be gone by then too. As will I, and you.

You also state that the craft made a pass of earth a few years back
(incident free, evidently) where it came to within 700 miles of Earth. I
doubt there is a place in mainland U.S. where you can stand more than
700 miles from a nuclear reactor, nuclear weapons facility or nuclear
waste facility. These places harbour plutonium and uranium isotopes in
much higher abundance and of isotopes of much longer half lives than
Cassini's power generator. Open air nuclear tests in the 1950's put more
plutonium, uranium and other crap into the environment than Cassini ever

To stop the mission now would mean that it would not be put into orbit
around Saturn. That is when there is a better chance of something
unexpected happening. Which makes me question your real agenda here.
What did NASA do to you? Why are you still so hell bent on stopping this
when there is no threat? There are so many more things for which going to
the efforts that you evidently have would be so much more beneficial.

So, yes, I agree that you are scaremongering and obfuscating so as to
unduly alarm people. Similar tactics are used by opponents of GM. Any
opinions on that issue?

Michael Carland




Thanks for articulating your opinion so eloquently and politely -- you'll sure sway a lot of people that way.  Please write again when you can substantiate your case.  Have you forwarded your comments to NASA?  Below is a useful link for you to do so.


Russell Hoffman

At 07:22 PM 1/29/02 , Michael Carland wrote:

Dear Russell

You are an idiot.

Michael Carland


Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2002 08:12:45 EST
Subject: FWD: Here's your chance to give NASA your opinion (Jan 31 Deadline)

NASA Prods Public to Tell Agency Where to Go; What to Do

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 07:00 am ET
24 January 2002

Here's Your Chance to be Heard
   Let NASA know what you think by filling out their survey here.   

Maybe you think NASA should send a probe to Pluto, pronto. Or perhaps you think the space agency should invest more in asteroid research to save our planet.

Whatever your pet space project, you've got until the end of the month to speak your mind. That's the deadline to provide input to the Solar System Exploration Survey, being conducted by the National Academy of Science's National Research Council at NASA's request.

The SSE Survey, as it is called, will give NASA a roadmap for spending on everything from Mercury to Pluto -- and all the planets and rocks between and beyond -- through 2013.

It will be the most comprehensive set of recommendations governing solar system exploration ever provided to NASA by an outside agency, experts say. The final report will include data and opinions provided by individuals and various groups of scientists, each with their own objectives and desires.

A primary goal of the SSE, also known as the Planetary Decadal Survey, is to provide "a prioritized list of the most promising avenues for space for flight investigations and supporting ground-based activities," according to a letter to the National Research Council (NRC) from Edward J. Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science. The SSE will also outline what's known about the solar system and which top science questions remain unanswered.

Your part

One tiny piece of the final report is a survey of public opinion. For that, the NRC turned to the non-profit Planetary Society, which last Thursday launched an online campaign to solicit views from the man and woman on the street.

"This is one of the most direct chances the public has to provide input to NASA", said Bruce Betts of the Planetary Society, a group whose members advocate exploration of the solar system. "I'd say it's very rare."

Betts, a working astronomer and former employee at NASA headquarters, said in an interview that many things influence NASA decisions on what missions will fly. Considerations include cost, of course, as well as the expected scientific return.

But the Federally funded agency has long known that public opinion is important, too. The NRC will ultimately decide what to do with the input collected in the public survey, but Betts is optimistic that it will hold some sway with NASA officials.

"I think it will have impact," he said, "but one has to realize it is one piece of the process."

The online survey asks participants to rate the importance, on a scale of 1-10, of eight objectives, including:

       -- Looking for life on other planets;
       -- Determining the suitability of other planets for human colonization, and;
       -- Searching for any potential danger to Earth from space

Another question asks which of 15 destinations, from planets to asteroids and comets, is the most important to pursue. In addition, educators are asked to provide input on how NASA can help in the classroom.

Individual views will be kept anonymous, according to the Planetary Society.

The online survey, accessible through Jan. 31, is here.

Input from scientists

Your views, along with those from the scientific community, will be funneled to a steering committee at the NRC, which will deliver the final SSE Survey report to NASA this summer.

Inside the planetary science community, the SSE is seen as a way to make a direct challenge to criticisms from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has called the researchers fractious in its dealings with Washington.

Mark V. Sykes, past chairman of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences, heads up the effort to gather input from researchers whose interests range widely, from the atmosphere of specific planets to the overall characteristics of, say, the asteroid belt.

In all, Sykes and his colleagues have received 23 so-called white papers representing more than 370 scientists. Many more researchers are aware of the individual papers and thus know that their views are represented, Sykes said.

He could not discuss what is in the papers, beyond the fact that they include topical discussions regarding the value of radio astronomy or the study of planetary atmospheres, as well as pleas for specific missions to Venus, Mars and elsewhere.

Sykes said no effort was made to squelch or homogenize views. "Everybody is saying what they think," he said. Scientists have had ample opportunity to make their cases, he added, a fact he expects will give the document wide support in the science community.

Regardless of how much sway the SSE holds in Washington, Sykes expects the document to be a valuable planning resource for future grant and mission proposals. "It's an incredibly useful exercise," he said.

Now, however, the NRC steering committee -- also staffed by scientists, who Sykes said have been very cooperative and helpful -- must prioritize all the input.

To that end, two simple questions were crafted: What are the three most significant discoveries of the past decade? What are the three most important investigations for the coming decade? A separate online survey seeks input from scientists on these questions, and the NRC will collate the results.

We asked Sykes whether the planetary science community, as a whole, is confident that NASA will in fact pay attention to the report.

"NASA has a track record for paying attention," Sykes said. He referred to roughly 40 years of similar reports prepared by the astrophysics community, folks who study objects and phenomena generally beyond the solar system. Among the missions that resulted from those decadal surveys was the Hubble Space Telescope.

Sykes also points out the Weiler, the NASA official who requested the survey from the NRC, is an astrophysicist and knows the value of such long-range planning rooted in input from the scientists in the trenches.

Assuming NASA buys into the survey's recommendations, the remaining question is to what extent Congress and the White House will grant the wishes that emerge from the report.

The report's timing may prove fortuitous. It will be delivered in a year when a slew of Federally funded programs face budget cuts and, importantly, just after the Bush Administration put the astronomical community on notice to adopt better business management practices.

In that light, the SSE Survey appears to be just the sort of thing Bush is looking for -- a united and prioritized method for determining where to put increasingly scarce funds.

The document "will have a lot of political utility," Sykes figures.

"It's a lot easier to sell a program to Congress if you say, 'This is what an entire science community thinks' rather than, 'This is what Mr. Joe Blow Important thinks.'"