The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet

The Wrong Stuff by Karl Grossman (Cover)

The Wrong Stuff details NASA's mishaps with plutonium-fueled missions to date and its unrealistic calculations about the probability of a major accident. In concludes with a warning about plans for multiple launches involving plutonium and the connection with the U.S. military's desire to "attain the ultimate high ground" by placing orbiting nuclear power systems to energize weaponry in space.

Photo of Karl Grossman, author of The Wrong Stuff

By Karl Grossman

Published by: Common Courage Press
1 Red Barn Road
Monroe ME 04951 USA
(207) 525-0900
fax: (207) 525-3068
(800) 497-3207

1436 West Randolph Street
Chicago IL 60607 USA
(800) 243-0138

The ISBN number for the book is 1-56751-125-2. Cloth, $22.95+S&H.

Here's how the book starts out (Chapter 1, page 1):

Sunday afternoon, November 17, 1996. President Bill Clinton, vacationing in Hawaii, is interrupted by an urgent message from the U.S. Space Command. The Russian Mars 96 space probe -- with a half-pound of deadly plutonium on board -- is falling back to Earth. The rocket's fourth stage mis-fired after launch the previous day from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. Based on its "tracking data," the U.S. Space Command advises Clinton that it "estimates the spacecraft will reenter the Earth's atmosphere" in a matter of hours "with a predicted impact point in east-central Australia." Clinton calls Australian Prime Minister John Howard -- who, coincidentally, the president plans to visit the very next day on his first stop before an Asia tour -- and promises "assets we have in the Department of Energy" to deal with any radioactive contamination. (See Note #1, below)

It is early morning in Australia. [#2] Howard places the Australian government, military and Emergency Management Australia on full alert. Preparations are made to implement the Australian Contingecy Plan for Space Re-Entry Debris, acronymed SPRED, developed in 1988 after concerns of a Soviet nuclear-powered satellite, the Cosmos 1900, coming down that year on Australia. At a press conference Howard informs his country that, "I can't tell you where it is going to land. I can't tell you when." [#3] Howard thanks the U.S. president for his phone call while criticizing Russia for failing to provide Australia with any warning about the impending reentry of the car-sized space probe. "It's obviously one of those situations where there is a proper obligation to share that kind of information in the interests of people taking adequate preparation," says Howard. [#4] He warns that Australians should use "extreme caution" if they come in contact with remnants of the plutonium-bearing Russian probe. [#5]

The White House issues a press release stating:

Russian space authorities believe there is no danger of nuclear contamination. Nevertheless, in what is considered to be the extremely unlikely event that one or more of the [plutonium] batteries break open, the United States is prepared to offer all necessary assistance to any nation to deal with any resulting problems [#6].

In fact, the probe had already landed the day before, very probably over Chile and/or Bolivia!

A sample from page 172, The Circus of History:

Nineteen years before the Challenger blew up, the Columbia Journalism Review did an extensive, two-part series on the lack of vigilant press coverage of the U.S. space program. That came a few months after the fire on a Saturn rocket to be used for an Apollo mission which killed astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.

"Of the questions raised by the Apollo fire of January 27, 1967, one of the most important, yet least discussed, is whether the American press, print and electronic, performed its traditional 'watchdog' role in covering the space program before the fire" wrote James A. Skardon. "Did the press demonstrate that it can monitor effectively such a powerful and virtually autonomous multi-billion-dollar governmental complex as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration?"

"The money, the risks, the national prestige, and the scope of scientific and military research involved add up to a public stake great enough to demand full and continuous information about NASA projects," he went on.

Skardon declared: "NASA is required by law to keep the public informed. Yet one of the revelations of the Apollo tragedy was that the public not only knew relatively little about NASA and the true state of Apollo before the fire, but much of what it did know was distorted."

Skardon quoted from a piece in the Nation earlier that year by William Hines, science editor of the Evening Star of Washington, "one of the handful of newsmen who have looked at NASA with a critical eye" who commented "that NASA's initials are jokingly said to stand for 'Never A Straight Answer.'"

The book is full of references. There are over 700 (732, actually) quotes, notes and references, all cited. The above quote was from James Skaron, "The Apollo Story: What the Watchdogs Missed," Columbia Journalism Review, Winter, 1967, p. 34.

The Notes from the first part shown above are:
#1 Cable News Network, November 17, 1996.
#2 (Describes Australian emergency response systems)
#3 Florida Today, "Crippled Mars Probe Crashes Harmlessly to Earth in South Pacific Waters," based on Associated Press dispatch, November 17, 1996
#4 "Australia Calls Russian Rocket Crash 'Happy Ending,'" Xinhua News Agency, November 18, 1996.
#5 Cable News Network, November 18, 1996.
#6 "Reentry of Russian Space Probe," Statement by the Press Secretary, The White House, November 17, 1996.


"Karl Grossman is a national treasure, and his absolutely vital expose on nukes in space is a matter of real global security. Everyone who values our survival on this planet must read this book -- and act on it."
-- Harvey Wasserman, Senior Advisor, Greenpeace.

"Kennedy's dream has become our nuclear nightmare. Strangelove and Vader are alive and working for NASA. This book should ignite a public outrage."
-- John Stauber, coauthor, Toxic Sludge is Good For You!: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

"Karl Grossman is an exceptional journalist and should be awarded a Pulitzer Prize."
-- Dr. Helen Caldicott

"Once again Karl Grossman forwarns us of another technology about to run amok. But this could be the last one."
-- Mark Dowie, former publisher and editor of Mother Jones

"The Wrong Stuff is absolutely the right stuff because it shows that we cannot possibly allow nuclear power to proliferate in space -- we've got enough to worry about with its half-life legacy on Earth."
-- Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop

"Courageous...mandatory reading for citizen activists throughout the world...should spark grassroots resistance to the absurdities of our national space policy."
-- Peter Phillips, Ph. D., Director, Project Censored, Sonoma State University

"Karl Grossman is a superb investigative reporter...his findings should unsettle every American."
-- Michael Mariotte, Executive Director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service

"An important book on an important subject"
-- Dan Hirsh, President, Committee to Bridge the Gap, former director, Adlai E. Stevenson Program on Nuclear Policy, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Karl Grossman has cut the Gordian knot of politics and plutonium which threaten to bring NASA down in his book, The Wrong Stuf."
-- LCDR Byron Morgan, former NASA official/NASA film maker

"Marks a breakthrough in the treatment of civilan/military space issues. Let the debate begin."
-- Bill Sulzman, Director, Citizens for Peace in Space

"Our only chance for survival is if enough world citizens read Grossman's book and call for a total ban on all weapons and nuclear technology in space."
-- Carol S. Rosin, Founder/President, Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space

"Whether you are a fervent pro-nuclear advocate for 'bigger and better' nuclear reactors on Earth or in Space -- or a fervent opponent -- this exposition will make you think! My suggestion 25 years ago and today is that we need long-term generous funding of independent adversary science -- to consider the potential downside of all huge technological ventures. Then we could have an informed dialogue between enthusiasts and critics on a level playing field. This book suggests that if we do not have a meaningful dialogue, we may go the way of the dinosaurs -- by methods not even remotely suspected."
-- John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., Founder, Biomedical Research Division, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Co-discoverer of Uranium-233 and its fissonability

"This is a terrific book! It's a 'page-turner' you cannot put down. It reads like a thriller but it's all TRUE!"
-- Russell D. Hoffman

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First placed online September 6th, 1997.
Last modified August 9th, 1999.
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