STOP CASSINI Newsletter #35 -- August 28th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #35 - August 28th, 1997


This issue gives more news of the growing Shrimp Boat Protest Against Cassini, presents (another) letter in opposition to our views, and discusses NASA's reluctance to come out and debate this issue.

Sincerely, Russell D. Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #35 August 28th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #35 August 28th, 1997 ******

By Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman

*** The Shrimp Boat Protest Against Cassini Goes Underwater!

The Shrimp Boat Protest Against Cassini is becoming a grass-roots movement of its own! The same day that we announced the protest, Florida Today published an article about the current state of NASA and county/state/federal planning efforts to thwart Cassini protests. Here is the URL of the Florida Today article:

Here is a quote from the article regarding the marine situation:

"The officers will help the U.S. Air Force keep protesters from entering the launch pad area, while marine and air units from the state and Brevard County will help the U.S. Coast Guard watch the restricted area at sea."

In addition the article states that:

"Four county marine unit boats and four helicopters will provide assistance during the protests..."

It is unclear at this time what rights the Government thinks it has to stop boaters from sailing in international waters off the coast of Florida in October. Last Sunday NASA demonstrated that in a real situation the extent of its ability to force people out of the "launch-danger zone" appeared to be that they could ask the Air Force to drop streamers onto the decks of the shrimp boats that were within the zone with a "please move" message attached to the streamer. One of the boats didn't move and the launch was delayed for a day. So what exactly NASA thinks they can do about a Shrimp Boat Protest Against Cassini is a mystery. A statement from them about what their interpretation of the legal rights of boaters on international waters is would be helpful. Our understanding is that the shrimp boats were between 30 and 40 miles from the launch pad last Sunday, well into international waters which begin only three miles from the U.S. Shores..

Robert Cherwink has suggested using a small fleet of one- and two-person submarines. This is a great idea -- anybody got one? Three submarines -- or even less -- would probably be all it would take to stop the mission. Each one would surface until a patrol boat comes close, then it would descend and change position and resurface. By keeping in constant communication, one or more subs could always remain on the surface, or the patrol boats themselves would be in the "danger zone", with the result that, as NASA's ex-safety range officer turned anti-cassini protestor Alan Kohn has put it: "The range is fouled."

Even one submarine would be enough. It would simply enter the danger zone and get as close as possible while staying in international waters, then surface. When patrol boats get close, it descends and hides. The patrol boats then have to leave the area as well or the range is still fouled. When the patrol boats get near the edge of the range, the submarine surfaces again...

It is possible that NASA's risk level for a government patrol boat and for a civilian boat or submarine may be different, ie, maybe they won't care if the patrol boat is in the danger zone or maybe NASA has a smaller danger zone for its own boats, so a small fleet of submarines, which could always keep at least one above the surface, might be necessary. Surface ships attempting to enter the zone would serve as a distraction and an aid to the submariners.

Of course, who is to say that NASA would not be compelled not to launch simply by knowing that a civilian submarine was operating in the area, even if the submarine was under water at the time? Again, a clarification from NASA would be most helpful. But somehow, such a clarification is unexpected...

The Shrimp Boat Protest Against Cassini is really gaining momentum. If nothing else it is right now a big new NASA headache and puts pressure on them to talk to the opposition. And it's going to get worse for them! A reader of this newsletter sent me this item, showing some of the areas where we might be able to mobilize action:

"Greenpeace has at least a couple of boats on the Atlantic side -- just checked their webpage and have subscribed to a bunch of mailing lists so I can propose a blockade. There's also the something or other cruising society -- an international group of people who cruise -- big Florida chapter -- I'm looking for them; World Watch has at least one boat, but where it is I have no idea. There's another group, Sea something that will come to me -- that takes more extreme actions. (kinda like Greenpeace used to) But it's a natural! And I'll bet, using the net, we can mobilize a bunch from here."

If you have contacts at these groups, tell them to join our protest! They say the world is run by those who show up. All we have to do is show up. There need not even be further communication on the subject. Even one boat or better yet one submarine can do it. It can be a coordinated effort or an un-uncoordinated one. This comment in the Florida Today article is quite telling:

"The cancellation of a Delta rocket launch Sunday because a shrimp boat accidentally entered a danger zone illustrated how vulnerable to disruption space launches are."

In this protest, not one law is expected to be broken by any of the protestors. That's the beauty of it.

*** Correspondence with Franklin Ratliff


Thank you for "cc"ing me your email, shown in it's entirety below.

I am not referenced directly but some of my comments, unfortunately attributed to Karl Grossman, have been, so I took the liberty of answering it.

I have inserted answers directly within the document [online version has Ratliff's original remarks in italics]. Please feel free to forward this response as desired. I have "cc'd" the original "cc" list (Prettyman, Gagnon) and Mr. Grossman, Dr. Kaku, and Mr. Keidel as well. If anyone else is planning on answering your comments for themselves I would certainly appreciate seeing those answers as well.

Russell Hoffman

At 11:28 AM 8/28/97 Franklin Ratliff wrote:

NASA has been launching rockets for forty years. For each of those forty years there have been one or more occasions where somebody has had to recover the debris of and/or review the films of an exploded rocket. So why on God's green earth should anybody give any credibility at all to the idea that NASA does not have a thorough understanding of what happens when a rocket explodes?

Perhaps one reason to be uncomfortable is that concurrent with learning what happened and what pressures occurred in the explosion, one would think NASA might also have tried equally hard to learn what happened that CAUSED the explosion, yet rockets keep exploding. Nobody says NASA has to be perfect, but NASA itself needs to recognize that they are not, and take the appropriate safety precautions -- like not using 72+ pounds of Pu 238 dioxide in the first place.

I have yet to see Bruce Gagnon, Karl Grossman, or Professor Kaku propose any hypothesis or any theory of any kind to explain how an exploding Titan IV rocket would generate the temperatures and pressures needed to breach the containment of the plutonium pellets in Cassini.

Kaku does discuss this quite thoroughly at this article:

The 72 pounds of plutonium in Cassini is divided into dozens of pellets.

216 pellets in the RTGs to be exact, plus anywhere from 129 to 157 RHU heating units.

The plutonium is plutonium dioxide (a hard ceramic) not metallic plutonium. Since it is an oxide it cannot burn because it is already burnt.

Good point. "Incineration" in the upper atmosphere won't make it safe, it will make it MORE dangerous because a significant portion will be in respirable particles (less than about 10 microns in diameter).

Each pellet is inside an iridium cladding inside a carbon-carbon capsule inside a graphite impact shell inside a graphite aeroshell. Iridium has a melting point of over 4,000 degrees Farenheit and is one of the hardest pure metals known. Carbon-carbon is the heat shielding used on the really hot parts of the space shuttle skin as well as the lining of the space shuttle solid rocket booster exhaust nozzles. Graphite is used as the skin for fighter planes as well as the shell for racing helmets.

See section 2-12(e) of this next article, a rebuttal to NASA's rebuttal of my earlier comments on their SEIS, to learn about NASA's own numbers regarding the imperfect state of this container system:

How Grossman could be technically illiterate enough to believe that means an RTG is designed to burn up just stuns me.

He has never said such a thing. I did. I have since learned more about the system and understand more fully what NASA's parameters are. The RTGs, at the time I considered that possibility, were in fact EXPECTED to burn up 1/3 of their plutonium cargo in a flyby reentry accident. So I wasn't far off at all. I think calling them a "bank vault" as NASA is on record as having done, is a lot further from the real situation. They are designed specifically to release their plutonium at high altitude or not at all, which is not the same as simply being designed not to release their plutonium. Again, see section 2-12(e) of the above article.

I have yet to see Grossman, Gagnon, or Kaku cite any instance of any kind where a space probe (launched by NASA and under control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) doing either a flyby or orbital maneuver has made a navigational error so huge it has actually skimmed the atmosphere of a planet or crashed into a planet (or moon or asteroid).

A probe called Clementine failed to make it's scheduled flyby of an asteroid it was heading for because of an extended firing of the rockets. Right now a NASA satellite launched just days ago is tumbling out of control, probably due to a misfire as well. That satellite was launched last Friday after almost a year's delay because of "problems with the rocket". According to NASA, "Preliminary indications are that excessive thruster firing had occurred on one side of the spacecraft, causing it to spin when it should be stable on all three axes."

See this URL:

I also would like to know what Grossman, Gagnon, and Kaku think will happen when manned spaceflight technology hits the brickwall limitations of chemical rockets and needs for deep space missions true high energy rocket propulsion? High energy rocket propulsion available only with nuclear energy.

If it is unreasonably unsafe it should not be done. The real brick wall is the thinking that says we must risk "everything" to explore deep space.

One pound of oxygen-hydrogen mixture (for instance in the space shuttle) in space produces 450 pounds of thrust for one second. In solid core nuclear rockets fired at Los Alamos back in the sixties, one pound of hydrogen produced 825 pounds of thrust for one second. In theory in a gas core nuclear rocket one pound of hydrogen will produce over 3,000 pounds of thrust for one second.

Great, in theory.

Even with a solid core nuclear rocket a manned mission to Mars will have a flight time to Mars of about six months. If gas core nuclear rockets perform according to theory flight time to Mars would be reduced to a couple of weeks.

At the speeds you are suggesting you'd have a bigger problem with interstellar space debris than currently exists because of the law stating that kinetic energy increases with the square of the velocity. Faster is not necessarily better.

Since the sun is itself a nuclear reactor (i.e., fusion) I would also like to know what basis Grossman, Gagnon, and Kaku use for making a distinction between naturally occuring nuclear reactors in space versus artificial nuclear reactors.

The sun in 93 million miles away and is not a threat to civilization at this time.

The Viking landers that landed on Mars twenty years ago used RTGs to provide their electrical power. On the Pathfinder lander and rover all of the electricity is produced by solar power. I would like to know how does Gagnon fit this into his thesis that NASA's "hidden agenda" with Cassini is to promote nuclear power?

I have no idea what Gagnon has said but I am sure that it is only by the fact that there is strong scientific and grass-roots opposition to Cassini that NASA is now stating this (as shown to me by Perry Keidel):

However, my understanding is that Grossman and Keidel have other NASA documentation indicating that this statement by Mary Beth Murrill is in fact, wrong.

Franklin Ratliff

Russell D. Hoffman

*** Call for congressional hearings

It is clear that NASA is unwilling to respond to the many charges that have been leveled against it regarding Cassini, not just by this writer but by many others as well, including respected scientists such as Michio Kaku and John Gofman, ex-NASA employees like Horst Poehler, former NASA scientist, and Alan Kohn, mentioned above, as well as peace activists, environmentalists, and others from all over the world. Long gone are the days when Louis Friedman could even begin to justifiably call us "a small group of activists." But even so, the average American still will say to you "What's a Cassini" if you ask the if they have heard of "Cassini".

Right now, NASA has agreed to one debate, called a "Community Conversation", with one activist, Bruce Gagnon of FCPJ (Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice), which will take place September 16th and is sponsored by Florida Today, the space coast newspaper mentioned above. It will be held at 7pm at the Florida Today Building on U.S. 1 just south of Melbourne. The public is invited and might even be allowed to ask a question or two from the floor.

This event in no way completes NASA's obligation to respond to its critics. Only a Congressional Hearing, with sworn testimony from ALL the leaders and experts on both sides, can possibly achieve what is needed prior to launch.

We are making some progress in Congress as well. Here is a letter from Karl Grossman to Jane Prettyman regarding an important development along those lines:

Date: Sat, 16 Aug 1997 06:46:49
To: Jane Prettyman
From: Karl Grossman
Subject: Re: The Solar Solution for Cassini

Dear Jane,

There's been a big political development on Cassini. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California has written to NASA calling for a postponement of the Cassini launch "until alternative power sources are thoroughly researched and an independent safety review is completed." She becomes the first member of Congress to take a stand against Cassini. At long last!!!!!

Her letter to Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., NASA associate administrator for space science, states: "On behalf of Marin County Peace Conversion, an organization in my district, I am writing to express my concerns about the Cassini/Huygens mission...While I strongly support the scientific exploration that this mission represents, I remain concerned about the safety of the mission. I ask that you consider postponing the Cassini launch until alternative power sources are thoroughly researched and an independent safety review is completed."

The plutonium on Cassini will be "surrounded by protective materials," her letter acknowledges, "However, considering the risk that nuclear materials pose to humans, regardless of how carefully designed and managed by NASA, I believe that alternative energy sources must be considered. For instance, the dramatic advances in solar technology over the last several years clearly demonstrate its potential as a power source."

NASA, meanwhile, is busy flooding Congressional offices with baloney about Cassini -- claims that the modules containing the plutonium being built like "bank vaults," that the likelihood of an accident is infinitesimal, and as you note, the spin that solar photovoltaic could not serve as an alternative to plutonium-generated electrical power. A Congressional hearing on Cassini, in which NASA officials would have to testify under oath and face independent scientists and other critics could open up the whole can of plutonium worms and get at the truth. I believe this is important to work for. Perhaps Congresswoman's Woolsey's stand might help in getting a Congressional hearing arranged.

Incidentally, "The Wrong Stuff: The Nuclear Threat To Our Planet," is now at Common Courage Press and moving to bookstores around the nation.

Karl Grossman


The money we've spent on Cassini so far is equal to about the amount of money America lost to spoiled and spilled milk in the last TWO MONTHS. It is not really that much money. Let's put things in perspective. We're a big country. We can absorb the loss of a grounded Cassini, but we cannot absorb or afford the loss that an accident could create.

Let's slap NASA on the wrist for trying to get away with the RTG solution and forbid them from ever doing it again. Let's start to hammer on the other countries to outlaw ALL nukes in space, which for a variety of reasons is a good idea.

Those reasons include health reasons based on the dangers of environmental damage from launch explosions and from possible incineration upon reentry.

Also what one might call behavioral reasons wherein, the military is forbidden from, or at least limited in, its use of space warfare programs because we the people of the world forbid nuclearization of space, which has the side benefit of removing the power source for much of the military's dreams. Perhaps by the time they figure out a safe method of achieving the "vast" amounts of power that nuclear solutions can supply, society would have learned not to fight itself over everything. Until then, power requirements for peaceful purposes can be supplied through solar sources. No Nukes in Space is a big step towards No Militarization of Space, which should remain a goal of all mankind.

Finally the ultimate (for some people, that is) best reason is cost. Nuclear solutions are expensive solutions. And that's when they work according to design parameters. In the event of failure the nuclear choice's cost can exceed the GNP of most small countries.

Right now, NASA needs to be slapped on the wrist and have a few forced policy changes. A $1.4 Billion dollar NASA mistake, when all we risk losing is the money, is not such a big deal. But if NASA launches Cassini, they should be slapped harder and/or elsewhere. To launch now would be the height of gall and arrogance. Actually launching Cassini right now, in the face of all this concern and question, would be an act of aggression against Democracy, an act of denial of scientific principal, and an act for which far more than a slap on the wrist is the appropriate response when, someday, justice and reason finally surfaces in America, and accounts are properly balanced.

Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen


Please feel free to post these newsletters anywhere you feel it's appropriate! THANKS!!!

Welcome new subscribers!

Thanks for reading,
Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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