STOP CASSINI Newsletter #52 -- October 4th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #52 - October 4th, 1997


NASA is reporting that Clinton's Science Advisor Dr. John Gibbons has recommended approval of the Cassini launch. We also respond to a baseless attack against the anti-nuclear Cassini crowd (and it gets more crowded all the time!) which we found in a link presented by the National Space Society's pro-nuclear Cassini page. And more...

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #52, October 4th, 1997 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #52 October 4th, 1997 ******

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

*** Clinton's Science Advisor ignores the facts and okays the launch.

From a NASA press release located at this URL:

~~~~~ FROM: ~~~~~

"NASA and its interagency partners have done an extremely thorough job of evaluating and documenting the safety of the Cassini mission. I have carefully reviewed these assessments and have concluded that the important benefits of this scientific mission outweigh the potential risks," said OSTP Director Dr. John H. Gibbons, who signed the launch approval.

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

Nowhere in the full NASA press release is there ANY indication that Dr. Gibbons actually reviewed the OPPOSITION statements and assessments at all!

Furthermore, no document has been made public (that I know of) answering those objections, or indicating how Dr. Gibbons came to his assessment despite those objections. Doctor Gibbons has taken on a great responsibility but has chosen not to explain to the public how he made is decision. I hope he took good notes though, for the time may yet come when a public explanation will be required...

Although news reports (such as AP wire service reports) have taken this press release to mean that "The White House" has approved the launch, in fact we do not know if this means President Clinton himself has signed off on the launch. The press release really only stated that his science advisor had approved it! As of this writing, President Clinton has not to my knowledge made a public statement giving HIS reasons for approving the launch. All the report said was that his Chief of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Gibbons, has approved it, which is NOT the same thing.

Perhaps President Clinton has not approved the launch at all, and perhaps he is still considering the growing strength of the public opposition, combined with the incomplete science NASA is presenting (which Dr. Gibbons somehow just approved), combined further with the fact that the launch can perfectly well simply be delayed long enough for hearings without impacting the mission's science objectives substantially (NASA's weak claims to the contrary notwithstanding).

It appears possible that President Clinton has NOT, in fact, approved the launch at all yet, he has merely been advised by his science advisor that he should. Perhaps NASA and the mass media press are combining to twist the truth, calling Gibbon's approval "White House" approval since he does indeed work there.

*** NASA claims to be "really concerned". But about what?

According to newspaper reports, "NASA has been surprised by the public reaction to the launch." (AP/The Orlando Sentinel wire report published in the San Diego Union Tribune October 4th 1997).

The report quotes Mary Beth Murrill, spokesperson for NASA: "I think it's fair to say that we've been really concerned about our inability to keep up with the spread of falsehoods about the mission."

Gee, she thinks NASA is having trouble stopping the spread of "falsehoods"! That is my biggest problem as well, Ms Murrill!

The report goes on to say that Murrill said that NASA is surprised by the difference between the reaction to Galileo in 1989 and the current reaction to the Cassini mission.

"I think it's the same amount of attention multiplied by the Internet" she said.


It has helped us to stop the spread of NASA falsehoods about the mission, and to counter the NASA bad science with a description of what kind of science America really wants to see. Compassionate, thoughtful science that respects human life. If Cassini kills 200,000 people (Kaku's rough estimate) or 1.5 million people (Gofman's rough estimate) or 20 to 40 million people (Sternglass's rough estimate) or even 120 people (NASA's "fictional" estimate!) that should translate to a loss of many scientists, who might have been able to help solve the world's biggest problems, and who might have come up with better science than NASA has been able to do.

*** Another disgraceful tirade against good American Scientists:

The unfair tirades against the anti-Cassini scientists continue with a comment written by Walter Eric Kurtz III and presented at his web site, found in a link from NSS's pro-nuclear Cassini page:

~~~~~ FROM: ~~~~~

"Yet, some reactionaries would have us kill this mission, even though it is on the verge of launch."

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

On the verge of launch? This mission has been opposed FROM THE START by RESPECTED AMERICAN SCIENTISTS. From the very earliest planning stages.

Perhaps the success of attempts such as this one, to hide these esteemed scientists, to silence their voices, and to speak disrespectfully of them, has only recently been somewhat broken. (But not by this biased statement.) Despite the author's assertion, Cassini has been opposed strongly and wisely from the start.

And by who?

Who does this man dare to call "reactionaries"? Dr. John Gofman, who isolated the world's first working quantities of Pu239, which the Manhattan Project needed to build the nuclear bombs that ended World War II? Is this an example of someone Walter Eric Kurtz III would DARE to stand in front of and label a "reactionary"?

Or Dr. Michio Kaku, hand-picked by Edward Teller himself as a young scientist to work on top nuclear projects, now regarded as one of the worlds' 25 leading theoretical physicists, author of the best-seller "Beyond Einstein". This is another man Walter Eric Kurtz III would dare to stand in front of and label a "reactionary"?

Or Dr. Horst Poehler, 22-year veteran of NASA research labs, a retired senior scientist with numerous NASA contractors and a health physicist? Would the highly opinionated Walter Eric Kurtz III also dare to stand in front of him and label him a "reactionary"?

~~~~~ Walter Eric Kurtz III continues... ~~~~~

They also object to the use of a series of close encounters by the spacecraft with Earth and some of the other planets in order to gain needed velocity, fearing that an accidental collision might occur (never mind that we have been calculating such trajectories for 40 years and haven't missed once). Essentially, their objections seem to come down to a knee-jerk reaction against anything with the words "nuclear" or "plutonium" in it.

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

Haven't missed once? In what, barely a dozen attempts? It only takes once to have a major disaster on our hands. There is no "knee-jerk reaction" going on here except the pro-nuclear Cassini sides' sudden increased outbursts of unfair misrepresentations. The reason for opposing Cassini specifically has to do with the 406,000 Curies of Plutonium 238 and Plutonium 239 (and a few other isotopes as well) that are scheduled to be on board.

If this is just a knee-jerk reaction, then -- as your side points out -- where was the strong opposition to Mars Pathfinder? It had only about 1/5000th as much plutonium on board as Cassini will have, so I would say the outburst was about 1/5000th as strong.

Our opposition is balanced and in proper proportion to the dangers Cassini posses to mankind. Your knee-jerk reaction, on the other hand, is baseless and unfounded, and highly illogical.

~~~~~ Walter Eric Kurtz III continues... ~~~~~

In the past, the objections of such fringe fanatics have been given all the attention they properly deserve. Unfortunately, this time they have gotten the ear of the media and several House of Representative members (Ronald V. Dellums, Lynn Woolsey, Peter Stark, all of California, and Bernard Sanders of Vermont), who are now asking the President and NASA to scrub the project.

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

There you go with your name-calling again. "Fringe fanatics." Can you stand before those scientists mentioned above, and the many others as well, and add also the aforementioned Congressional representatives, and others such as Jerrold Nadler of New York and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who have all called for hearings at least and a halt at best, and dare to call them all "fringe fanatics". You are opposing American citizens with a right to be heard.

~~~~~ Walter Eric Kurtz III continues... ~~~~~

The opponents think that if they make a big enough stink they can stop Cassini, and to this end they are spreading wild doomsday rumours, unsubstantiated dire predictions, and general disinformation in their efforts.

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

While some opponents have differing claims from other opponents, the only wild rumors I have heard are the absurd claims that the RTGs are built like "bank vaults", that Concentrated Solar Arrays and other alternatives could not provide a solution for going to Saturn, and most of all -- that "even if all the plutonium were vaporized, virtually no health effects would occur."

There is no question about which side is most guilty of spreading lies and rumors, distorting the truth, and attempting to silence the opposition rather than attempting to answer their specific scientific objections on specific scientific grounds.

*** German translation of Michio Kaku's article now available:

Michio Kaku's article "Accident Risks for the Cassini Mission" has been translated into German courtesy of the Netzwerk Friedenskooperative (Network of the German Peace Movement).

Here is the URL of the original report by Michio Kaku:

Here is the location of the translated version:

Note that there is also a german translation of the article "Cassini: An In-Depth Look" by newsletter editor Russell Hoffman. It was written January 30th, 1997. My, haven't we all come a long way since then!!!

Here is the URL of the original document:

Here is the location of the translated version:

*** Comments concerning the dilution solution to pollution:

A pro-nuclear Cassini person sent us a rather silly letter which included a document which calculated out the plutonium doses available from a full Cassini flyby incineration. It was created by some college students and the source location of the document is at this URL:

The document is a mathematical exercise in the dilution solution to pollution.

~~~~~ MY RESPONSE ~~~~~

To: "P"
From: Russell Hoffman
Date: 10/3/97
Re: Your message "cc"'d to me and others.



At our STOP CASSINI web site are several ... technical articles you might want to read, by Dr. Michio Kaku, Dr. Horst Poehler, Dr. Ross Wilcock, Dr. Ross McCluney, and others.

As to NASA lies, we and others have documented them time and again. Even Louis Friedman, president of the Planetary Society, in a letter to me (published in newsletter #18), wrote "NASA's lie about shuttle safety in the 1980s does not mean they are lieing now...". He is STRONGLY for Cassini and obviously now trusts NASA, but the quote is certainly relevant to your comments about whether NASA lied in the past or not.

As to the paper your friends prepared, a few comments are in order. First of all you've averaged away a lot of factors that it is inappropriate to average away, despite the fact that it complicates the math to include them. For example, averaging the weight to "100kg" ignores the 10 million newborns around the world at any one time, who are much more susceptible to radiation hazards than adults.

Also, the "internationally recognized safety standards" which you say are "based upon the total amount of energy absorbed" are in fact, best described as being based ENTIRELY on what are DETECTIBLE LEVELS OF INCREASED HEALTH EFFECTS, such as cancer and leukemia. The difference is like night and day, because particles of vaporized, inhaled plutonium can cause health effects around the world that are quite undetectable with today's modern statistical and scientific tools. Yet it is perfectly reasonable to postulate that these deaths occur, as the scientists in our group have done.

Image, for example, trying to detect a hidden health danger (any health danger, this is an example) which caused just 1 ten thousandth of 1 percent of the world population, chosen at random, to die each year. This would be a totally undetectable rate by any modern method, yet each year it would mean 5,800 deaths or nearly 60,000 deaths each decade. That from a rate of just 1 ten thousandth of one percent per year. Utterly undetectable.

As a starting reference, 27 micrograms of Pu 239, by the way, is about 125 times the permissible dose because it is about 12.5 times [the dose at which health effects can be detected]. Pu 238 is about 280 times more radioactive than Pu 239 (it's half life is correspondingly shorter) so a particle about .1 micrograms in size of Pu 238 would be about 125 times the permissible limit. This is dangerous stuff and your ultimate proposition is that it can be spread out around our planet so thin it won't kill anybody. That's an absurd, unscientific, and inhumane gamble.

Note that a Cassini flyby incineration will produce vaporized plutonium in a spectrum of sizes with about 20% to 66% in "respirable" particles, according to NASA's June 1995 EIS, page 4-51:

Also, regarding "background radiation" (which is NOT from particles inhaled or ingested into the body!) it has hardly been proven to be harmless! About a quarter of the world's population will die of cancer. These cancers are caused by what? I would suggest that manmade pollutants are a major source, including radiation pollution, and background radiation is also a source. There are other sources but to suggest "background radiation" is harmless is absurd.

Lastly, your friends' careful (I assume) calculations assume a worldwide even dispersal, which even people on your own side laugh at for it's implausibility.

Suggested reading: First, the biography of Dr. John Gofman, presented in my STOP CASSINI newsletters #24 and #25, and also his book Radiation and Human Health.

Newsletter #24:

Newsletter #25:


Russell Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter

*** NASA Press Release indicates current wind direction will not affect the launch decision:

NASA has issued a press release and it includes an indication of the extent of their concern over which way the winds are blowing the day of the launch, now firmly scheduled for no earlier than October 13th at 4:55 am, according to NASA. A radioactive plume can blow right over Disney World for all NASA cares.

~~~~~ FROM: KSC Release No: 176-97 ~~~~~

Coverage at the NASA Causeway location is predicated on acceptable wind conditions the morning of launch. As with all Titan IV launches, no one will be permitted to be downwind of any potential chemically toxic plume formed by propellants as a result of a launch mishap. Should wind conditions be unfavorable on launch day, media coverage will be from the north side of the barge turn basin adjacent to the NASA-KSC News Center. Should wind conditions turn unfavorable or be forecast to become unfavorable prior to launch, media could be asked on short notice to relocate to the barge turn basin area.

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

*** Marilyn Vos Savant answers a question about Space Debris:

I often enjoy reading Ask Marilyn, by Marilyn Vos Savant, who is listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" Hall of Fame for "Highest IQ", so it was with extra pleasure that I found this exchange in Parade Magazine, October 5th, 1997, page 22:


"As a space shuttle orbits Earth, is there any risk of it -- or an astronaut on a spacewalk -- getting hit by anything? --M.Q. Fox, Northbrook, Ill.

"Yes. This is a serious problem -- one that grows worse every day. There are tons of debris now orbiting the Earth, and this space garbage threatens all manner of missions, including the communication and weather satellites. Some orbits have become flying junkyards of discarded, smashed and exploded objects ranging in size from cabbages to washing machines. Whirling rings of what I call junkstorms, including billions of bits as small as grains of sand, now encircle the globe along with them.

"Even a small chunk of rubble traveling at that speed -- 25,000 miles an hour -- can have the impact of a hand grenade. Space shuttles routinely return from orbit disfigured. And for our very fragile astronauts, the risk is far greater."

~~~~~ END OF CLIP ~~~~~

Thank you, Marilyn Vos Savant!!!! Nothing I could ever have said on the subject will wake up more people to this problem that these well crafted words in one of the most widely read papers on Earth.

Latest estimates (1995) indicate there is about 2 million kilograms, which is about 4.4 million pounds or 2.2 THOUSAND tons of debris, encircling the Earth within 2000 km. There is even more that is further out, all the way to 25,000 miles above the Earth and even further. Some is in highly elliptical orbits above the Earth while some is in nearly circular orbits at varying altitudes and speeds. But all of it is moving very fast! The average relative velocity when space debris collides with other space debris or with operating spacecraft, is about 10 km/sec (22,000 mph) (From: Interagency Report on Orbital Debris, 1995).

A piece of space debris just 1 millimeter in diameter, at that relative speed, can cause structural damage to a satellite (Interagency report, page 8.) Cassini, at 42,300 miles per hour, can probably be destroyed by an even smaller object -- perhaps 0.3 millimeters, which is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence (depending on what font style and what size monitor you are using). Kinetic energy increases with the square of the velocity. That's why such small objects pack such a punch. Or to put it another way, where did you think all that energy created in the launch goes? As the rocket climbs and gains speed, it gains potential energy which might later be dissipated by a collision (creating more debris) or be turned to smoke and ashes in a fireball as it finally descends back into the atmosphere. That may not happen for millions of years, depending on the orbit. A recent NASA satellite, the Lewis bird, failed a few days after launch and orbited as debris for about a month before flaming back into the atmosphere.

Whenever Cassini passes through this debris field that encircles Earth, both at the time of the initial launch and then later, during the flyby in 1999, it is at the mercy of the gods, because we can only track the largest 8,000 or so pieces, down to about the size of a softball (about 10 cm or 4 inches, or perhaps you could say, about the size of a (small) cabbage). How well we track those is debatable; at best we know their trajectories within about 250 or perhaps 500 meters, at worst, we keep losing them completely and have to find them again; and they are out of view much of the time. (It is only when they are near Earth that they are actually tracked, the rest of the time their position is calculated...).

Objects with high, highly circular orbits, must be much larger to be tracked. In the Geosynchronous orbital area, about 36,000 km (25,000 miles) above Earth, where about 600 of the 8000 tracked objects reside, we can only see things about the size of a washing machine. But out there as everywhere else above the atmosphere, even a grain of sand can destroy a spacecraft or a space suit...

For an introduction to Space Debris:


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


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