STOP CASSINI Newsletter #63 -- December 21st, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #63 -- December 21st, 1997

To: Subscribers ONLY! We never email this to anyone who has not requested a subscription. (News organizations and public officials excepted.) To unsubscribe, see instructions at the bottom of this newsletter.

From: Russell Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER

Date: 12/21/97


We received two interesting letters since the launch, one from Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and one from Dr. John Gibbons, Science Advisor to President Clinton (an appointed position, of course). The one from Barbara Boxer is extremely encouraging, if somewhat late, while the one from Dr. Gibbons is an insult and a great example of bad government. Both are presented here. Also an announcement of an organization to oppose the 1999 flyby, and some new rumblings about space debris.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #63 -- December 21st, 1997 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #63 -- December 21st, 1997 ******

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

***The Action Site to Stop the Cassini Earth Flyby


The Action Site to Stop the Cassini Earth Flyby announces the opening of its website:

This website is focusing on coordinating an International Action on June 24, 1998, one year before the scheduled swingby around Venus to accelerate the Cassini probe toward Earth. The record-speed Earth flyby - 42,300 mph - with a record amount of plutonium on board - 72.3 pounds - is expected to swingby Earth on August 18, 1999.

Your participation in stopping the Cassini Earth flyby could be the pivotal point in the reversal of the trend of nuclear recklessness that threatens the health of our entire world. To this end we are establishing a moderated posting mechanism, contents of which will be posted to our E-mail list.

To subscribe online go to

or send a clear message such as "Subscribe to NoFlyby list" to the NoFlyby Webmaster . The latter option is convenient if you wish to provide us with a list of E-mail addresses.

We invite you to visit the NoFlyby Action Site and to announce it to your friends and in your newsletters. We welcome and encourage the establishment of reciprocal links. Also, please forward this message to other E-mail lists you might have access to, inviting recipients to visit the NoFlyby Action Site - or provide us with a list of E-mail addresses and we will contact them directly.

Our Advisory Board currently consists of Prof. Karl Grossman, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Michio Kaku, Dr. Ernest Sternglass, Harvey Wasserman, Barbara Wiedner, Martin Kelly, Dr. Ross McCluney and Bruce Gagnon. We expect to be adding many more key individuals on the Board of Advisors for the Action Site to Stop the Cassini Earth Flyby.

We hope to be working with you on this project.

The Action Site to Stop the Cassini Earth Flyby

The NoFlyby Action Site is hosted on The Nonviolence Web and is an affiliated Project of Traprock Peace Center. "Together we explore nonviolence, foster Community, work to end war, promote communication and take initiatives on environmental and justice issues."


I recommend that all my newsletter subscribers subscribe to this NO FLYBY newsletter. There are hundreds of you, and you are each very important, and I won't be passing your names on to ANYONE, so YOU have to take the initiative! This newsletter will be published very infrequently from now on (in case any of you hadn't noticed). There may be an upsurge of issues nearer the time of the flyby, but generally, don't expect many issues of any sort. So I recommend everyone join this new organization and subscribe to their newsletter immediately. Their web site looks terrific, too! The Advisory Board looks great, except for two I haven't heard of, and one Big Glaring exception (who I hope is never given a lot of power!) And there are some very important names MISSING that I hope will be added soon. But still, it is undoubtedly just about as good a board as can be put together, and I strongly recommend to ALL MY SUBSCRIBERS to subscribe to their newsletter and support them in any way you can.

The flyby can certainly be stopped, because it's just plain nuts to go through with it, and I believe that anything that we as a nation are doing that is in fact nuts -- CAN be stopped. People DO occasionally come to their senses. So again, to all my subscribers: Please subscribe to this new organization's newsletter. I think it will be your best source of news regarding Cassini. I especially recommend it to any news media types who subscribe to this newsletter.

*** Government Space Debris report released:

Recent reports have come out about space debris. Specifically the National Research Council has released a report, and lo and behold, NASA is upset with it. Good! Nicholas ("Nick") Johnson of NASA has proven himself to be an apologist for NASA's insane space debris policies. Too bad. I thought he had potential. Nick Johnson says that the odds against a major collision with space debris for the space shuttle is about 1 in 700, and he says that those odds are a lot better than the report's estimate of 1 in 200.

Well, that's absurd! It would be 1 in 7000 if we hadn't been so incredibly careless during the first few decades of space flight, maybe even just 1 in 70,000. But prior space frontiersmen made a royal mess of Near Earth Orbit, and now Nick is arguing that a 1 in 700 chance of collision is not bad, and the National Research Council is arguing that it's 1 in 200 and it IS a bit of a problem. Well, I think the reason Nick Johnson doesn't worry is because he knows perfectly well there isn't a bloody thing he can do about it. The debris is up there, hurtling about the Earth, and it isn't going anywhere but around in circles, unless it collides with something.

99.9%+ of the debris in Near Earth Orbit is man-made. We made a real mess of things in no time flat, but at least Nick Johnson isn't worried.

*** A letter from Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA):

*** INCOMING LETTER (transcribed) ***

October 20th, 1997

Dear Mr. Hoffman:

Thank you for writing to state your opposition to the Cassini Space Probe. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, the Cassini Space Probe was successfully launched October 15, 1997 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is scheduled to reach Saturn in 2004.

Because of the concerns raised by many of my constituents, I have asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct an independent investigation of alternatives to the plutonium-powered Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) used in this mission. My objective in making this request is to find out all the facts about alternatives to, and risks of, RTG use.

I hope the results of the GAO investigation will spark a serious debate about the future of RTGs.

Thank you again for writing. I look forward to working together in the future.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator




Dear Senator Boxer:

Thank you for your letter of October, 1997 regarding the Cassini mission. I hope that the GAO investigation into the RTGs considers all the true costs of the RTG program, costs which will be borne by the American people for thousands of years even without an accident. I am referring first of all, to the cost of the plutonium enrichment process, which leaves a variety of radioactive byproducts which need to be delt with. I am also referring to the cost of the "nuclear cycle" to the American public: If nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons are both mistakes, which of course they have proven overwhelmingly to be, then the byproducts of these mistakes are also mistakes; at least, they should not be able to utilize the false security of the nuclear industry to justify their own existence. For example, the use of the Price-Anderson Act to insure Cassini and other nuclear-based space missions is absolutely irresponsible government; Price-Anderson was an abomination in the first place, designed to allow nuclear utility companies to operate in the face of terrible real and possible hazards, namely, anything that can go wrong -- doesn't matter. The utility companies won't have to pay, making investors willing to invest in the things. It's all bad money. We keep throwing good money after bad, and for every buck we get another 'rad' -- and other ad.

I hope the GAO investigation includes a look into the complete structure of the RTGs themselves, for I have heard many statements by people concerned with the makeup of the objects and the physical properties thereof. For example, are the gas vent valves properly designed and manufactured? These seem to me to be a key element in the structure of the device. If the GPHSs are lost, perhaps in a jungle or other inaccessible area, which is a very possible reentry scenario, will these valves work properly for a dozen centuries or so, until they are found, or the radioactivity subsides? Is all the documentation for the development of these valves available to the public? The nuclear industry is notoriously secretive about itself, supposedly for security reasons, but it should be clear to any thinking American that the real reason they are so secretive, is that they are not nearly as GOOD at anything that they claim they are, and they wish to keep the record of their failures away from public scrutiny. How much of this has happened in the course of the development of the RTG's? I believe a thorough investigation should include actual retrieval of ALL relevant documents relating to the development of the RTGs. Please ensure that the GAO investigation includes this research.

What about the various shells and casings? Have there been any manufacturing anomalies there? There are, after all, 3 RTG's with 18 GPHS's in each one, and each GPHS has a two-pack of pellets, for a total of 216 iridium-clad pellets. So during a flyby accident, even a 0.5% failure rate of the manufacturing process could mean a very significant loss of plutonium 238 to the environment. There are about 406,000 Curies of plutonium on board Cassini -- so a 0.5% loss would be over 2,000 Curies -- a very significant loss.

Also, I would hope that the investigation includes research into the very heart of the NASA containment system, and especially, how it compares to the Russian containment system recently "tested" by the Mars '96 probe that fell back to Earth in November, 1996. That was a wake-up call for Cassini, but NASA now says the Russian containment system is different from ours, and thus data is not relevant. This is patently incorrect, if only because a search for the Russian plutonium would have been a valuable test of our supposed ability to find such things, a procedure I for one have a lot of doubts about. It also would have been a humanitarian gesture of great political value in Bolivia/Chile where the probe presumably came down, I have read a pro-nuclear author state that they think that the Mars '96 plutonium was picked up by the Russians after the accident. This is highly unlikely and the world should know the truth. How different is the Russian method? Why does NASA consider it irrelevant?

Finally, I would hope that the investigation would cover the basic question of what NASA was doing, telling so many lies and falsehoods regarding their use of RTGs in the first place? I have documented online at my STOP CASSINI web site, and I have expressed to you in previous emails and letters, my outrage at NASA's behavior. I hope your investigation of the RTG issue includes a report on who were the responsible parties at NASA for the decision to use RTGs, the manner of their production, the manner of their promotion, and the manner of the suppression of alternative technologies, not to mention the absurd work of fiction published under the dignified title of an Environmental Impact Statement.

Please don't leave any stones unturned, Senator Boxer. As a private citizen acting at my own expense and with my own resources, I could only dig so deep. I was disgusted by what I found and hope your research provides the public with a credible report on what really is causing America to be setting such a bad precedent regarding our nuclear space policies.

Thank you again for writing.


Russell Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter


*** A letter from Dr. John Gibbons:

It should be noted that prior to his reported deadline on the matter last September, we sent Dr. Gibbons a complete photocopy of the printed version of the STOP CASSINI web site. All 1000 or 1500 pages or so of it. A huge document! All the articles by noted scientists, all the newsletters, all the NASA correspondence.

There is absolutely no indication, as you can see, that he even saw any of it. His response appears in fact to be a form letter. It makes points anyone looking at our material would know we are well aware of, and answers nothing specific.


Executive Office of the President
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Washington, D. C. 20502

November 4, 1997

Dear Mr. Hoffman:

Thank you for writing to me with your concerns about NASA's Cassini mission. I want to assure you that the Administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of this mission. Prior to my decision to authorize the launch, NASA opened the mission to public scrutiny through the Environmental Impact Statement process; the Department of Energy (DOE) conducted a seven-year analysis of mission risk and safety; and a team of experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the DOE, and NASA, plus a technical advisor from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, performed an extensive, independent evaluation of the DOE study.

The plutonium power units on board Cassini have been used successfully on many previous NASA missions, including Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Galileo and Ulysses. These units convert the heat from the radioactive decay of plutonium directly into electricity for use by a spacecraft and its instruments. The plutonium is in the form of a ceramic (plutonium dioxide). Also, since it is recognized that accidents can happen, the plutonium containers have been designed and tested by the DOE to withstand an extreme range of launch and reentry accidents.

Cassini is the last of the long-planned, large interplanetary spacecraft missions. Our Administration is committed to the development of smaller, more efficient space probes like the two we recently sent to Mars. As part of this effort, NASA and the DOE are currently developing advanced spacecraft power systems that are smaller and more efficient. NASA is also continuing research on advanced solar power options that might someday be feasible for use on future missions beyond Mars.

Thank you again for writing.


John H. Gibbons


*** MY RESPONSE: ***

I have not responded to Gibbons' babbling. He should be replaced with someone who responds to the public. His assurances of safety, hollow to begin with, are even more hollow, knowing the reams of documentation he has been sent in opposition to those assurances, documentation which he has not responded to. I thought, when I heard that President Clinton had assigned his Chief Science Advisor to take another look at the problem because of the ruckus the opposition had raised, that he would actually look at the opposition's statements. Clearly, he did not. He merely looked again at the NASA/DOE whitewash and proclaimed it clean.

He should take a look at section 2-12(e) of my rebuttal to NASA's rebuttal of my comments from April 1997 for a discussion of some of the lies NASA told HIM and everyone else about the RTGs. Here is the URL of that rebuttal:

John H. Gibbons is the worst sort of Government employee, using his position of power and access to betray scientific debate and public discourse. Just when we thought, perhaps, we would get an independent review of our concerns, albeit a late one, instead we got backstabbed. And thanked for writing.

By the way, the "advanced spacecraft power systems" he refers to are just slightly (5X) more efficient RTGs. The Clinton Administration is moving FULL SPEED AHEAD with a nukes-in-space agenda. Cassini isn't the last of anything.

*** A look around the Internet...

A battle from the fight against Cassini, found on the Internet. From The Daily Revolution, Tech Talk Tuesday, for 9/2/97. We accidentally neglected to publish a link to this report last September when it came out, and want to add a link to it for reasons which will be obvious if you check it out -- namely, it was written by our editor, Russell Hoffman:


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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First placed online February 3rd, 1998.
Last modified April 16thn, 1998.
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