STOP CASSINI Newsletter #65 -- April 16th, 1998

Copyright (c) 1998

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Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #65 - April 16th, 1998


This newsletter is just one letter, a response to Murray Slovick, Editor and Publisher, IEEE Spectrum, for the Cassini-related article which appeared in the March, 1998 issue.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #65, April 16th, 1998 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #65 April 16th, 1998 ******

*** A response to Murray Slovick, IEEE SPECTRUM **************************************

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

To: Murray Slovick
Editor & Publisher
cc:Alfred Rosenblatt
Managing Editor
IEEE Spectrum
345 E 47th St
NY, NY 10017

From: Russell D. Hoffman

April 15th, 1998

Dear Sir,

I am the webmaster for the Stop Cassini Web Site mentioned in the "To Probe Further" section of the GRAND ILLUSION: THE RISKS OF CASSINI article published in the March, 1998 issue of IEEE Spectrum. I am disgusted that such a biased and promotional piece would appear in what I would have thought was an austere and responsible publication. It was a long article, by most standards, about a topic that should have been covered (since you have decided to cover it at all) ten years prior, when work was beginning. Back then the part in your article about the $3 billion juggernaut Cassini has become would have been, as it should have been, irrelevant. Some journalists, notably award winning journalist and videographer Karl Grossman, have indeed been raising awareness of NASA's nuclear madness for ten years and longer. Where were you then, when Cassini was on the drawing table and scrapping the bad idea would have been easy (come to think of it, where was I?)?

If the debate about Cassini became less of a scientific debate in the end (just prior to launch, that is) than it should have been, it was because the truth of what the "mad scientists" at NASA/JPL are doing had been kept quiet -- as much as possible -- for lo those many years.

I for one, thought that after the (unmentioned in your article) April, 1964 SNAP-9A disaster (I use that term intentionally and, I am sure, accurately) NASA had in fact learned its lesson, and was not using such vast quantities of plutonium in its faulty rocketry. Hence it was not until late 1996 when I heard that there was a plan to launch 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide that I re-acquainted myself with the issue. What I found was astonishing. In particular, I was and remain aghast at the good, intelligent, and undeniable scientists who are being silenced on this issue.

For those who like to nitpick, yes, the SNAP-9A is defined by NASA as an "intentional" release of plutonium because that is the way the Pu powerpacks were designed back then. That is, until SNAP-9A made NASA see the light, due to adverse publicity from the event. Consider (it will be discussed further, below) that any deaths which might have occurred or are occurring now from SNAP-9A are hidden from view by nature of the fact that the statistical degree of accuracy needed to study the deleterious effects of the disaster are unattainable by modern statistical methodologies. (This statement is proven, I would say, by two common-knowledge facts: 1) It is a "given", that the effect of SNAP-9A -- whatever that effect might be -- upon the world population would be far, far smaller than the effect from second-hand cigarette smoke on that same population during that same period (every opposition scientist would surely agree with this), and 2) Scientists still debate whether even that (second hand cigarette smoke) is dangerous (though the lay person is by now quite convinced that it is, at least the lay Californian.)

SNAP-9A deserved at least a mention in your article, especially because back then, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan (Surely you have heard of him? He is considered the father of health physics.) warned NASA that the idea of sending 2+ pounds of plutonium into orbit and have it be designed to be intentionally released in case of reentry was ludicrous, dangerous and foolish. NASA's response at the time (prior to launch) was that the rocket had a "one in 10 million" chance of reentry and therefore there was no reason to build protective housings.

So much for NASA's numbers, eh? If you argue against me that was more than 30 years ago, recall that we all should have been debating this decades ago in the first place. Rockets went up packed with plutonium back then in unshielded containers. Where was the debate? The scientists involved were good scientists. The debate, however, was silenced. Cold War Politics and all that rubbish. It must not be silenced now. Not in your magazine, not anywhere. It is a scientific debate that needs to be undertaken. And not by publishing misleading "perspectives" six months after the launch.

As I said, it was a long article, and you can bet this must be a long response. There is much that is wrong in what IEEE SPECTRUM Contributing Editor Steven J. Marcus has spewed forth, which needs to be answered.

Before I discuss the article specifically, let me go ahead and state my "crudentials" (as one pro-Cassini email referred to them in the heat of the debate last year): I would dare not call myself a scientist by your most likely definition, something about a piece of highly-regarded parchment. Nor am I a member of IEEE, though perhaps because of my involvement in computers (long before webmastering the Stop Cassini site) I should have applied for membership, and have made a foolish professional decision in that regard. I am a computer programmer and have been for nearly two decades, writing animation software in Assembler language for PC's and compatibles, and then using that software to create educational programs for colleges and universities and adult education facilities. My clients have included subcontractors to NASA, come to think of it! My software is used all over the world. My job frequently demands long conversations with highly regarded scientists and doctors in order to develop animations and text to describe phenomena such as mechanical pump technology or human health. I have lectured to grant recipients of the National Science Foundation in Washington DC; my animation software has been exhibited in the museum of the National Institutes of Health (perhaps is still on display there, I don't know) and lastly, I am pleased to note that recently (this morning) I sent out "beta" of my latest program, the release of which I had delayed to debate Cassini with all comers, because it seemed like the right thing to do. And I'll note here, Mr. Marcus did not contact me, who was referred to as "Mr. Stop Cassini", again, by "vociferous" pro-Cassini emails received here last year. So much for Marcus' research. He does not quote Dr. Horst Poehler, nor Dr. John Gofman, nor Dr. Ernest Sternglass, and he barely mentions Dr. Ross McCluney, and there are dozens of other scientists, with combined thousands of years of professional experience, who oppose Cassini, who were marginalized in his article.

I am not one of them, but I have read much of their work, and feel at least as qualified as Mr. Marcus must be (judging by his article) to comment on the issue.

But my point about my "crudentials" is simply that it can probably be agreed that I am at least somewhat capable of logical thinking. And I am no Luddite. That my products have been favorably reviewed more than a dozen times does indicate that my conversations with experts and my ability to collect and present information logically is, at the very least, adequate. It was with that attitude I "tackled" Cassini last year. I tackled it with a fervor for ALL the facts, not just half the facts as Mr. Marcus has done. What I found horrified me and it should horrify anyone who cares to investigate the matter. Yes, I went in as a "skeptic" with an admitted "antinuclear" belief. That has not been shaken. But what I found went way beyond mere antinuclear opposition. NASA lied, covered up and obfuscated. Truth, honor and trust in the scientific method were NASA's first casualties from Cassini.

First, there is the issue of solar alternatives. I cite, specifically, a report commonly known now (since I posted it at my web site, after Karl Grossman obtained it using the Freedom of Information Act) as the "Rockey" report. This report formed the entire basis, as published in their 1995 Environmental Impact Statement on the Cassini mission, of NASA's opposition to the use of solar power on board Cassini.

Yet the sections of the report which are quoted in the 1995 EIS are taken completely out of context! When one reads the entire report, it is clear -- absolutely unequivocally crystal clear -- that the D. E. Rockey et al report's conclusion was that not only COULD solar fulfill the mission requirements for a Saturn probe, but it would in all likelihood be cheaper as well! This is all completely ignored by Mr. Marcus.

Such facts as Mr. Marcus presents to the contrary, such as "Saturn's great distance from the sun gives the large planet only 1 percent of the light intensity hitting earth" hardly tell the whole story. Indeed, the real story behind Cassini's use of nuclear-based energy includes far too many similar crimes against science, besides the afore-mentioned misuse of their own scientists' reports. Not only misused, of course, but NASA attempted to hide the truth completely from scrutiny -- the "Rockey" report would be unattainable to most people, but Grossman teaches journalism, including, among other things, use of the FOIA at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. He was dogged in his efforts (which took several YEARS) to obtain this important talisman. (It was a talisman to NASA, who used it in the 1995 EIS to "magically" pronounce solar not an option for Cassini, which they hoped to get away with by not letting the actual report out in public.)

We all know NASA has a short memory. SNAP-9A is completely forgotten there, for example. The lessons of the Challenger accident are quickly being forgotten as well. NASA has a short memory, and NASA makes mistakes. The mistake here was, they forgot Grossman had the original report. They at least could have ignored it but no, they misused it instead!

NASA makes mistakes, and despite your article's quoting a pro-nuclear Cassini person's silly comments to the contrary, no one in the anti-Cassini group got any egg on their faces when the rocket went off "virtually flawlessly" (but several weeks late) 15 October last year. One launch proves "virtually" nothing, and in fact, such a claim of egg on our faces only puts it on the face of the claimant! Nor will a successful flyby -- if it is allowed to proceed, that is -- put any egg on protestors' faces. Nobody I know is saying a flyby accident is "likely" or anything like that. Simply that it's too risky. By our definition, which we each believe in our own hearts to be a reasonable one. I mountain bike, I drink (though not at the same time). We all make personal risk assessments in life all the time. I believe Cassini is too dangerous, and these are my reasons. If each side were allowed to present itself fairly, the debate would be over and who knows who would win? As yet, it hasn't even begun. Mr. Marcus's one-sided "perspective" was hardly a fair volley. It bordered on propaganda in its erroneous statements.

Of course, an accidental crash into Earth during the 1999 flyby would put a lot of egg in a lot of places. Not just on NASA and its supporter's faces, but in particular on your idea of a leading opposition spokesperson, the first one you quote, namely Bruce Gagnon, for having suggested (according to your article) that a Cassini accident could "destroy the earth's ecosystem".

This is, of course, an utterly preposterous statement and I would not be surprised if he actually said it with many caveats which your reporter missed or left out. At any rate, it certainly does not represent the views of any of the scientists who oppose Cassini whom I have spoken with. Nor does it represent the views of the majority of "lay" people who oppose Cassini for ANY reason. Yet it is what Mr. Marcus presents as how the opposition thinks.

Indeed, it is far more likely that if an accident occurs, NASA will attempt to prove that indeed, "only" 120 (1997 SEIS) or 2,300 (1995 EIS) people could possibly die from it -- no harm done, they will say. They will hide behind the fact that the truth is statistically unknowable. 230,000 could just as well die and it would still be completely unprovable that anybody had died whatsoever.

As if all the above missing-history of the Cassini debate were not bad enough considering the "perspective" article is being presented in such an august journal as IEEE Spectrum, I am further dismayed by the following statements regarding the opposition forces against Cassini.

First, we are referred to as "a small band of critics" (second sentence in the article). How small are we? I did not ever see a vote on the issue, I have not seen any proper count. Our view has been censored at every turn. What difference does the size of our group make towards whether we speak the truth?

Second, we are (still in the first paragraph) further "degraded" thusly: "Most opponents cited in the popular press appeared to be tree-hugger stereotypes lacking credentials, whereas advocates were accomplished scientists..." (he went on for some time about how credentialed they were). I admit that I have published at my web site, one article on biodiversity, using the plight of the California Redwoods as an example. If that makes me a "tree-hugger" so be it, but I'll note in passing, that my wife measured fully 13 "hugs" around just ONE of my favorite trees, so perhaps "branch-hugger" would be more appropriate, except the nearest (live) Redwood branch is hundreds of feet up, and anyway most of them are likewise too big to hug.

Regarding Mr. Marcus's numbers game, what has "most" got to do with a proper debate anyway? It is fair to say that Dr. Gofman (unmentioned in Mr. Marcus' article) is more credentialed probably than any 10 pro-Cassini scientists Mr. Marcus could find. Dr. Gofman was strongly opposed to Cassini and yet is a strong supporter of space programs in general (as am I, I might add.)

Mr. Marcus could have found plenty of information about Dr. Gofman at my web site, including links to publications, and Mr. Marcus could have found Gofman and interviewed him, and he could have noted his importance to America's WWII nuclear bomb projects. But his opinionated agenda would not permit it. How did you miss Dr. Gofman, Mr. Marcus? And there are many other fine scientists, who have given me their time, and I'm sure would have given Mr. Marcus time as well had he wished to present a balanced "perspective".

Third, Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society (as if that is some sort of credential; no mention as to his knowledge of radiation dangers, for example, or any of the other diverse disciplines involved in the complicated decision of whether Cassini is "worth the risk" are given) is quoted as saying the opposition was coming from "a handful of shrill activists" . The article then continues, "...across-the-board, knee-jerk antinuclear agendas..." (the second quote is from the article and is not attributed word-for word to Friedman). Again, we have been marginalized. Instead of answering the scientific arguments we presented, Mr. Friedman has simply challenged the integrity of the opposition rather than the facts about the case. This is not the first time his pronouncements on the issue, ignored the real issues.

Fourth, we are again (and we are only up to the 6th paragraph) marginalized as being "antinuclear activists" (as if this is some sort of insult, but it is clearly meant to be!).

Fifth, there is a reference (in a subheading) to the "nuclear bogeyman" as if only irrational fears of nuclear energy are possible. A rational fear of Cassini seems to be beyond Mr. Marcus's ability to imagine; thus he appears to feel that all opposition is irrational. It isn't.

Sixth, one of our "arguments" is described as "of all the Cassini opponents' concerns, the one that appears the least plausible..." (referring to launch accidents). I wonder what Mr. Marcus's cause for such assurance of our implausibility is -- surely it is not the report by Horst Poehler, IEEE senior member (retired) and former NASA subcontractor discussing the matter of possible launch accident scenarios, which is available at our web site, but mysteriously Mr. Marcus missed it, and missed interviewing this brilliant scientist.

Seventh, there is a reference to "most thoughtful sceptics...are satisfied on this point" (regarding launch risks again). As if most of the sceptics who are not satisfied are "unthoughtful" for some reason. And were they surveyed? How does Mr. Marcus know it's "most"? He uses that term often, mostly, I suspect, without proof.

Eighth, last and worst, we are referred to as "outspoken nervous nellies". Oh, Ouch! Does such a preponderance of abusive language belong in your journal? Would you even think of publishing THIS if I responded in kind (which I am, admittedly, quite capable of)?

Lastly, I must note some absolute inaccuracies in your article and request retractions and corrections. Since, as I suspected it would be when I started, this letter is quite long, I will try to be brief, especially since it's all there at the STOP CASSINI web site anyway (which NASA will not link to, under any circumstances, which I consider most unfair).

First, in the second sentence the flyby height is referred to as "passing perhaps as close as 800 km". The original (1995 EIS) number was about 500 km, but for an unknown reason NASA raised it between the 1995 and 1997 reports. This was apparently done in order to keep the overall estimated mission risk of reentry below one in one million, in keeping with mission design parameters (so one must wonder what went UP in risk to require such an adjustment!). In any event it is widely speculated that this change was due, in fact, to the "vociferous opposition". At any rate, it is not "perhaps as close as 800 km", it is in fact scheduled to flyby at about 800 km, unless of course, NASA has changed the number again in which case Mr. Marcus could have cited the current reference. Not only that, but the closer the better (within various parameters) as far as NASA is concerned; the purpose of the flyby is to gain energy for the "final fling" out to Saturn and the closer they come to Earth (short of touching the upper atmosphere at about 120 to 200 km (perhaps more if there's a solar flare) the more speed they can gain, ergo, the sooner they get to Saturn. But the closer they get to Earth, the more risk Earthlings have from this alien brute.

Second, it is entirely unmentioned in your article (but made abundantly clear in NASA's own documents, if Mr. Marcus would care to read them) that even if Cassini misses Earth on the flyby, failures at virtually any point in the flight can put it on a trajectory which colides with Earth some time in the next 1000 years or so. Pu 238, which is most of the Pu on board Cassini, has a half-life of about 87.75 years (according to NASA's EIS, although other numbers are sometimes seen) so this is quite relevant. (Pu 239, the preponderance of the rest of the Pu aboard Cassini, has a half-life of about 24,000 years.)

Third, as mentioned above but not in the article, the Pu content on board Cassini is not your "garden variety" Plutonium, vast quantities of which are being made every day in nuclear power plants around the world (and for which we have no known safe storage method yet, although rocketing it to space continues to be mentioned as a "possible" solution). No. Cassini's Pu is mostly (about 76%) Pu 238, which while having a half-life about 280 times shorter than Pu 239 (about 16% of the Pu on Cassini is Pu-239) is likewise and equally 280 times more dangerous per unit of mass, while it does exist. It is particularly deadly when in an aerosol form, which is the form much of it would be in after a flyby reentry accident. The radiological impact of a full release would be approximately equivalent to that from all the (mostly Pu-239) released in all the nuclear weapons testing in history, because Cassini carries about as many Curies of Pu as that. And everyone agrees, however unlikely, ALL of it CAN be released in a flyby accident. NASA's numbers varied from about 33% EXPECTED to be released (1995 EIS) to about 3% (1997 SEIS). The reason for the difference appears to be their decision that the probe will be spinning in a particular configuration when/if it reenters -- speculative at best. In reality of course, it is an unknown how much might be released, but it is certain that some will -- a very significant amount, from a couple of pounds to a couple of stone -- maybe the whole enchilada.

Fourth, vaporized Pu 238 will not only stay in the atmosphere for years -- NASA's own reports suggest periods far longer than the "weeks" mentioned in the article -- but it can be resuspended again and again through the natural cycle of heating and evaporation of the oceans. So some of what "safely" lands in the oceans will be resuspended only to fall upon a populated area. Hot showers are a great way to resuspend plutonium, for example. Stay in as long as you like -- because alpha particles won't make it through the skin -- just don't breath.

Fifth, Mr. Marcus mentions NASA's "tolerance for risk" as being "revealed in NASA's decision to continue sending U.S. astronauts up to MIR". In fact, the two items are poles apart; Cassini's is a global risk to even unborn world citizens, while NASA's astronauts have accepted an unusually high degree of PERSONAL risk to THEMSELVES as is their right and for which they deserve our respect. NASA and its employee's right to impose a global risk is different from NASA and it's employee's right to risk whatever they want for those employees.

Sixth, the actual estimates of the risk from plutonium which NASA used to determine Cassini's potential dangers are based almost entirely on medical estimates from weak and incomplete studies done on healthy adult males. Hardly the typical Earthling, who is (this is worldwide, not just in the U.S., since Cassini can come down anywhere and everywhere) typically female and undernourished. At least 50 million infants are around on Earth at any one time; these studies are NOT based on the health effects of plutonium on infants, and thank God, too, when one considers what one would have to do to study such a thing.

Seventh, as to the flyby "biased trajectory" I believe this to be nothing more than a NASA publicity stunt. In point of fact, I'm sure the only way to properly control the point of entry into the maneuver is to come at it from the outside and bias your way in as necessary for course correction. Going the other way would make for a much more complicated -- and perhaps physically (or should I say astrophysically?) impossible -- maneuver. Furthermore, the "biased trajectory" maneuver requires that NASA fire the rockets to force the probe TOWARDS earth. A prolonged misfire (as happened with the probe Clementine, which was thus lost in space) could mean the probe will end up aimed towards Earth. And the bias isn't that much anyway -- for most of the trip back from Venus, it's on the order of tenths or even hundredths of one degree difference. Sure, millions of miles, but from where it's supposedly "biased" away from Earth, Earth is but a pinpoint, and the difference between the two possible trajectories is minute. But NASA makes big light of this "safety" maneuver that isn't.

Eighth, also unmentioned, but did you know that the 129 "RHUs" (Radioisotope Heating Units) on board Cassini and the Huygens probe, which have about 2.5 grams of plutonium in each (totaling about 3/4 pound of Pu) are expected to fully incinerate in a flyby reentry accident? The RHUs simply won't survive. So nearly half the weight of SNAP-9A's 2.1 pounds of plutonium will surely be released, in ALL reentry "monte carlo" simulations. I think SNAP-9A rates a mention under the circumstances!

Ninth, an accidental reentry would generate temperatures in the neighborhood (and its a very hot neighborhood) of 15,000 degrees C as mentioned in the article, and yet testing has only been done up to about 5,000 degrees C, also as mentioned. Somehow, this raised no alarm bells for Mr. Marcus, who immediately cites a NASA review panel which simply doesn't see a problem with trying to estimate ablation at 15,000 degrees C from tests up to 5,000 degrees C. But the exact amount of ablation is very, very important, during those few flaming seconds of reentry. Friction heating increases with the cube of the velocity, and the probe will be traveling at approximately 42,300 miles per hour relative to Earth at the time. And the casings, that part that is supposed to survive no matter what, are fingernail-thin. Sure, it's the same material ballistic missile nosecones are made of, but there's not nearly as much of it!

Tenth, while the article made clear that Cassini was not the first plutonium launch (while ignoring SNAP-9A), completely unmentioned in the article was that it won't be the last. Right now there are a number of other missions set for launch in the next decade, some with even greater quantities of plutonium on board. NASA has been lucky so far. Mainly, NASA has been lucky that people like you, and magazines like yours, have helped to silence the debate for them.

In summary, it is clear that your article is way beyond unfair, it is shameful, dirty pool. I hope you will have the decency and respect for the many fine scientists who DO oppose Cassini to present a more balanced viewpoint. They deserve equal time and space.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Russell D. Hoffman

Newsletter, includes a part of Dr. Gofman's "CV", whom Mr. Marcus missed:

Dr. Horst Poehler's Cassini report:

Scanned-in copy of the D. E. Rockey report:

This letter is available at this web address:

The "tree-hugger" article:

1 stone= 20 lbs


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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