STOP CASSINI Newsletter #67 -- June 15th, 1998

Copyright (c) 1998

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Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #68 - June 15th, 1998

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The NoFlyby Action Web Site has scheduled a press conference for later this month. See details below. Also, what about Earth-impacting asteroids? To save humanity, don't we need at least some nuclear capabilities in space? Not likely, and here's why not. Also, some interesting abstracts from government databases.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #67, June 15th, 1998 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #67 June 15th, 1998 ******

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


The NoFlyby Action Web Site has created a letter opposing the flyby which I hope millions will sign. The URL is:

The No Flyby group also has scheduled a Press Conference at the United Nations from 11:00 A.M. to noon Wednesday, June 24, 1998. Confirmed participants include Dr. Michio Kaku, Dr. Ernest Sternglass, and Award-winning Investigative Reporter Karl Grossman.

For UN Passes contact: Roger Smith, NGO Committee on Disarmament at
For more information:
Tina Bell WILPF 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 11215
Tel: 212-533-2125 Fax: 212-228-6193
NoFlyby Action Site:
Jonathan M. Haber
P.O. Box 1999 Wendell Depot MA 01380 978-544-7862


One of the main purposes of NASA should be to establish environmentally sound guidelines for the related problems of the creation and avoidance of space debris, so that proper policies are suggested (by NASA's behavior) for the rest of the world which will follow NASA into space.

There are two types of space endeavors: Those which do not need to stay near Earth, and those which do. Those which do, are those which look back at Earth and study it. There is no other reason to stay in orbit about Earth (except to get back quickly if something goes wrong). If you want to study weightlessness, you can just as well be circling Venus or the Sun (or nothing at all in the vastness of space). If you choose to be in Earth orbit, you save energy that would be needed to get you to "real" outer space but you increase the risk of becoming new Earth-orbiting space debris yourself. You are generally more likely to be hit by space debris the closer to Earth you "park" yourself.

In the geosynchronous area, such as where Galaxy IV was parked, if a satellite is hit by space debris (this has been documented to have happened in the past) the pieces become a fairly permanent nuisance. How much of a nuisance? The pieces fly off in a variety of directions and just keep wandering in those directions. They continue to circle the Earth, but the orbits vary widely. Sometimes the pieces collide with other debris. Various factors (such as the moon and the sun's influences) contribute to the actual orbit of the debris pieces. The exact orbits of the fragments are impossible to predict. Some pieces are very small, and they may be tumbling and have different reflective qualities as they tumble. They can also be out-gassing from stored chemicals and fuel, which disturbs the orbit.

Yet, for safety, they (in theory) must all be tracked. Many, if not most of the pieces, will be lost, because our tracking capabilities only go down to objects about 4 inches in diameter (about the size of an American "softball"). But even pieces the size of a BB (about 1/8th inch or 2 millimeters in diameter) can destroy many crucial parts of a spacecraft, and compromise the airtight system (cause a fast leak). This can make whether the spacecraft can get back to Earth a moot point for the astronauts on board, because they may not have time to suit up before their air is gone.

The Astronauts know these risks (and many others) exist and are willing to take the risks as their service to humanity. (That's why we call them heros.)

But consider the problem further: A satellite in geosynchronous orbit about the Earth gets hit by a piece of space debris (interplanetary, interstellar, or Earth-orbital, whatever) and becomes, in an instant, one or more (perhaps thousands) of new pieces of space debris. (The collision will turn some kinetic energy into heat energy as well.)

We mentioned the potential Leonid Meteor Shower problem back in issue #59 (October 28th, 1997). It became a flurry of news recently with reports confirming what we had stated -- that with 500 or so satellites in orbit, the interplanetary sand might hit the fan either last fall (it didn't), this fall, or next fall. Why? Because the Leonid Meteor Shower gets extra-strong about once every 33 years. Last time there weren't many satellites in orbit so the effect was minimal. But it may not have been a very powerful example of what Leonid can do -- history tells of reading newspapers by the light of the shower some years. Some experts think it's possible that a couple percent of those 500 satellites will get knocked out -- perhaps 1%, perhaps as many as 5% with a slim possibility of even more.

Leonid is a cluster of particles. It probably was once a solid object which broke up into millions -- perhaps billions or trillions -- of smaller particles. I have not heard of any scientist who is concerned about the threat of a particularly large chunk of anything inside Leonid, but there may be pieces that are large enough to survive atmospheric penetration, and there are CERTAINLY millions or billions (or more) pieces large enough to destroy your average satellite. So we'll see what happens.

The Leonid debris cluster circles the Sun, in an orbital path which the Earth intersects as it travels on its own path, once every year, in the fall. Sometimes we get closer to the center of the cluster than other times. Either this year or next, we may get very close to the center of the Leonid debris field, and $100's of billions of dollars worth of satellites may be destroyed, and new Earth orbital debris fields may be created that will remain circling the Earth for thousands -- or even millions -- of years and will, in many cases, intersect other needed orbits, such as the Geosynchronous one many satellites are in.

The problem of space debris clusters is illustrated quite nicely by the Leonid problem. There may be other debris fields circling the Sun which do not intersect Earth's orbital path. We don't know. We know about Leonid because it announces its arrival each year with bright lights and burning embers. But what about the others? Cassini might fly though one of these undiscovered interplanetary debris fields at any time and become uncontrollable or be fractured into millions of pieces. A death cloud of man-made interplanetary dust.

Now let's look at DEEP IMPACT, the Spielberg-sponsored extravaganza which opened about two months ago, to yawns and rave reviews. (I yawned.) I had read reviews that said things like "A Thriller With Brains" (Gene Shalit, Today) and "One of the Most Important Films You'll See This Summer" (Ron Brewington, American Urban Radio Network). Such was not my opinion. Deep Impact is baloney.

Blowing up big meteors and asteroids that threaten Earth is a short-sighted thing to do. The proper way to SAVE EARTH, the RESPONSIBLE way, *deflects* them with a low amount of impact over a long period of time. Once the orbit has been properly deflected, the object would not be a hazard for centuries or millennia to come, and could simply be redeflected again if it ever became a problem. Also, the use of a low force over a long period of time can put the object into a new orbit where it falls into the Sun, which solves the problem forever. If it's made of a useful material, it makes even less sense to blow it into a gazillion pieces because it will be easier to mine if it's all together, not scattered (and scattering).

If a large parabolic reflector concentrated light on the object, such that it caused the object to outgas, this controlled outgassing could possibly provide the "slow, steady force" needed to deflect the object. Then you would not have to blow it up or bring a lot of fuel.

Also, in the movie, they send up ONE ship to solve the problem. The entire Earth needs saving, but NASA, and the powers that be, send up only ONE ship with no backup ship, to save the world. In the credits at the end, the film had lots of thanks for help from these types of folks, though I don't have a list in front of me. People who of course will refuse all blame and say it was just a movie, but this movie is being advertised as being based on reality and it's got it all wrong. What if the one ship they send has a malfunction? They should have been sending up a ship a day as backups of backups. You can never spend enough money, time, or effort to avoid an otherwise-certain extinction of humanity, can you?

Of course, it's only a movie, but the reviewers and the producers all seem to think it's "scientifically accurate" so I just want to set the record straight on a few critical issues.

The last of which is that if you blow up a huge Earth-impacting object with a nuke shortly before Earth impact, such that it impacts Earth anyway in a shower of (slightly radioactive) smaller fragments that impact in a relatively short time frame, there will probably be huge firestorms created from the impacts of flaming chunks of matter (those that survive the heat of reentry through the atmosphere). Also, the radiant heating of the atmosphere might be a problem even if it doesn't last long. You can't survive it for long. (One more vote for subterranean living!)

The point is, nukes are generally a rotten way to solve the problem of an Earth-impacting asteroid. A much better solution might involve solar reflectors and long periods of time... Not nearly as box-office worthy, but probably a much more environmentally friendly solution and a more workable solution. But thanks to movies like Deep Impact, the public once again believes that somehow, nukes are the solution to the world's potential problems. There is a better scientific solution to the problem of deep space asteroids (including the need for much better observatories, presumably based on the moon and staffed year-round).

NASA researcher Ivan Bekey is reported (Parade Magazine, 6/14/98) to have studied the problem for 19 years and consulted on both DEEP IMPACT and the upcoming disaster flick ARMAGEDDON. He states that to successfully use the nuclear option on a comet like the one in DEEP IMPACT, you would need a weapon 10,000 times stronger than any that now exist. Great! That's just what the world needs! Much bigger bombs!

The risk in building a weapon of that size "just in case it's needed" is far greater than the risk that it will be needed. I'm all for protecting humanity from asteriods, comets, and Godzilla, but without undue risk to humanity in the process. Bridges collapse. Shuttles explode. Satellites go dead. Weapons go off unexpectedly. I don't want humanity building bombs 10,000 times stronger than the ones we already have. 10,000 times weaker would be more in line with my current thinking.


If you go to this official U.S. Government URL:

you can get these abstracts of articles. Unfortunately we cannot give you valid web addresses for the abstracts. You'll have to go through the search system a little bit yourselves. I presume this is because the technology NASA uses to present the information is inadequate. If the United States Government would upgrade its equipment it would not only save tax dollars, but provide far greater service to humanity, AND the process of modernization (procurements, contracts, etc) would give a huge boost to vast sectors of the economy. With the Internet tools available, here's what I was able to dig up:


This first item presented is both the last one I found and the most chilling. It's from 1991. What is NASA doing? It's waiting and keeping its head down. The true NASA is unable to conceive of a peaceful exploration of space without grave risk to billions of Earthlings. Where NASA's main purpose should be to help learn about the Earth and watch over it, and explore other worlds, and colonize them, and watch out for Earth-impacting asteroids, and develop REASONABLE methods of saving us from those asteroids, instead, they keep wanting to be a secret agency with a hidden agenda -- nukes. NASA LOVES NUKES. Big ones. Small ones.

TITLE: The behavior of fission products during nuclear rocket reactor tests

Document ID: 19910004177 N (91N13490)
Published: Jan 01, 1991

Abstract (clip):

The experience base regarding fission product behavior developed during the Rover program, the nuclear rocket development program of 1955 to 1972, will be useful in planning a renewed nuclear rocket program...

Abstract (whole):

The experience base regarding fission product behavior developed during the Rover program, the nuclear rocket development program of 1955 to 1972, will be useful in planning a renewed nuclear rocket program. During the Rover program, 20 reactors were tested at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station in Nevada. Nineteen of these discharged effluent directly into the atmosphere; the last reactor tested, a non-flight-prototypic, fuel-element-testing reactor called the Nuclear Furnace (NF-1) was connected to an effluent cleanup system that removed fission products before the hydrogen coolant (propellant) was discharged to the atmosphere. In general, we are able to increase both test duration and fuel temperature during the test series. Therefore fission product data from the later part of the program are more interesting and more applicable to future reactors. We have collected fission product retention (and release) data reported in both formal and informal publications for six of the later reactor tests; five of these were Los Alamos reactors that were firsts of a kind in configuration or operating conditions. We have also, with the cooperation of Westinghouse, included fission product data from the NRX-A6 reactor, the final member of series of developmental reactors with the same basic geometry, but with significant design and fabrication improvements as the series continued. Table 1 lists the six selected reactors and the test parameters for each.


Note: The table was not available.



The public (that's us) can find these abstracts (or less -- some abstracts are missing) by using the keywords "nuclear" AND "atmospheric entry" and the authors M. Tauber OR Chul Park. The actual reports appear to be sold by the pound. To get the actual reports there is a fairly substantial fee which ranges from around $30 (for U.S. residents) for each report, to much more, depending at least in part on the size of the document. Imagine that! In days of gigabyte storage capabilities for individuals, reports are still sold by the pound! Why they are not simply available FOR FREE ON THE INTERNET is beyond my comprehension. Didn't we all pay for these once already? Isn't knowledge best if it's in the most hands? Certainly, the idea that it is not technologically feasible, or that they would need to be typed in at great expense, is technically absurd. First of all, that has probably already been done (you can order the reports on microfiche or on hard copy). It's merely a question of putting the database online and making it accessible. The cost per report once the system is set up is trivial. Why aren't these reports available that way yet? What is America waiting for? We can land a man on the moon more than 30 years ago, yet cannot change the old military Arpanet into an Internet with lots of speed, a good level of authentication and security, and a high degree of reliability, in the intervening decades? And we say the free market is working? I have been calling for fiber-optic channels into every home and school for nearly 20 years. This is a perfect example of what we might have if such connections had replaced every standard phone jack in the intervening decades. People, wake up! We are being denied essential services (like video-phone-capable 911 offices), and knowledge is being held back and made absurdly expensive (like the full versions of the reports these abstracts are from) because, even though we have the technological know-how to do the right thing, we don't have the willpower to put it together, set some workable standards, and activate a new and improved system of communication here on Earth. A fully fiber-optic Internet would replace all the Leonid-vulnerable satellites, all the broadcast stations, and all the mass-media, advertiser-controlled garbage that rules citizen's minds these days. 50,000 CSPAN channels would be possible, so there would be no more closed doors. The Internet should be free, fast, and factual. Factual comes from authentication -- you have to take credit for what you say. Free and fast comes from fiber-optic transmissions where any one of us can broadcast to the world if that's what the world wants to hear.


TITLE: Nuclear Safety Policy Working Group recommendations for SEI nuclear propulsion safety

Document ID: 19980031408
File Series: Open Literature
Published: Jan 01, 1992

Abstract: [clip]

Nuclear propulsion has been identified as an essential technology for the implementation of the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI).



TITLE: A radiological assessment of nuclear power and propulsion operations near Space Station Freedom

Document ID: 19900011792 N (90N21008)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports:
Published: Mar 01, 1990

Abstract: [clip]

... A central philosophy in these analyses was the utilization of a radiation dose budget, defined as the difference between recommended dose limits from all radiation sources and estimated doses received by crew members from natural space radiations. Consequently, for each scenario examined, the dose budget concept was used to identify and quantify constraints on operational parameters such as launch separation distances, returned vehicle parking distances, and reactor shutdown times prior to vehicle approach. The results indicate that realistic scenarios do not exist which would preclude the use of nuclear power sources in the vicinity of SSF. The radiation dose to the SSF crew can be maintained at safe levels solely by implementing proper and reasonable operating procedures.



TITLE: Atmospheric dispersion and inhalation analysis for plutonium fueled space nuclear system

Document ID: 19750065011 N (75N71259)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports
Published: Sep 01, 1971


No Abstract Available



TITLE: General-purpose heat source development: Safety test program. Postimpact evaluation, design iteration test 4

Document ID: 19850013818 N (85N22128)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports
Published: Dec 01, 1984

Abstract [clip]:

...Because of the inevitable return of certain aborted missions...

Abstract [complete]:

The general-purpose heat source (GPHS) provides power for space missions by transmitting the heat of Pu-238 decay to thermoelectric elements. Because of the inevitable return of certain aborted missions, the heat source must be designed and constructed to survive both re-entry and Earth impact. The design iteration test (DIT) series is part of an ongoing test program. The fourth test (DIT-4) was designed to evaluate the effect on impact behavior of changing the procedure used at the mount facility (MF) to remove surface defects from drawn cups. The change involved switching from a manual abrasion technique to a motorized, rubber-bonded abrasive wheel. In DIT-4 a partial GPHS module containing two fueled clads (one cleaned manually, and one cleaned with an abrasive wheel) was impacted at a velocity of 58 m/s and a temperature of 930 C. Both capsules were severely deformed by the impact and contained large interal [sic] cracks. Although the manually cleaned capsule breached, the breaching crack was only 2 microns wide and released negligible amounts of fuel. There did not appear to be any correlation between cleaning method and capsule performance. Postimpact analyses of the DIT-4 test components are described with emphasis on microstructure and impact response.


Notice the temperature they heated this thing to, and the impact velocity. This test is virtually irrelevant to the Cassini situation, except for the comment about the "inevitable return" of some missions, and the indication that the containment system FAILED during the test.


TITLE: General-purpose heat source development: Safety test program. Postimpact evaluation, design iteration test 2

Document ID: 19850005283 N (85N13592)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports
Published: Jun 01, 1984

Abstract: [clip]

Because of the inevitable return of certain missions, the heat source must be designed and constructed to survive both re-entry and Earth impact.



TITLE: Global inventory and distribution of Pu-238 from SNAP-9A

Document ID: 19720020074 N (72N27724)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports
Published: Mar 01, 1972


[clip] ...By the end of 1970, results of the stratospheric measurements indicated that 95% of the SNAP plutonium had deposited over the earth's surface...

Abstract [full]:

Following the burn-up of a SNAP generator containing Pu-238 in the upper atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere in April 1964, balloon and aircraft sampling successfully documented the atmospheric transport and inventory of the debris from this unexpected release. By the end of 1970, results of the stratospheric measurements indicated that 95% of the SNAP plutonium had deposited over the earth's surface. Integrated fallout in the form of soil samples collected at over 60 sites throughout the world provided the data required to assess the distribution pattern and inventory of the deposited SNAP debris. Of the 17 kilocuries of Pu-238 originally in the generator, 13.4 plus or minus 2.2 kilocuries are globally deposited with 3.1 plus or minus 0.8 kilocuries in the Northern Hemisphere and 10.3 plus or minus 2.1 kilocuries in the Southern Hemisphere. This accounts for essentially all of the Pu-238 inadvertently released as a result of the satellite abort.



TITLE: Reentry thermal testing of light-weight radioisotope heater unit

Published: Mar 01, 1982

Abstract [clip]:

Two Light-Weight Radioisotope Heater Units were exposed to thermal ramps simulating atmospheric reentry...


Two? Just two? Humanity will be saved by two of these things being tested? And, I couldn't find any reports where "thermal ramp tests" and "impact tests" are done TOGETHER.


TITLE: Nuclear systems for space power and propulsion

Document ID: 19720017962 N (72N25612)
File Series: NASA Technical Reports
Published: Jan 01, 1971


As exploration and utilization of space proceeds through the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond, spacecraft in earth orbit will become increasingly larger, spacecraft will travel deeper into space, and space activities will involve more complex operations. These trends require increasing amounts of energy for power and propulsion. The role to be played by nuclear energy is presented, including plans for deep space missions using radioisotope generators, the reactor power systems for earth orbiting stations and satellites, and the role of nuclear propulsion in space transportation.



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