STOP CASSINI Newsletter #68 -- August 15th, 1998

Copyright (c) 1998

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From: Russell D. Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI newsletter
Date: 8/15/98
Subjects: Titan IV failure, What is Press to NASA?


"Oh, no" muttered the launch commentator. Whoops, we almost lost Disney World. We almost lost Orlando. If you recall, for Cassini they refused to admit that wind was worthy of worry and would have launched with winds heading inward! For this one, they claim that they would only have launched if winds were out to sea.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #68, August 15th, 1998 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #68 November 15th, 1998 ******

*** Was there any plutonium on board this Titan IVA rocket?

Of the many emails containing various news reports regarding the accident which have been received here since the rocket's industry's most recent mishap, one said that the officials had said there was NO radioactive material on board. All the others have said they were not saying, except I did receive ONE email from ONE person who said they had heard exactly ONE report saying there was -- get this -- 25# of plutonium on board the military satellite. They could not recall which news report, and were hoping I had heard something.

Certainly, the public is entitled to know the truth. Why aren't the reporters asking? How is it possible, considering that at least ABC publicly remembered that Hey, that's just like the Cassini rocket that went up last year under severe protest! Model B vs. Model A, but yeah, they are both very similar. Until we know exactly what caused this failure (and since this one was "military", we probably never will) it is perfectly reasonable and fair to say, "this could have been Cassini". And we have a right to know if there was radioactive material on board and if so how much, and how much (if any) has been recovered, and if any has, what do the casings look like now? All this, we have a right to know.

Were there ANY radioactive substances aboard? How many Curies of exactly what? If there was any radioactive material on board, there should be Congressional Hearings. If they won't tell us, there should be Congressional Hearings. And before the Cassini flyby, right now, while it's still in transit and vulnerable to all sorts of failure modes, there should be Congressional Hearings. NASA and its military cohorts are rogue organizations operating outside the bounds of decency and respect for the environment and the people of this nation and of Earth. Rules need to be set. Environmental space policies need to be set. With other countries exploding nuclear weapons and testing long-range missiles, it is clear that NO ONE should be allowed to launch plutonium into space, under ANY circumstances! Not NASA, not the military, not India, Pakistan, China, or anyone else. What goes up doesn't even always make it up.

Anyone who gets any answers from NASA or any other branch of the military as to what exactly was on that rocket, please forward the comments to me and I will publish them in this newsletter. (NASA is a branch of the military, isn't it?)

*** Comments regarding the Titan IV's toxic cloud

The following exchange took place since the Titan explosion, and we thank Mr. Ratliff for his comments, especially concerning the Titan's toxic cloud.


At 09:00 AM 8/13/98 Franklin Ratliff wrote:

> From: Franklin Ratliff
> To:
> Cc:;
> Subject: Fw: Toxic Mushroom Cloud
> Date: Thursday, August 13, 1998 8:44 AM
> Well, Karl in all of your hysterical rhetoric about the plutonium I don't
> think I ever heard you mention the fact that underneath Cassini was enough
> nitrogen tetroxide to create a toxic mushroom cloud hundreds of feet high.
> Sincerely, Franklin Ratliff
> --------
> > From: Franklin Ratliff
> > To: ...(forwarded to the editor of this newsletter by the author)
> > Subject: Toxic Mushroom Cloud
> > Date: Thursday, August 13, 1998 8:33 AM
> >
> > Ed,
> >
> > On the front page of the Orlando Sentinel is a big photo of the Titan
> > explosion.
> >
> > Near the top of the photo is a huge orange mushroom cloud. Take into
> > account how the photo includes a vertical distance of over 20,000 feet
> > and that will give you some idea of the size of the mushroom cloud.
> >
> > Now picture that mushroom cloud (instead of being at 20,000 feet with winds
> > blowing it out to sea) being only 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground where
> > the winds could blow it inland.
> >
> > Sincerely, Franklin Ratliff


date: 8/13/98
subject: yesterday's "malfunction of the vehicle"


Regarding Mr. Ratliff's comments (shown below), actually Project Censored cited the toxins from Shuttle launches [as a possible] Most Censored News Story a few years ago, and Grossman's Cassini articles won that award a few years later, so I suspect he is well aware of that danger. Shuttle Booster rockets are, of course, similar in many technical ways to the ones now highly suspect in yesterday's and the earlier Titan explosions.

More interesting than the toxins released is that the Titan launch failure rate is now 2 in 25, and those aren't mild, easy-to-explain anomalies. It's in truth, a national disgrace. "Oh, no" the launch commentator muttered. The Pro-Cassini people are being laughed at all over the world right now. You know it as well as I do. At least, by those dwindling percentage of caring adults who actually recall something about a "controversial plutonium launch" last year.

In truth, of course, this particular $1.3 billion was wasted long before the mission ever left the ground -- it was, after all, a "secret spy satellite". Society lost $1.3 billion dollars in schools, home internet connections, and fiber optic cable systems long before the rocket left the ground. Not to mention medical care, shuttle ejection systems, and what-have-you.

The same day (yesterday), NASA coverage was about a couple of airplanes they stuck some gear into and then send into hurricanes. Not even a timely news event, but it was flown into the media presumably to take the heat off the Titan report. NASA is totally PR, totally in bed with the nuclear establishment and the military for no good reason, so why not? NASA has plenty of free help: I've seen only one report so far that even mentioned that this was the same type of rocket NASA used for the "controversial Cassini plutonium launch last year" as the one report put it. There goes that guy's press access to NASA.

Rather than apologize for the mistaken faith you and others had in those rickety rockets, you mistakenly use the event to try to point out that the rockets contain other toxins besides, even if they don't contain plutonium (which, in fact, they might for all we know. I've seen one report that said it didn't, but ALL the others say they won't say). So who knows?

Come on, Frank, be reasonable! This accident was a catastrophic postscript to everyone on the "what's the worry" side of the Cassini debate. We came *that* close -- that's close! I suggest you read (or hopefully, reread) Horst Poehler's comments on launch dangers.

He appears qualified to me, to answer many of the questions this accident reminds us about.

Lastly, look at all the other failures that have occurred since Cassini -- SOHO, Galaxy IV -- and the Leonid Meteor shower might top everything (remember, I said MIGHT). If we lost a return signal from Cassini it will become completely LOST IN SPACE and the shielding in a period of decades might become brittle and useless. And NASA admits this in no uncertain terms in section 4.6.5 on page 4-104 of the 1995 EIS. And it will be left in orbit in the vicinity of Earth's own orbit were we to loose it any time between now and the Earth flyby next year, according to section B.1.1, page B-4 of the same NASA EIS. We better all hope it at least keeps sending out little bleeps back home and doesn't suffer any of the electronic failures other satellites have suffered recently.

We aren't out of the woods, yet. And this accident reminds us we never were.

I don't suppose anyone "cc'd" this will mind if I put this in my newsletter since we all recognize the public nature of unsolicited email and the concurrent relative uselessness of minding! :)


Russell Hoffman Editor
STOP CASSINI newsletter

At 09:58 AM 8/13/98 Franklin Ratliff wrote:


If I had great faith in Titan rockets would I be pointing out why launching them near a populated area is a bad idea?

While we're on the subject of toxins in rockets, I also want to take a moment to point out that at launch a space shuttle carries about two million pounds of solid rocket propellant and that a byproduct of that combustion is hydrochloric acid.

Sincerely, Franklin

At 10:14 AM 8/13/98 Franklin Ratliff wrote:


What worries me is that with or without conspiracies (unless there's a conspiracy not to require reporters to pass a test in basic science), the seemingly high percentage of reporters who are such scientific illiterates they believe science and voodoo are equally valid explanations for the way the universe works.

Sincerely, Franklin




What worries me is that they consider "balanced journalism" to be giving the voodoo theorists and the scientific theorists equal time!




Mr. Ratliff, of course, had no quarrel with that. Common ground! Next email he sent concerns America's space choices and is presented with only the original "to" removed since I don't know the person:


From: Franklin Ratliff
To: ... ...(forwarded to the editor of this newsletter by the author)
Subject: Titan vs Shuttle-C
Date: Friday, August 14, 1998 1:28 PM

Dear Mark,

Shuttle-C was to have been an unmanned heavy lift rocket consisting of an expendable lightweight cargo pod mounted to a shuttle external tank and solid boosters with the main engines being in a detachable re-entry module mounted to the base of the cargo pod. Tuesday's Titan explosion was another argument for not developing Shuttle-C having been one of the biggest bonehead decisions of the last twenty years. We would have gotten the same basic system that has to date proven more reliable than Titan. We would have gotten a partially reuseable system with much greater payload capacity than Titan. We would have gotten the economies of scale available with a system that shares many of its elements (external tank, solid rocket boosters, etc) with the space shuttle. We would have gotten a system that could have received the same upgrades now being applied to the shuttle (the lightweight external tank and the projected liquid propellant flyback boosters). And we would have gotten a system that uses the non-toxic combination of liquid oxygen and hydrogen instead of the toxic and carcinogenic combination of nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine.

Sincerely, Franklin Ratliff


*** Should NASA give press credentials to Keith Cowing of NASA Watch?

We think so, and we wrote this email to back him in his quest. Then we decided that Mr. Cowing probably doesn't want our help and didn't send it, but it's how we feel so here it is. Our previous run-in with Mr. Cowing is described in its entirety at this URL:


To: Brian Welch
From: Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter and web site
Re: Formal press accreditation for NASA Watch (see the following URL:
Date: 7/18/98

Dear Sir:

I have read at the NASA Watch web site that Mr. Keith Cowing, the editor, believes NASA is making a mistake in denying him and his NASA Watch web site "press accreditation". And I'm reasonably sure that no NASA-funded web site links to the NASA Watch web site.

I find both of these facts atrocious. Mr. Cowing's web site is a well-known source of information, which I personally found out about last year via a suggestion from a NASA employee (who shall, of course, remain nameless).

Influential people in the scientific fields he covers are regularly interviewed and their opinions published at his web site. Numerous other sites, (including mine) link to the NASA Watch web site. Undoubtedly thousands visit it, many do so regularly.

To refuse to give him press credentials by referring to his efforts as "vanity press" simply because he is solely on the Internet is ludicrous, as he quotes you as having done. Such a comment is an affront to all who are trying hard to make the Internet the BEST media for honest communications and open discourse, which everyone knows in their hearts the Internet is capable of, because it has the ability for Authentication. Those who use it anonymously destroy their own worth; Mr. Cowing does not do this. He is who he is, and upon his soap box he doth stand. And there is a crowd gathered around him. Yet you turn a blind eye.

The Internet is very, very personal. It is, in fact, all about people-to-people communications.

It is true, I assume, that his material does not go through the usual channels of distribution -- as far as I can summize, no publisher pays him for his work nor distributes it for profit or otherwise (nor do they mine). It is quite likely, however, that his material enjoys as wide a circulation as many so-called "legitimate sources of information". In fact, it is entirely possible that those who visit his web site and use his material are much more "devoted" and "targeted" readers than the average media source's readers in pre-Internet days, and so his "numbers" (whatever they may be, I do not know) may be quite a bit more important than they might at first appear. It's never just a question of HOW MANY readers one has, but WHO. (I am, personally, not a frequent reader of his material.)

I am amazed that NASA would discard the power of the Internet and it's writers so quickly, considering that NASA hosts one of the most popular web sites ever (or was it THE most popular ever?)-- the Mars Pathfinder site. The popularity of that web site alone was considered "news" to many members of the "legitimate" press. And why not? They (the "legitimate" press) often don't have a clue about the wonderful science that's going on, and in fact, they are appropriately nicknamed "talking heads" with no understanding of the matters on which they speak, especially when compared to someone like Mr. Cowing. You should consider yourself lucky to have such a worthy opponent! Think what you might have had!

NASA should not be so quick to dismiss the 'Net. If you attempt to measure "legitimacy" of a publication by how much it is NOT on the Internet, and that appears to be the standard you are using, according to my understanding from Mr. Cowing's reports -- if that is the standard you measure with, I believe Mr. Cowing has been done a disservice, because it's an absurd standard. Perhaps you guys have your heads stuck so far in the future you are missing what is happening in the present.

Being also a webmaster of a dissenting voice, we also note that NASA will not link to OUR web site, and we find this equally inappropriate, because we have interviewed dozens of legitimate, recognized scientists including current and former NASA employees and subcontractor employees, and we have received from NASA, and elsewhere, and then studied, thousands of pages of NASA documentation, and we have presented our honest findings to the public at our web site, and every article is authored by real people with real names, and hundreds of thousands have visited our STOP CASSINI web site, and yet NASA will not link to us either.

Many major news organizations (including the Washington Post) have reported on our opposition voice, and many news organizations DO link to our site, all this is presumably because we are a legitimate dissident voice of the opposition to the Cassini space probe, which is now in flight and *right now* threatening this and future generations of earthlings. (NASA references for that statement appear below.) We can think of no fair reason for NASA not to link to our web site, nor for Mr Cowing not to link to our web site, for that matter! We link to both, because we believe it is our duty to let both sides be heard, regardless of the strength of our own bias, or perhaps the more so because of it.

If NASA is so sure of NASA's position, then let the public see what the opposition has to say! This is not Russia or Afghanistan. Free -- honest -- speech is supposed to be ENCOURAGED here, not stifled. We feel that for NASA not to link to us is censorship, plain and simple. For NASA not to link to Keith Cowing's NASA Watch is undoubtedly a simple case of censorship as well. Perhaps more so, perhaps less, depending on how you weigh the various factors, but regardless of his opinion of me (which I'll discuss more, below, for he clearly has one), he and I have much in common. We are both entirely web-based. We are both read by both the public and by people in and around NASA. We both care intensely about making NASA into something we as a nation can be proud of. In my case, I wish to see more Earth-watching environmental missions, and I want to see immediate colonization of the moon on a permanent basis. I won't speak for Mr. Cowing, but from what little I've read, he seems to lean towards going straight on to Mars and I'm not opposed to that if a consensus can be achieved in that direction instead of the lunar option. He wants the Space Station. I think it's a boondoggle. I say keep MIR alive (because it's there already and that ain't cheap), and skip the silly space station in favor of actually going somewhere.

Regarding Cassini, just because it has been launched, does not mean it is no longer a topic of concern. I said it *right now* threatens Earthlings. This is according to NASA's own documents. For example on page B-4 of the June 1995 EIS on the Cassini mission is this statement: "Failures on legs targeted toward Earth or Venus would tend to result in spacecraft trajectories that remain in the vicinity of Earth's orbit". That's *right now*.

(Later failures merely "tend" (NASA's word) to have non-Earth impacting orbits, but by definition, "tend" is not "definitive".)

On page 4-104 of the same report is the following statement: "With respect to the long-term inadvertent reentry accident, the performance and behavior of the materials used in the RTGs after many years (a decade to millennia) in a space environment are highly uncertain." In other words, the protective casings could become brittle or cracked or defective in some other way, such that if Cassini's trajectory intersects Earth's any time in the next millennia, the ENTIRE PAYLOAD of plutonium-238, Pu-239, and other isotopes could be vaporized into our atmosphere (less whatever has decayed, of course). This would be a disaster ENTIRELY of NASA's making, and this -- and the lies NASA told to pass this off on an unsuspecting public -- has formed the basis of my dissidence. But I was once a big NASA supporter, and hope some day to be one again. And surely, so does Mr. Cowing.

But here, I have claimed, and a careful examination NASA's own statements backs me to the hilt on this, that Cassini threatens humanity *right now*. That somehow makes me a dissident. Regardless of if I'm on the Internet or wherever.

NASA has not linked to our web site. Despite getting hundreds of thousands of "hits" at our Stop Cassini web site (you have permission to ask our ISP if you doubt this. We still get hundreds each week) NASA will not link to our web site or the web site of ANY dissident. Why not have a dissident's links page? We would all drown in our collective icons! There are so many of us! And despite NASA getting -- well, how many inquiries DID you get about Cassini via the Internet last year? You don't want to tell, do you? All those activists that got you hot and bothered -- the vast majority of them connected through the Internet. Their goal was to try to wake you up. Yet all NASA did was hunker down, and call in the United States Air Force to threaten use of force to protect the launch freefall zone from imagined lawfully abiding citizens in international waters, and NASA prayed that nothing would go wrong, for example, that actual Congressional Hearings would be held.

But that's the NASA way: Cross your fingers, eat beans and franks the morning of a launch, and maybe rub a few rabbit's feet -- such brainy scientists, to see them putting their ultimate faith in dumb luck! My My! It's one thing to watch a superstitious baseball player not change his underwear for a season because he's on a hitting streak, but honestly, *beans and franks* (as was reported on the Discovery channel recently, with film and interviews)?

So, what makes Mr. Cowing's web site more or less deserving than ours? He's a scientist and I'm a computer programmer? Few "real" reporters are either scientists OR computer programmers! I must confess that I don't spend a lot of time at Mr. Cowing's site. He is unlikely to be a source of useful information for me. I sent him a press release about my "assessment" of Cassini's RTGs a little over a year ago. It was, indeed, an assessment I have since had to retract, but only to discover the truth is hardly any better! So perhaps he had cause for a degree of disgust because I had actually tried to think on my own in the early part of my investigation into the Cassini matter, and been (sort of) wrong. The RTGs are *NOT* specifically "designed to incinerate" as I thought, they are specifically designed to incinerate in the upper atmosphere to a variously calculated (by NASA) percent of from 3% to 33% to 100%; any of these numbers would be an unmitigated catastrophe, but ALL of these numbers are OK with NASA. 3% of Cassini's payload is a lot of lethal doses any way you spread it. So I was wrong, yes -- by 0%, 67% or 97%, depending on which possibility comes up. (This is a brief discussion of these issues given for context only: These percentages simply represent NASA's "Monte Carlo" simulation results, the true discussion is not at all about percentages, it's about ablation, and whether the remnants of Cassini are in a reentry form which is tumbling, or spinning, or rotating, etc. about whichever axis. And how fast and at what angle the craft comes in. The percentages cited, in all cases, refer merely to calculations of the odds of various accidents happening over the odds of other accidents happening.)

I have had to refine my thinking, and really understand your "product" -- but at any rate, his response (shown at our web site in STOP CASSINI newsletter #6) I hope is uncharacteristic of him. As far as I know, he never linked to our web site -- nor even formally gave us the "award" he refers to! I have dealt with many, many reporters in my life -- hundreds. His attitude (shown entirely at the web site) was quite different from what I expected, that is, from what these hundreds of other encounters have caused me to expect from "true professionals" in the media.

I believe legitimate press has a duty to either present both sides of an argument, or alternatively (or both) give the reader a way to learn about the opposition for themselves, directly from the opposition. What NASA, Mr. Cowings, or I say should not sway anyone about anything -- only the facts should do that. A good reporter, I believe, shows the reader that they (the reporter) has explored the legitimate opposition -- that is, the press is obliged, however biased they may be, to present enough information to the reader/viewer/listener/etc. to allow that person to make up their own mind. Salesmen are expected to present only one side, but if they withhold information which the buyer has a legal and legitimate right to, it is called fraud. Reporters report. They are entitled to be as biased as they like, but when they are, they have a duty to let the reader know that there are other views and if they are "really" good, they will go so far as to prove that they have listened to the other side and know their arguments.

But we do not license reporters in America. Anyone (in theory( can be one, just as anyone can, in theory, be President. My own sense of duty when I try to wear that hat (reporter, that is) may be different -- far different -- from Mr. Cowing's sense of duty. But if attitude is nothing, if it is "merely" who links to what, who reads what, and who writes for what and to what, then by that standard, by a standard based not on numbers but on the persons involved -- not on money but on influence and renown--then NASA had better wake up, smell the electrons, and give Mr. Cowing full press accreditation, because he has established his Internet presence. Like me (though he may gag to say it, himself), he is a "legitimate dissident" (if such a thing is ever possible) concerning NASA. That he merely has "only" an Internet presence, and therefore should not be considered legitimate press, is ancient thinking. When people use the Internet to freely express their honest opinions, and when people use the Internet to read those opinions, that is a functional press. The "industry" you need is irrelevant. It's all been reduced to exactly what it should be: People talking to people. It's what communication was meant to be. The aberration of the past few hundred years, where a powerful and easily corrupted small society of newspaper mogels controlled everything anyone could read, are gone, thankfully, forever. You will have to embrace the new way sooner or later.


Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter


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