STOP CASSINI Newsletter #85 -- January 18th, 1999

Copyright (c) 1998

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #85 - January 18th, 1999

Sent to: Subscriber List, press, elected officials.


Cassini is in the news again, and for good reason. It stinks.

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

*** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #85, January 18th, 1999 *** Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #85, January 18th, 1999 ******

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

*** MLK Day

In accordance with President Clinton's suggestion we are marking Martin Luther King Day by getting involved in social causes and volunteering our time towards them. Specifically, all day, I worked on this newsletter. Even more specifically, we are announcing that an upcoming issue will present a discussion of the racism inherent in NASA's repeated overflights of Africa (during the late part of each launch, a very precarious moment) with frightful quantities of radioactive and other poisons. As a friend put it, "The U.S. State Department has no more reason to worry about immediate military repercussions from that part of the globe in the event of a nuclear accident over their heads now than on 4/21/64 when a General Electric TRANSIT 5BN-3 [SNAP-9A] released 2.1 lbs of pu238 over Madagascar."

*** Cassini leaves UNSAFE MODE for SAFE MODE (NASA says)

CNN/AP/REUTERS report on Cassini:

Here's the official NASA/JPL information we've received:


On Monday, 01/11 RSS Test E was performed. Not all objectives of this test were completed, so it is planned to be repeated during the previously defined contingency window on DOY 020.

At approximately 23:00 UTC System Fault Protection placed the spacecraft in a safe state. "Safing" executed exactly as designed, flawlessly placing the spacecraft in the correct High Gain to sun attitude, 40 bps downlink telemetry, instruments off and replacement heaters on. Telemetry played back from the SSR on Tuesday night indicated that the safing resulted from a small variation in information about the spacecraft's orientation (i.e., attitude), that occurred as the spacecraft was doing a slow roll to keep the sun on the proper side of the spacecraft as it was going through opposition with Earth.

On Tuesday, 01/12 through Thursday, 01/14, flight controllers developed plans to return to normal operations. Concurrently Science and Uplink Office personnel prioritized the remaining activities to be executed in the remaining ICO time.


If they are using reasonably standard computer terminology, it appears that, probably, there was a hardware failure of the CPU or memory chips, which caused the software to reboot the system. That's how I read "System Fault Protection placed the spacecraft in a safe state", translating it first into standard geek-speak (which I am quite familiar with, having spoken it for nearly 20 years) and then into English (42 years' experience, 43 if you include prenatal listening). It could just as likely be a software error wherein their system software lost track of what was where. You just can't tell from what they've given us, and all this speculation assumes it's in, like I said, standard geek-speak. With NASA, who knows?

My translation: A bug in the system [or a faulty sensor, etc.] caused them to have to restart the program. Whether that will happen again, during critical maneuvers, is the question. One example of a critical maneuver is when they will fire thrusters to undo the bias they have given the probe (supposedly to help save Earth). Here's the sequence: The probe is supposed to be aiming well away from Earth so it won't smack into us if it gets lost, right?

Well, what do they have to do to get the probe aimed right again? They have to fire thrusters!

So, first they issue a command via the software control program and ground control to fire the thruster. Then, they issue a command to STOP firing the thruster. But what if another System Fault Protection occurs between the "fire" command and the "stop firing" command? Simple: No STOP FIRING command gets issued! How autonomous is the thruster? (Will it keep firing without a command sequence telling it to?) I don't know. But I do know that every step of the process, the software, the hardware, everything, was made by humans. I've yet to meet the perfect human. (Though I certainly hope to, some day.) Clementine, another NASA probe, suffered an extended burn of its thrusters and was lost to all useful science.

An extended burn of the thrusters during the UNbiasing maneuver could place the probe in an overly-corrected position.

In other words, could aim it towards Earth.

*** Mountain Biking, Nostradamus & Cassini

This section contains some of a series of emails from the NOFLYBY web site, and a comment by the editor of this newsletter:


At 09:30 AM 1/18/99 -0500, Jonathan wrote:

daniel, thanks for this well written and insightful perspective in reply to the discussions on the Nostradamus quote and the posting of an astrology analysis at NoFlyby.


ps: best regards to all of noflyby feedback subscribers on this Martin Luther King, Jr. day. In keeping with this spirit, i am including a poem i wrote inspired by an event at my high school on the day after MLK's assassination.


At 01:48 PM 1/17/99 -0800, Daniel wrote:

John and Jonathan,

I consider your exchange, appended below, to be truly emblematic of something that goes to the heart of why we are in danger of polluting the earth with plutonium. John's statement has a hidden aspect. If the "kind of people whose support would be the most influential toward aborting the mission," are capable of being alienated from the truth by an extraneous quote by Nostradamus, then they are, in fact, profoundly irrational in their approach to things, despite being "science-connected." And, INDEED, our entire experience in the twentieth-century, now ignominiously coming to a breathtakingly perilous end, can be characterized almost exclusively by the irrationality of what "science-connected people" thought and did. If "science-connected" people, at long last, are not willing to entertain a little constructive self-criticism, then I doubt that we can avoid a major cataclysm - in which case, Nostradamus, even if off by a year or two in his prediction, will ultimately be vindicated.


p.s. I carry no personal brief either for astrology or Nostradamus.

At 01:34 AM 1/17/99 EST, John Thomas wrote:
Your quote of the Nostradamus "prediction" for the 7th month of 1999 can serve only to alienate rational and science-connected people who might otherwise be potential allies. It is these kind of people whose support would be the most influential toward aborting the mission, not those who take Nostradamus seriously.

John Thomas

Free At Last

Can a seed wither into the dust of despair,
and if truth can be neglected, then tell me why?
Can a man speaking out with a righteousness really die,
was not Martin Luther King Jr. wise?

My life is inspired by a few,
and these I congratulate and continue
to breathe the air receiving its gifts
nourishing the cells with a spiritual lift,

Yet when confusion lingers in the night
trust to go into the center of love, not fright
for in ideals of freedom we will last forever
in realms of wisdom, loving one another.

Life is thus, a series of attitudes
bringing peace, war or feuds,
but by keeping the dignity of what is right,
we cannot be discouraged by a brother's soulful flight.



Jonathan, just wanted to let you know these Nostradamus emails have been fascinating. I'll be doing a Nostradamus issue soon myself, mainly answering an essay by James Randi which was FOR Cassini and against Nostradamus, and your emails have really helped me to focus on how to respond properly.

Yesterday on my mountain bike, I very nearly killed myself, accidentally failing to negotiate a tough curve. How tough? Every time through there previously, I walked that stretch. But not yesterday. Yesterday I thought I could ride through it, but instead I fell off the side of the mountain, riding down an few chair-sized boulders into a gully, and landing face-first on rocks. I scratched up my chin, my elbow, and my leg, and bruised my hand and cracked my helmet like an eggshell, but knew almost instantly that I had not done any serious damage -- not even a concussion, and only one contusion. My wife saw it, with me ending up looking like a rag doll at the bottom of the gully. Not something a wife should ever have to see, no matter how it comes out.

The rock that split my helmet was a pointy thing, and I landed about 3 inches from the top of it. Had it been three inches closer, my face would have hit the point instead of my helmet hitting the side of the rock while my chin (and chest protector) hit the rock next to it.

Do I believe in miracles? It's hard not to, because then I'd have to do two things: First, I'd have to wonder how lucky can a guy be, since this is hardly the first such incident in my life, where I "cheated death" as the expression goes. Far from the first. But second, to not believe there was an Angel on my shoulder (or some such spiritual being), is to claim credit for some awesome quick-thinking. Reviewing the accident in my head over and over and over, I know that every step of the way (except the first step, that got me in trouble in the first place) I had choices to make, like choosing to ride down with the bike rather than attempting to abandon it at the top -- I had many choices, right down to the last choice, which was to tuck my head in a little and close my eyes and RELAX just before the final impact. Other than getting myself in trouble in the first place, I did everything right.

Am I that smart or was a hidden "hand" guiding me? Well, I don't know, but I am very uncomfortable taking credit myself. After all, I was pretty stupid a mere fraction of a second before I suddenly started doing everything right.

Do I believe in miracles? It's hard not to. I don't want to deny science in any way, but I would not want to be so presumptuous as to say that I am so good at falling into large rocks that I can plan even the most dangerous drop to come out okay. I think I could fall into that gully a thousand times and on average, every one of those times I would have gotten hurt much worse -- if not died.

Do I give thanks to God, then? Of course -- what else is there? Science saved me too -- science made the helmet, the padded gloves, the elbow and knee pads, and the chest protector -- every one of which protected me yesterday (not to mention, the carbon fiber full-suspension mountain bike, a product of space-age technology). Yes, science saved me from my own stupidity, but a rock is a rock is a rock, and I nearly (by a mere 3 inches) face-planted myself onto one, and no gear was there to save me. I feel very lucky, and it is hard not to feel that for some reason my time had not yet come.

Somewhere, there must be a fine line, where you can trust in science, and yet accept (and respect) divine intervention if it appears to have occurred. How this affects the Cassini battle is of course, because Nostradamus is equally mysterious as any divinity or god or power. So who's to say what is immoral and unscientific to believe in? James Randi points out that Nostradamus' track record is positively awful. The track record I've had so far in my life is -- I've been very, very lucky, yesterday especially, but other times as well.

Does there come a point where it becomes mathematically irresponsible to JUST call it chance or am I really here for a purpose, and has my time really not come yet? I guess we shall see, but such luck, and a buck, will buy you a cup of coffee. If I lived like I expect such luck I would be dead tomorrow, but I try to live like I DON'T expect such luck, and then am pleasantly surprised (and happy beyond all words to be alive!) when it happens.

And I think, that is the only way to "handle" such "miracles". Do I, personally, believe in miracles?

I would never rely on them. I can only accept them when (if) they happen, and give thanks to God, whomever He may be, that He has blessed me with them.

And I will of course, continue to wear all that equipment science has given me. I could choose not to ride, but then I would not have lost 30 pounds in the last two years and not had any fun (mountain biking is FUN!). And if I get hurt, it is I alone (and my wife), who will suffer the loss. Not like Cassini. If that fails, many -- perhaps millions -- who didn't have anything to do with it -- could die a grim death. What risks one takes with one's own life, whether it be smoking, driving without a seatbelt, hang-gliding, mountain biking, whatever -- is, to a large extent, one's own business. When one takes risks with other people's lives, like passing in no-passing zones or as with Cassini, one should not require miracles. One should not expect miracles at all. Therefore science should take the prudent steps that reduce the need for miracles to save us, just as we each, normally, prudently don't pass in no-passing zones lest we fail to be lucky.

The Cassini Pu is not adequately protected, as even NASA's documents show clearly. NASA thus is relying on miracles, not good science, to save us from Cassini. The miracle of the perfect reentry, tumbling just right to minimize the danger of a full release. The miracle of a water or other "soft" landing in the middle of nowhere. And of course, the "miracle" of dispersal at high altitude so that the causes of individual leukemias and cancers cannot be identified by us mere mortals.

But NASA employees should remind themselves that -- if there is a God -- and I'm sure many -- if not the vast majority -- of NASA employees believe there is -- He will know. He will know what they have done, and what they have been willing to risk.

"God does not play dice" is what Einstein said, but I believe it was Niels Bohr, another great nuclear physicist, who replied something to the effect of, "Who is Einstein to tell God what to do?" NASA demands of God, a miracle. Who is NASA to be so presumptuous and so demanding?

Take care, and thanks for sharing the MLK poem. My firm takes MLK day off, and I am not at work today, hence these Cassini-related and personal comments.

I'm still a little shaky from my most recent brush with death, and I hope these comments have made some sense to you. We are caught in a very complicated thing, very hard to explain, and we are walking many fine lines to express the scientific truth of the matter, and the moral truth of the matter, without alienating others, for the truth is painful and alarming and it is easier to ignore it and trust in NASA's "skill" and dumb luck. But we don't want to do that, because, I think, we don't want to force God to play dice in our favor. To keep it all very scientific, we simply should not do that. Cassini was an unnecessary risk.

Take care,

Russell Hoffman

*** A scientist (or so he claims) questions our web site (and a response)

At 02:18 PM 1/18/99 EST, Timothy R. wrote:

One may often gauge the degree of truth in a written statement by the lack of inclination of the writer to indulge in hysteria to make his or her point. After reading much of the anti-Cassini website, I find hysteria common in the writing and especially in the article "False, True, and Truer." In one case Mr. Hoffman mentions as a possibility the "loss of a whole city" as a possible result of a fly-by accident. He also says that in the event of a fuel explosion near Earth, that one of the RTG's would "surely" be directed toward Earth.

These two statements alone are enough to convince me that the chances of a fly-by accident are much lower than Mr. Hoffman would have us believe, and much more likely to be close to NASA's estimate of less than one in one million. Mr. Hoffman offers no scenario in which a city could be destroyed by Cassini, and no mathematics to back up his assertion of "sure" RTG re-entry. He simply makes hysterical assertions in an attempt to win supporters of his position.

As for the web site in general, I can find no names of the "responsible" scientists who endorse the anti-Cassini position, no mathematics in support of the often-repeated claims of NASA's bad science, no risk-benefit analysis of any depth regarding the consequences of a re-entry accident (in fact no understanding of the science to be gained by the mission), and therefore no reason to believe anything I've read here.

If you want to convince me or any other scientist of your position, back it up with facts, not hysterical speculation, and have the facts published in a scientific forum, where if they ARE published, it will be after peer review by actual responsible scientists.


Timothy R


Dear Sir,

Thank you for you email (shown above). It would have been an excellent letter, if only you had not missed a few major items, such as the many articles by scientists at the web site, including Dr. Ross McCluney, Dr. Horst Poehler, Dr. Michio Kaku and others.

You evidently also missed the reports of conversations I had with Dr. John W. Gofman (co-discoverer of Uranium-233 and the person who isolated the first "working" quantities of Plutonium for the Atomic Bomb Project (generally known as the "Manhattan" project) during WWII), or my reports of conversations with Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, known as the "father of health physics" (the study of radiation dangers to the human body). Nor did you notice any reports of the findings of Dr. Ernest Sternglass, who has estimated that several hundred thousand or more might die from a reentry accident, WITHOUT the probe even coming down upon a large city.

All this you missed in your otherwise careful research of the web site.

Regarding one of the RTG's "surely" coming towards Earth, that was (as I thought I made clear) for an accident at a fairly specific distance from Earth, for example hitting a piece of space debris at the outer edges of Earth's debris field, causing some sort of explosive destruction; in that case, with the RTGs going off in three directions, there is the "good" possibility of one of them going towards Earth (I admit, that at the time I wrote that, I thought the RTGs were equally spaced around the probe, but actually, two go opposite each other and the third goes off to one side, so I suppose some correction there is indeed, in order). And NASA has raised the height of the flyby by several hundred miles over the years; this does of course reduce this risk accordingly, but it does not eliminate the risk.

Loss of a whole city? You wonder how that could come about? NASA's plan if all goes wrong is that the RTGs should BREAK AWAY from the probe in the earliest part of its reentry, and come back separately. This, however, is NOT guaranteed as there is no way to know if the probe will be "tumbling", "spinning", "rotating", or "side-on-stable" (a NASA term, I guess) at the time of reentry. It is entirely possible that at least one RTG would get "hung up" within the rest of the probe, not having been positioned properly to break away because of the orientation of the probe.

If that happens, it would come much lower into the atmosphere than "designed" and would be subjected to much greater heating than expected. This could cause a FULL release of that RTG's plutonium payload.

There were about 270 billion "potentially lethal doses" on board Cassini at launch, with far less than a single percent having decayed by now. The meaning of a "potentially lethal dose" is defined in newsletter #84, and elsewhere at the web site.

If you really want to gauge the truth of something, you ought to look at ALL the facts. Especially look at NASA's original version of the False, True, and Truer document, which contains serious misrepresentations at every step.

And you definitely ought to look at their misuse (on page 2-53 of the 1995 Cassini EIS) of the D. E. Rockey 1981 JPL report on solar alternatives. Granted, looking at page 2-53 alone won't prove it was misused -- you have to look at the original report to see that.

Why not try and get a copy of the D. E. Rockey report directly from NASA? Good luck -- it took Karl Grossman YEARS to wriggle it out of them. But you are lucky: we posted it at the web site, so you can check for yourself NASA's dishonesty, without having to go through the FOIA hoops that Professor Grossman had to go through to get the report. Honest science shouldn't have to lie and coverup stuff, should it? Or will you claim (as others have, with little reason) that our protest efforts somehow justify NASA's lies? Even if our protests were 100% wrong, I ask you -- does that allow NASA to lie? Will science ever win if it takes on that tactic? Can good science ever be based on lies?

As to publishing anti-Cassini material in a scientific forum with peer review, many scientists have tried, but their articles have been IGNORED. The aforementioned Dr. Horst Poehler, for instance, tried to answer a blatantly unscientific "opinion piece" (that's what I saw it as, and you should have too if you've seen it) in IEEE spectrum -- he's a life member. No luck. They would not publish his item (or mine). Dr. Poehler has an article posted at our web site about NASA's flimsy containment system which you evidently missed in your research of the web site.

Lastly, as for doing my own "risk-benefit analysis", it's really not necessary. As indicated in the D. E. Rockey report, alternatives to most if not all of these scientific missions are readily available. It would be like analyzing two alternatives -- one, where you shoot an arrow in the air, and where it lands, you do not care (NASA's position regarding Cassini failures) and the other, where you don't shoot the arrow because there are alternative behaviors one can do instead which are not so dangerous and just as useful. NASA isn't going to learn ANYTHING when/if the probe gets to Saturn that could not have been learned from two smaller, non-nuclear missions. You are welcome to prove me wrong if you can.

Here is a final quote from Dr. Michio Kaku, which I think you'll find appropriate. He's a nuclear physicist and one of the prime thinkers regarding "string theory":

Dr. Michio Kaku:

Well NASA did the estimate for using solar power on the Cassini mission. And I happen to agree with the NASA estimate. I did the calculation myself. Cassini cannot go solar, cannot go solar. Itís overweight. Well, by how much is it overweight? One percent. It is one percent overweight. Therefore, you cannot shoot Cassini into outer space with solar. I agree with NASA. But, if you go to the store and you want to put on a favorite dress and you are one percent overweight, you simply say, ďWell, I canít do it. I canít do it.Ē Or you simply lose that one percent. It is 130 pounds overweight by NASAís own estimates.

--From Nukes In Space II, EnviroVideo Phone: 1-800-ECO-TV46, Email:

I felt your thoughtful letter deserved a thoughtful answer. With 270 billion "potentially lethal doses" on board -- and I didn't put them there -- it is hard to avoid sounding like I'm exaggerating the dangers, because the dangers are enormous. I hope you will continue to think about what it is that you are supporting, and consider instead, supporting better science from NASA/JPL/your tax dollars.


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 January 22nd, 1999.
Last modified February 1st, 1999.
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Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman