NASA Bets Farm on Cassini Probe

When speaking with people about the impending $3.4 billion Cassini rocket launch scheduled for October 6th from Cape Canaveral, FL, often I get the same reaction, Better they send 72 pounds of plutonium into space than keep it here on Earth. No one, however, seems to be so interested in the purported mission of the rocket – an international scientific mission of discovery to Saturn. Welcome the age of interplanetary politics.

Anti-nuclear activists have been mobilized around this issue, and rightly so. If pulverized and inhaled, the plutonium onboard can cause cancer. Cassini’s dangerous isotope is primarily plutonium-238, a close cousin to plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons. Activists are asking NASA what the rush is, because the European Space Agency claims that, given five years, they could build long life solar cells that would eliminate the need for plutonium. NASA claims this is not possible because of the remoteness of Saturn and its distance from the sun. These solar arrays would use sunlight gathered before Cassini gets too distant from the sun, and would store this electricity for later use in running the probe’s computer and communications systems.

The powerful plutonium is NOT being used to propel the craft into deep space. NASA has planned a risky flyby maneuver for that, where Cassini will slingshot around the earth on August 16, 1999 by gravity-assist thereby gaining an enormous boost into deep space. Cassini is scheduled to reach Jupiter in December, 2000 and ultimately Saturn in July, 2004 – suspiciously close to American Independence Day, this time dominance day where the US is not only the superpower on Earth, but dominates, and thereby owns and controls all of the universe. That is, of course, provided nothing goes wrong during the entire seven year trip.

NASA’s own 1995 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission states, In the unlikely event that an inadvertent reentry occurred, approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the time of the swingbys could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure. From these grim figures, NASA somehow determines that of us 5 billion affected, only 2,480 heath affects would occur in the 50 years following the disaster, and that this would be statistically indistinguishable from normally observed cancer fatalities among the world population.

For them to pontificate and say things like the odds are 1 in a billion is the height of scientific arrogance, said Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. NASA is basing its figures on a single-event failure, but in the real world when accidents happen, many things go wrong in quick succession, Kaku said. In reality, things shake, things get hot, and things break apart all at once.

NASA used the same reasoning to calculate the dangers of the Cassini mission that it used in saying the space shuttle had a 1 and 100,000 chance for solid rocket failure, Kaku said. After the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, NASA recalculated the risk to 1 in 72.

It is important to remember that this is not the first launch of nuclear material into space. The recent ill-fated Russian Mars Probe that fell into the Andean foothills in December 1996 was also carrying about 9.5 ounces of plutonium-238. The Titan IV rocket that will carry Cassini that exploded in the past as well. In August 1993 a Titan IV exploded over the Pacific Ocean, destroying its payload containing a $1 billion US spy satellite system. Three of the 24 known US space mission involving nuclear power have met with accidents, as well as six out of the 39 Russian missions.

Turning outer space into a nuclear dump is only one of the many reasons to be concerned about the Cassini rocket launch. In an Aviation Week and Space Technology article in August 1996, Gen. J.W. Ashy, commander-in-chief of the unified Space Command said, it’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but – absolutely – we’re going to fight in space, we’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space when orbital assets become so precious that it’s in our national interest to do so, he said.

Cassini is just one in a whole series of launches planned by NASA to ensure the miniaturization, and US domination of space. Many of us don’t question this as an okay thing to do – we’ve been trained for many years to accept weapons of destruction by video games such as Asteroids and Space Invaders, where winning means killing things, in, from and into space.

The Northern California Stop Cassini Coalition is planning a demonstration on September 28th. For more information contact Elliot at 510/527-4055 or Winston at 707/772-5264. To get find out what is happening at Cape Canaveral as October 6th approaches contact the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 90035, Gainesville, FL 32607. Phone: 352-468-3295.