NASA Misleads the World on the Dangers of the Cassini Space Ship's Fly-by of Earth

By Jonathan Mark
Action Site to Stop Cassini Earth Flyby
email: info@flybynews.com

http://www.flybynews.com/archives/
P.O. Box 1999 Wendell Depot, MA 01380, U.S.A.

and Earl Budin, M.D.
Former Assoc. Clin. Prof. Radiology, UCLA Medical Center

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Cassini space ship on October 15, 1997, on a seven-year mission to study the planet Saturn, purportedly in the hope of "understanding the birth and evolution of our solar system." But by using 72.3 lbs. (32,8 kg) of radioactive Plutonium to run Cassini's 750 Watt instrument panel, NASA created the possibility of unspeakable disaster for the people (and other life) on our own planet.

NASA plans to accelerate Cassini by using Earth's gravitational field on August 18, 1999, when it plans to have the space ship approach Earth in a so-called "fly-by" at a velocity of 10 miles per second. NASA claims that the odds against a calamitous mishap, namely the space ship entering our atmosphere are one in a million. But there is important evidence showing that NASA has seriously underestimated the possibility of human or equipment error, and the significance of the danger of a Cassini Earth fly-by accident.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for example, in May 1997 reported 18 different types of malfunctions that may occur, including electrical short-circuits, meteors or space debris striking the space probe, and erroneous ground commands. If the craft does veer from its course even slightly, Cassini could plunge into Earth's atmosphere and burn up like a meteorite. Cassini has more Plutonium-238 on board than any mission before. Because of its shorter life time, according to physicist Dr. Kai Petzke of the Technical University of Berlin, the isotope Pu-238 is about 280 times more radioactive than the well known bomb material Pu-239. During atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, tons and tons of Pu-239 were released into atmosphere. But because Pu-238 is so much more dangerous, it would more than double the human-made Plutonium activity in the atmosphere, if the plutonium on board Cassini (400,000 Curie) were set free!

NASA'S MISINFORMATION

Major flaws in NASA's Environmental Impact Statements were exposed by the Nuclear Safety Review Panel that was appointed to study the safety of Cassini. Federal regulations require a separate evaluation whenever radioactive material is introduced into space. The panel comprised representatives from the U.S. EPA, Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Defense, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and NASA. In its July 1997 Safety Evaluation Report (SER), the panel noted at least three major discrepancies:

(1) The most astounding error is that NASA claimed the Plutonium containers were "designed to withstand re-entry" into our atmosphere. In fact, the SER noted, these holders were NOT designed to withstand the heat of an accidental re-entry at the planned speed of 42,300 mph (64,000 km).

(2) NASA claimed that almost none of the Plutonium could become airborne in any accident. In contrast, the SER noted that nine kilograms could become airborne in respirable form, the only hazardous state.

(3) NASA estimated that in the event of an accident the Plutonium could cause 120 fatal cancers. The SER estimates that "tens of thousands" such deaths could result from a major accident.

NASA based its figures on the cancer-causing potential of Plutonium on the dose from general ionizing radiation. But the SER noted "the probability of a single inhaled particle [of plutonium] inducing a cancer," which NASA ignored in all its Environmental Impact Statements, although it was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (April 1997) from experiments financed in part by NASA. However, even the SER fatality estimate could fall far short of the truth. The SER fails to mention that each kilogram of Plutonium contains trillions of radioactive atoms. The number of fatal cancers might be many times greater than tens of thousands.

THE LIKELIHOOD OF RE-ENTRY

What are the chances of the Cassini space probe entering Earth's atmosphere? NASA claims the odds are one in a million, but according to Dr. Michio Kaku, renown physicist, an inventor of the "super string" theory and expert on Einstein's Unified Field Theory, that figure is based solely on the chance of an impact with a meteor in outer space. Meanwhile, far greater and more likely risks are posed by mishaps such as lost radio contact or misfired rockets. Dr. Kaku calculates the chance of a Cassini Earth fly-by error is more like 10 percent.

NASA has taken frightening chances from the beginning of this mission. For example, the Titan IV rocket it used to launch Cassini now has a 12 percent failure rate on lift-off. Also, there have been nine documented space program accidents that released Plutonium into our environment. In short, the agency's safety record is abysmal, and yet the stakes in this case are extremely high.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

We are reaching a point of no return: on 24 June 1999 NASA plans to direct Cassini's final fly-by around Venus to sling the space ship toward Earth. It is essential we all demand that leaders internationally to intercede in this misguided situation. A change of course is possible: to redirect the probe in another direction, perhaps a longer route to Saturn. If this isn't viable, then Cassini should be directed into the sun.

On February 24, Dr. Joan Russow, national leader of the Green Party of Canada submitted a Stop Cassini Fly-by Petition and Resolution to the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister of Canada for his immediate attention. This petition was drafted by the Cassini Redirect Coalition and it calls for heads of state or other national leaders to make demands in the United Nations and in the International Court to stop the Cassini Earth fly-by.

The situation is extremely serious. And the key is to respond now, while there is time to protect our world from nuclear radioactive pollution. It's time to return to the worthy ideals the U.S. ratified by signing the UN Treaty in 1967: "the peaceful use of outer space." The health of ourselves and our world is on the line.


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