Columbia Accident Statement

1 February 2003

The final moments as pieces fall from Columbia

Bruce Gagnon (352) 337-9274
Karl Grossman (631) 725-2858
Loring Wirbel (719) 481-3698

In mourning the tragedy of the Columbia shuttle, the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power In Space stresses that it came as NASA has been moving to greatly expand its program to use nuclear power in space and underscores why deadly atomic materials must not be used in space operations.

In what it calls Project Prometheus , NASA seeks to broaden its $1 billion Nuclear Systems Initiative begun last year and include development of a nuclear-propelled rocket.

Moreover, NASA is planning for additional nuclear-powered space probe launches and to put atomic power to other space uses, noted Global Network Coordinator Bruce Gagnon.

“While Columbia did not appear to have a nuclear payload on-board, consider the consequences if a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor came down in pieces over Texas or elsewhere on earth,” said Professor Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York and author of “The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet,” narrator of “Nukes In Space” television documentaries and a Global Network board member.

In coming months—in May and June -- NASA intends to launch from Florida two rockets both carrying rovers to land on Mars, rovers that are equipped with plutonium-powered heaters. The Global Network has been conducting demonstrations to protest these launches.

Gagnon points out that NASA’s own Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) says that “the overall chance of an accident occurring” for each launch “is about 1 in 30” and "the overall chance of any accident that releases radioactive materials to the environment is about one in 230. "People offsite in the downwind direction...could inhale small quantities of radio nuclides" the NASA EIS says.

“These are high odds for disaster which could impact—as NASA admits—on people as far as 60 miles from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” said Gagnon.

“These and other NASA space shots involving materials must be cancelled in the wake of the Columbia disaster and safe space energy systems be used instead,” stressed Gagnon.

Said Grossman: “Space exploration is dangerous but to include nuclear poisons in the equation makes any accident far, far more deadly—and it is unnecessary. In recent years there have been breakthroughs in energizing space systems safely especially through the use of solar technologies. But NASA under Director Sean O'Keefe is partnering with nuclear interests to heavily nuclearize U.S. space operations. The Columbia disaster must show us the awful folly of this atomic space path.”

In recent years Congress has cut funding for the space program (in particular funding for shuttle maintenance) and NASA has turned to the Pentagon for financing of many of its missions. NASA’s O’Keefe said upon taking the helm of the space agency that all future missions will be dual use – with the military now in control of the space program.

Loring Wirbel, a technical editor and Global Network board member based in Colorado, stressed that “the shuttle accident occurring on re-entry, which is always been touted as much safer than launch, should serve as proof that NASA's planned nuclear propulsion program is far too dangerous to be considered.”

Also, “the hazards involved in aggressive space use also suggest that broader military use of space for first strike warfare or weapons in space is a dangerous game,” said Wirbel.

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