14 February 2003
Columbia appears to have been carrying nuclear material


The shuttle Columbia appears to have been carrying nuclear material, material which is now spread all over Texas and elsewhere. How much material was on board? Unfortunately, NASA is about the last place you'd look to get a straight answer, but we can piece together some facts:
  1. The Sheriff of Nacogdoches, Texas, Thomas Kerss, stated that there was nuclear material on board the shuttle, and therefore any recovered debris would be tested for radioactivity. The Shreveport Times reports , referring to Nacogdoches County: "NASA provided county officials with a list of recovery priorities that includes anything that could contain data or resembles computer circuitry, or potentially radioactive materials." What does 'potentially radioactive' mean?
  2. The Orlando Sentinel reports

    "Dale Vodak, environmental investigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the teams have made progress recovering hazardous materials, including explosive bolts, fuel cells and a small quantity of a radioactive isotope, Americium 242 - used in smoke detectors."

    Americium is a radioactive metal. Smoke detectors use Americium 241. It may be a coincidence, but the Israelis are researching the use of Americium 242m as a nuclear fuel to propel spacecraft. An Israeli, Ilan Ramon, was doing scientific research on the shuttle. Could he have had a secret project to test the use of Americium 242m as a propellant in space? If so, how much of it is now spread over Texas?
  3. Unless someone actually approaches a significant concentration of nuclear material, we are not likely to see any dramatic deaths. NASA is presumably counting on the fact that the effects of the crash will only be a statistical long term rise in certain kinds of cancers, which will only become apparent long after it has started its nuclear program.
  4. Animals in Texas are showing symptoms of unusual illness. This could be caused by exposure to some chemical in the debris. Could it also be caused by exposure to radiation?
  5. The shuttle, if it did contain radioactive material, is now serving as an experiment for NASA in determining how widely the material would spread in a crash. Not telling the people of Texas about their possible exposure, and thus preventing them from taking any steps to keep from getting sick, will allow NASA to study the long-term health effects of any spread of radioactive materials.
NASA is trying to tread carefully as it heads towards the use of nuclear-powered space exploration ( some people are against this - remember the protests against the use of nuclear fuel in the Cassini ?). Obviously, the crash of a nuclear-powered shuttle over earth could have immensely tragic consequences. NASA feels it needs nuclear fuel to send man to Mars, and is desperate, for a combination of practical (a Mars mission will keep NASA alive) and mystical (a Mars mission will allow for the continuance of the quasi-religious attitude NASA has towards manned space missions; did you see those insane NASA scientists salivate in their Columbia press conferences when they talked of 'manned space flight'?)) reasons to have a manned mission to Mars. If NASA were to reveal that Texans and others may have been exposed to radiation due to some secret experiment, the political repercussions would probably end the chance for NASA to use nuclear power in space. The use of nuclear power in space is also part of the militarization of space, something which the Bush Administration is in the process of implementing. Since no one is able to stop the Bush Administration or the nuts at NASA, I imagine we're going to see many more of this kind of incident as NASA conducts its experiments on the world.

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