No Nukes In Space

By Karl Grossman

Reliable. That's what NASA claimed last year about the Titan 4 rocket to be used to loft the Cassini space probe with 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide, more deadly plutonium than ever put on a space device. The fiery August 12 explosion on launch of an identical Titan 4 rocket, following the 1993 explosion in California of yet another Titan 4 rocket, has given lie to the NASA claim. There have now been two catastrophic accidents in the 25 Titan 4 launches. That's a one-in-12 severe accident rate. Reliable? If you knew your Chevy or Honda had a one-in-12 likelihood of blowing up upon starting off, you would not take that ride.

But here is the U.S. government insisting that a volatile rocket be shot up over the heads of the people of Florida carrying chemical and/or nuclear poisons. And it still totally unclear what poisons were dispersed in the most recent Titan 4 explosion. Government authorities are demanding people stay away from the debris but not being specific about what the debris contains.

The August 12 Titan 4 explosion demonstrated that opponents of the Cassini mission were absolutely right: there was a high probability of the Titan 4 that lofted Cassini blowing up on launch and showering Florida with plutonium. Space accidents cost lots of money. Some reports price the spy satellite blasted to smithereens on August 12 at $1.3 billion. The spy satellite destroyed in the 1993 Titan 4 launch explosion at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was valued at $800 million. And then there's the cost of Lockheed Martin's Titan 4 rockets.

But more important is the massive loss of life that will occur as mishaps inevitably continue in the space program if it is not de-nuclearized and de-weaponized. This past August 18, 1998 marked exactly a year before the day when NASA intends to have Cassini conduct an extremely dangerous "flyby" of Earth.

On August 18, 1999 unless NASA can be stopped, it plans to have the probe and its 72.3 pounds of plutonium do a "slingshot maneuver" of Earth. NASA wants to use the Earth's gravity to increase the velocity of Cassini so it can reach its final destination of Saturn.

Cassini is supposed to come flying in at 42,300 miles per hour just 496 miles overhead. If there is a rocket misfire or other malfunction and the probe makes what NASA terms an "inadverent reentry" into the 75-mile high Earth atmosphere, it will break up and plutonium rain down, admits NASA in its "Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission." If that happens, "five billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the time," says the statement, "could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure."

A "Safety Evaluation Report" for the Cassini mission done for The White House by the U.S. government's Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel that included NASA just obtained by Dr. Earl Budin, professor of radiology at UCLA, says such a Cassini "flyby" accident would cause "several tens of thousands of latent cancer fatalities worldwide." Independent scientists say casualties could be much higher hundreds of thousands or millions dying.

A major effort is underway to get NASA to redirect the Cassini probe to the Sun to be consumed rather than risk such a loss of life on Earth in a "flyby" accident. But if NASA can't be stopped and the Cassini "flyby" goes ahead and works there is still much more nuclear danger ahead. The General Accounting Office in a May 1998 report entitled "Space Exploration: Power Sources for Deep Space Probes" says: "NASA is currently studying eight future space missions between 2000 and 2015 that will likely use nuclear-fueled electric generators."

These nuclear shots would be launched with the Titan 4 as a principle delivery vehicle. NASA began a shift to using the Titan 4 for its nuclear missions in the wake of the 1986 Challenger accident -- the next mission of the ill-fated Challenger was to loft a plutonium-fueled space probe.

Pressure from Lockheed Martin, which not only manufactures the Titan 4 but the plutonium systems, the nuclear-boosting U.S. Department of Energy and the national nuclear labs have much to do with why NASA insists on the life-threatening use of nuclear power on space devices. Then there is the military connection. The U.S. military is seeking to deploy spaceborne weaponry especially lasers. As the 1996 Air Force Report "New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century" states: "In the next two decades, new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness." But these weapons need large amounts of power, stresses "New World Vistas," going on: "A natural technology to enable high power is nuclear power in space."

Only modest amounts of electricity are produced by plutonium on space probes -- 745 watts on the Cassini mission to power instruments. This could be generated by safe, solar photovoltaic cells even far from the sun. Indeed, the European Space Agency is readying its Rosetta space probe to fly past the orbit of Jupiter to rendezvous with a comet and using solar energy to generate 500 watts instead of plutonium.

NASA, after seeing its budget drop with the end of the Apollo missions to the moon, got ever tighter with the Pentagon. The Pentagon would like to deploy weaponry powered by nuclear systems in space and this is another reason why NASA, seeking to stay in step with the military, insists on nuclear power on in space even if it kills us.

What can you do? Pick up your telephone right now and call Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space at (352) 337-9274 and join the challenge to end this madness. Get involved in the space work in Florida of the Florida Coalition For Peace & Justice. Call the coalition (352) 468-3295. Log onto the Stop Cassini Earth Flyby web site at http://www.nonviolence.org/noflyby. You'll find petitions at the site and recommendations of where you can direct your protests.

The space program involves risks. Accidents will happen. But by including nuclear power and moving to space weaponry, the risks are greatly expanded to include the lives of people all over the world.

Karl Grossman's "The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To OurPlanet" was published by Common Courage Press last year. He is thewriter/narrator of the TV documentary "Nukes In Space: The Nuclearizationand Weaponization of the Heavens" available from EnviroVideo at1-800-ECO-TV46.




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