Nuclear madness in space

Issue 

At 5:38am on October 6, a spacecraft called Cassini is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in the United States. On board will be 72.3 pounds (32.8 kg) of the deadliest substance known, plutonium. This is by far the most plutonium ever attempted to be launched in a space mission.

NASA admits that there is a one in 345 probability of a release of plutonium on this mission. Its original estimate was one in 1500, then it was one in 900, then one in 500, now it is one in 345 — tomorrow, who knows?

There are 2.3 million people living in the six county region surrounding Cape Canaveral. If there is a lift-off failure like there was with Challenger in 1986, and the plutonium is released, the prevailing winds in October are blowing right back over this population.

Cassini has a launch window of 41 days, from October 6 to November 15. But for only 19% of that time does the wind blow away from land, out toward the Atlantic. Out of those eight days, on only half of them will the wind be blowing with both the best direction and speed away from the population.

Will NASA wait for these best four days before trying to launch? If not, the contamination clean-up costs could be as high as US$4.1 trillion, and all of the 2.3 million affected people would have to be moved. The region would be useless for 12,000 generations or 240,000 years.

There are a dozen more nuclear missions scheduled over the next 12 years. Sooner or later there will be a horrendous catastrophe.

This catastrophe could happen at any time Cassini is within the orbit of the Earth. The unstaffed craft is going to Saturn, 794 million miles (1277 million km) from Earth. The on-board rockets don't have sufficient thrust, so a manoeuvre called the gravity assist swing-by (GAS) must be used. This manoeuvre is accomplished by flying very close to a planet and using that planet's gravitational field to transfer some of its energy to the spacecraft, enabling it to increase its velocity tremendously.

This GAS manoeuvre will be used four times. On August 16, 1999, Cassini will swing by Earth at an altitude of only 496.8 miles (799 km) and travelling at 711.666 miles (1145.284 km) per minute. This leaves as little as 35.56 seconds for a trajectory window.

If something goes wrong and Cassini, with no heat shield, inadvertently re-enters Earth's atmosphere, the extreme temperatures will vaporise it and the plutonium will be released. If all 72.3 lbs. of the plutonium vaporise in our atmosphere, it will be more than all of the open air nuclear explosions since July 16, 1945, put together.

What makes the planned lift-off even more insane is that Cassini can be redesigned using a solar fuel cell to generate the modest 745 watts of electricity needed.

[Abridged from a letter posted by Mark@LOVEARTH.org on the internet.]