Why the Earth Flyby Must be Omitted
- by Earl Budin, M/D., Former Assoc. Clinical Prof. of Radiology, UCLA Medical Center

On October 15, 1997, NASA launched a 2-ton spaceship on a 7-year flight to Saturn, described as the Cassini Mission. Because of the great distance, NASA first directed the space ship to Venus, using that planet's gravity to increase the ship's speed, and next plans to return it toward Earth in August 1999 at a speed of 10 miles per second and use our gravity to further increase its speed (a so-called Earth flyby (EFB) or Earth gravity assist). NASA notes this is the most hazardous part of their plan since at this speed a flight error lasting only about 30 seconds could cause the space ship to enter our atmosphere and the extreme heat of friction could destroy the craft. This is of great concern since to generate electricity the ship contains 72 pounds of radioactive Plutonium (P238), not the type usable for a nuclear bomb but extremely carcinogenic if it enters the lung in fine particles.

NASA claims in various Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) that there is only a one in a million chances that any problem might cause the space craft to enter our atmosphere. This seems quite unrealistic for the complex maneuvers of an EFB at 10 miles per second. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in its Cassini Earth Swingby Plan report of May 1997 lists 18 different kinds of failures which might send the space craft out of control. The first category is disruption when struck by an object in space; a new type of asteroid, just discovered this year portends the possibility of others yet undetected. The annual Perseid meteor shower is expected next August, the month of the EFB. The second category includes electrical failures, such as the short circuit which caused a Titan IV to explode on August 12. The third category includes erroneous ground commands, an unavoidable human factor. When the newly appointed head of NASA first learned of the Cassini Project he was quoted as saying that it was so risky he would have canceled it.

NASA claims in their EISs that the Plutonium containers are quite secure and that practically none of the Plutonium could become air-born in small particles if atmospheric entry did occur, and at worst it would cause only 120 people to develop fatal lung cancer. However several important errors in NASA's statements were revealed in a Safety Evaluation Report submitted in July 1997 by the Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel (SER), a group of five high level federal government officials including a NASA representative. Most shocking was the revelation that the Plutonium containers were not designed to withstand the heat of an atmospheric entry at such a high speed and that 9 kilograms of Plutonium might be released in tiny particles which could be inhaled. In addition the SER notes that (since Plutonium emits alpha particles) a single Plutonium atom can cause lung cancer. This fact is not considered in any NASA EIS although it was determined in an experiment financed in part by NASA (reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 1997, p.3765). The SER notes that a complete burn-up of the space craft could cause several tens of thousands of fatal lung cancer, but fails to indicate that a single kilogram of Plutonium contains 200 billion trillion* [sic] Plutonium atoms and the number of fatal cancers could be very many times higher! The SER conclusions ignored this special potency of Plutonium and compare it to a cancer dose from ordinary radioactivity, which they then average among a large population such that not a single cancer results.

The SER supports NASA's prediction that the chance of the space ship entering our atmosphere is one in a million, yet recommended delaying the Cassini launch for 60 days, which they note would have decreased the risk of fatal cancers by a factor of 30 to 100 times since the speed of EFB would have been considerably less.

The study of our Universe is a worthy project, but when it puts the entire world at a significant health risk, such action should only be decided by truly independent government representatives advised by independent scientists from medical fields.

* From Avogadros's constant

Write Dr. Earl Budin (wagingpeace@napf.org)

Earl Budin, M.D.
2415 Stanwood Drive
Santa Barbara, CA 93103-1634

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