Story on Titan IV
(Published on August 20, 1998 in the Orlando Weekly)
Article by Karl Grossman, investigative journalist, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and author of "The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet" (Common Courage Press, 1997). He is the writer/narrator of the TV documentary "Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens" available from EnviroVideo at 1-800-ECO-TV46.

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. Last Tuesday 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 from Florida 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 and especially those at the Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida.

Remember that Russian space probe, the one carrying a half-pound of high-ly radioactive plutonium when it came crashing back to earth last month? Initial news reports said the spacecraft fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles southeast of Easter Island, and 2,000 miles northwest of Santiago, Chile. But on Nov. 29, the U.S. Space Command reported that the probe may have scattered debris along a path that's just 20 miles away from a Chilean city. The news release, which corrected the space command's earlier prediction about where the probe fell, went virtually unnoticed by the press. It said:

"U.S. Space Command has developed new information indicating that the Russian Mars '96 spacecraft likely came down on Nov. 16 instead of Nov. 17 as earlier reported. Any debris surviving the heat of this re-entry would have fallen over a 200-mile-long portion of the Pacific Ocean, Chile and Bolivia. We now believe that the object that re-entered on Nov. 17, which we first thought to be the Mars '9u probe, was in fact the fourth stage of the booster rocket."

Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known. Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, says plutonium is so deadly that 'less than one-millionth of a gram is carcinogenic."

The space command's press release continued:

The area where any debris surviving this re-entry could have fallen is located along an approximately 50-mile-wide and 200-mile-long path oriented southwest to northeast. This path is centered approximately 20 miles east Of the Chilean city of Iquique and includes Chilean territory, the border area of Bolivia and the Pacific Ocean."

This incident should serve as a wake-up can to the madness of launching spacecraft with radioactive material. Six of the 39 missions of the former Soviet Union have failed including the Cosmos 954 satellite which carried radioactive when when it broke apart as it plunged to earth in 1978, scattering a 124,000 square-kilometer swath of northwestern Canada with nuclear debris.

Three of the 24 U.S. missions involving spacecraft with nuclear material have met with accidents, including the SNAP-9A. It fell in 1964, disintegrating as it came down. Its 2.1 pounds of plutonium fuel vaporized and "dispersed worldwide," according to a report by a group of European government agencies.

Newton's Law of Gravity stands. What goes up can easily come down. And if it is a spacecraft containing plutonium, it can contaminate the air and land as it descends.

Yet the push to deploy nuclear technology in space continues, in fact, it is intensifying. In October, 1997, NASA plans to launch the Cassini probe to Saturn, carrying 72.3 pounds of plutonium fuel Ä the largest amount ever used on a space-craft. The launch vehicle is a Titan IV rocket, which has been involved in a number of malfunctions, including a 1993 explosion that destroyed a billion-dollar payloadÄthree National Security Agency spy satellites.

If the Titan IV carrying the Cassini explodes on liftoff, it could scatter plutonium over a wide area of Florida and cause thousands of cancer deaths. Much of the world's population would be exposed to radiation it the spacecraft plunges into Earth's 75-mile-high atmosphere during a "sling-shot maneuver" in 1999.

To gain enough velocity to travel to Saturn, the spacecraft will orbit Venus twice and come speeding back toward Earth at 42,300 miles per hour. Passing Just 312 miles above the Earth, It will swing around the planet using centrifugal force to sling it toward Saturn. A slight miscalculation could result in an inadvertent re-entry and subsequent radiation exposure affecting "approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population," according to NASA's "Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Cassini Mission."

Dr. Horst Poehler, a 22-year veteran of working for NASA contractors at the Kennedy Space Center, says the shielding for the plutonium on Cassini is "fingernail thin. It's a joke." Of the Cassini mission, he says, "Rember the old Hollywood movies when a mad scientist would risk the world to carry out his particular project? Well, those mad scientists have moved to NASA."

NASA officials say the mission poses an acceptable risk. An environrmental impact statement released by NASA in 1994 estimated the risk of the probe's hitting Earth during its fly-past in 1999 as 1-in-1.3 million and said there was a 1-in-900 chance of radioactive release during launch.

The use of plutonium on the $3.4 billion Cassini mission and the horriflc danger it represents is unnecessary. The European Space Agency (ESA) announced in 1994 what it called a "technological milestone"Äthe development of high-efficieny solar cells to generate the modest amount of electricity needed for deep space probes like Cassini. As ESA physicist told the newspaper Florida Today in 1995 that if given the money to do the work ESA "within five years could have solar cells ready to power a space mission to Saturn."

But NASA insists on nuclear power for Cassini. This keeps powerful government contractors happy. The contractors include Lockheed-Martin (which makes the Titan rocket and two years ago took over General Electric's aerospace division, a maker of plutonium-fueled space systems), the Department of Energy's national nuclear laboratories, and the military, which regards nuclear technology as essential to dominate space.

Now, the Pentagon and NASA are embarking on a program to develop rockets propelled by nuclear reactors. The first phase of the program is to culminate at the end of 1997 in the manufacture and testing of "multiple nuclear propulsion concepts" with the Defense Special Weapons Agency selecting "one or more competitors to demonstrate the systems' reliability," the trade journal Space News reported in a front-page article. The program is part of a new national space policy announced Sept. 19th, 1996 by the Clinton administration.

President Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" anti-missile system was predicated on the use of space-based nuclear power: nuclear-propelled rockets to lift heavy equipment and orbiting battle platforms with reactor-powered particle beams, hypervelocity guns and laser weapons. Any expectations that the Clinton administration would reject the use of nuclear devices in space vanished just months after Clinton's inauguration in 1993.

"Space nuclear power and propulsion systems can contribute to scientific, commercial and national security space missions," the White House declared on Aug. 17, 1993.

The nuclear space work has been going on at places such as the Air Force's Phillips Laboratory in New Mexico, which has been testing Russian-made Topaz 2 space nuclear reactors for military use. Other U.S. projects under way or planned include "bimodial" nuclear spacecraft to provide power and propulsion for military satellites; various nuclear-powered satellites, including a chain to transmit high-definition TV signals; nuclear power for colonies on Mars and the moon two plutonium-fueled space probes for a 1999 mission to Pluto; and a proposal to send "long-lived fission products [nuclearwaste] into outer space."

NASA's line on the potential for accidents involving nuclear material in space is that accidents are highly unlikely. I discovered how lame this claim was a decade ago when I first began investigating the use of nuclear technology in space.

I learned of two shuttle flights in 1986 that were to have plutonium space probes aboard. One was to have been the mission after the illfated Challenger launch. NASA insisted that the likelihood of a catastrophic shuttle accident was 1-in-100,000.

Then, with the Challenger accident, NASA immediately changed the odds to 1-in-76, where they remain. In science, only empirical evidence can determine true probabilities.

The fight is against "sheer and utter madness," says Bruce Gagnon, co-coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power In Space. The recent Russian space probe incident has helped bring the issue home.

"The danger of a disaster involving a plutonium space project has now become real and imaginable to the people of the world," says Gagnon, who believes "our work to stop Cassini and future nuclear missions in space will now be greeted with more support than ever."

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