Open letter to the UN

This letter, from Mrs. Selma Brackman of the War & Peace Foundation, was delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations and Ambassadors of all nations in the UN Security Council, on Wednesday, 30 September 1998

Dear Ambassador.

We call upon you as a matter of the gravest urgency to take action to demand that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) redirect the United States Cassini space mission away from its impending "flyby"of Earth.

Last year, despite international protests - including warnings from leading scientists around the world - the United States launched into space the Cassini mission to Saturn, carrying 72.3 pounds of Plutonium 238, one of the most lethal substances known. One pound dispersed equally in each person's lungs could cause cancer in everyone on earth.

In August 1999, Cassini is scheduled to come hurtling back at 46,000 miles-an-hour for a planned "flyby" of our planet. This maneuver will bring Cassini within 500 miles of the Earth's surface where a navigational error or accident could cause re-entry into the atmosphere where the plutonium could burn up or crash.

According to NASA's own Environmental Impact Statement a Cassini flyby re-entry accident could expose up to five-billion people to radiation. *1

Concerns have been further heightened by the recent explosion of two NASA rockets, including the Titan, the same rocket on which Cassini was launched. The Titan was made by Cassini contractors, Lockheed-Martin. Both accidents were the result of electrical failures. An electrical failure during Cassini's flyby of Earth could cause a catastrophic reentry. In 1995 NASA administrator, Daniel Goldin said the Cassini mission was so dangerous he would have cancelled it if he had the choice.

We are further alarmed at a recent report from NASA revealing for the first time that, since the Cassini aeroshell casings around the plutonium cells have not been designed to withstand a high speed re-entry characteristic of the flyby maneuver, the number of estimated cancer fatalities in such an accident could be as high as "several tens of thousands."*2

Even worse, the calculation does not take into account the conclusions in the April 1997 National Academy of Sciences paper on health effects of even the most minute plutonium particles.*3 The conclusions of the report, cosponsored by NASA, but ignored in NASA's Environmental Impact Statement, mean that the health dangers of the dispersal of plutonium during an accidental re-entry are much greater than had originally been calculated.

Dr. John Gofman, one of the world's leading authorities of the health effects of radiation, warns that such an accident could cause almost a million deaths from cancers worldwide over the coming decades.

Not only does a Cassini flyby accident represent a threat to life and health, but by NASA's own figures, if Cassini strikes an inhabited area, the cost of property damage and radioactive cleanup could be as high as ten-trillion dollars.*4 However, under the little-known Price-Anderson Act, the US government would pay a total of no more than $100-million damages to all and any affected countries, no matter how serious the devastation and loss of life.

The War & Peace Foundation supports initiatives by scientists, religious leaders and citizens around the world, calling on NASA to find alternative missions for Cassini not involving an Earth flyby. For example, Dr. Michio Kaku has proposed that Cassini be moved off course and redirected into the Sun. The proposed redirection could be undertaken simply by re-programming the on-board computers. This could be done by NASA at any time. However, as Cassini moves closer to Earth the need to take action becomes ever more imperative.

In view of the consequences of a Cassini accident to many nations, if not all humanity, we beg you dear Mr. Ambassador, to inform of the contents of this letter to the President and Prime Minister of your country, and ask for authorization to request the inscription of the item "International dangers of an accident of the US Cassini spacecraft upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, and remedy to avoid the deaths of up to a million humans of different nations, and possible planetary contamination."

The signatories of this letter thank you in advance for you kind consideration of this request.

Your sincerely,

Selma Brackman
Executive Director


  • Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Epidemiologist and ordained nun, Institute of Concern for Public Health
  • Dr. Earl Budin, Radiology Dept. UCLA Medical Center
  • Dr, Helen Caldicott, President Emeritus Physician for Social Responsibility
  • Marilyn Clemment, Women's Int. League for Peace and Freedom
  • The Reverend William Sloan Coffin, N.Y. Riverside Church
  • Daniel Ellsberg, Director of Manhattan Project II
  • Dr. Sam Epstein, Oncologist on environmental cancer,
  • Benjamin Ferencz, Former US prosecutor, Nuremberg Trials
  • Dr. Jay Gould, Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project
  • Jonathan Granoff, Vice President U.N. NGO Committee on Disarmament
  • Karl Grossman, author The Wrong Stuff
  • Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit
  • Father Ted Hesburgh, President, Notre Dame University
  • Dr. Jean Houston, Director, Human Potential Institute
  • Hamilton Fish III, The Nation magazine
  • Professor Michio Kaku, Professor Theoretical Physics, CUNY
  • Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, Distinguished Professor of Psychoanalysis
  • Dr. David Krieger, President Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
  • Dr. Rashmi Mayur, Director, International Institute for Sustainable Future, India
  • David McRenolds, War Resistors League
  • Father Richard McSorley , Professor of Comparative Religion, Georgetown Univ. vPatricia Miche, President, Global Education Associates
  • Dr. Robert Muller, Chancellor, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General
  • Dr. Harold Robles, President, Schweitzer Institute
  • Ambassador Douglas Roche, Former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador
  • Alice Slater, President Global Resource Action for the Environment
  • Dr. Janette Sherman, Toxicologist
  • Dr. Alice Stewart, U.K. epidemiologist and expert on nuclear health effects
  • Dr. Robert Thurman, Professor, Indo-Tibetan studies, Columbia University

Documents cited:

  • *1-Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission. June, 1995, pp. 4/76
  • *2 - Safety Evaluation Report of the Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel, July, 1997 ES-4
  • *3 - Mutagenic effects of a single and an exact number of alpha particles in mammalian cells.
    Tom K. Hei, et al. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, USA. Vol. 94, April 1997. pp 3765-3770.
  • *4 - The Wrong Stuff Karl Grossman. Common Courage Press. 1998 p 49. (caluclated from figures in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission. June, 1995, pp. 4/70)

  • Mrs Selma Brackman of the War & Peace Foundation invites you to post this open letter.

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