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Cassini Fly-by's Hidden Hazard.

On August 18, NASA's Cassini space probe -- loaded with 72.3 pounds of plutonium and traveling 42,000 mph -- came within 719 miles of hitting the Earth. Cassini's close encounter sent the probe hurtling back into space toward a rendezvous with Saturn. Had anything gone wrong, the Earth could have been coated in a shroud of deadly plutonium dust for 24,000 years.

In a worst-case disaster, NASA NASA: see National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
 in full National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Independent U.S.
 estimated that 5 billion people would have received "99% or more of the radiation exposure" from 400,000 curies of plutonium oxide released into the atmosphere. NASA's assurance that nothing would go wrong with the fly-by fly·by also fly-by  
n. pl. fly·bys
A flight passing close to a specified target or position, especially a maneuver in which a spacecraft or satellite passes sufficiently close to a body to make detailed observations without
 was undercut by the fact that, on January 11, NASA lost control of Cassini for four days.

A Jet Propulsion Laboratory “JPL” redirects here. For other uses, see JPL (disambiguation).

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a NASA research center located in the cities of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, California, USA.
 report identified 18 different malfunctions that could have rendered the probe "uncommandable." The US Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel (INSRP INSRP Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel ) warmed that NASA's preparations "fail to assure ... safety" of Cassini and estimated that a Cassini mishap would produce "several tens of thousands of latent cancer fatalities worldwide over the next 50 years." Contrary to NASA's claims, the INSRP concluded that the space probe's plutonium containers were not "designed for the high-speed re-entry RE-ENTRY, estates. The resuming or retaking possession of land which the party lately had.
     2. Ground rent deeds and leases frequently contain a clause authorizing the landlord to reenter on the non-payment of rent, or the breach of some covenant, when the
 characteristic of this fly-by maneuver."

The Cassini mission even worried NASA insiders. Before becoming chief NASA administrator, Daniel S. Goldin publicly recommended canceling the Cassini project because of its "enormous risk factors."

At 8:22 PM Pacific Standard Time -- the precise moment the Cassini began its critical fly-by maneuver -- the Journal logged onto the NASA website and opened the live file labeled "Where is Cassini?" To our surprise, we discovered that -- owing to "earth occultation occultation (ŏk'əltā`shən), in astronomy, eclipse of one celestial body by another, e.g., when the moon lies between a star and the earth. Occultations of stars by the moon are important in astronomy. " -- nobody really knew where Cassini was. According to NASA, the space probe's position remained unknown from 8:22 until 8:51 during this critical phase.

There was another surprise. The Journal noticed that the Cassini's 719-mile high flyby fly·by also fly-by  
n. pl. fly·bys
A flight passing close to a specified target or position, especially a maneuver in which a spacecraft or satellite passes sufficiently close to a body to make detailed observations without
 would carry it through the paths of 8,674 satellites -- military, communications, weather and spy tools -- now girdling the Earth. In its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS (1) (Executive Information System) An information system that consolidates and summarizes ongoing transactions within the organization. It provides top management with all the information it requires at all times from internal and external sources. ), NASA concluded that "Of all the failure modes identified, only micrometeoroid-induced propellant pro·pel·lant also pro·pel·lent  
1. Something, such as an explosive charge or a rocket fuel, that propels or provides thrust.

 tank ruptures contribute significantly to the short-term impact probability." Nowhere did the EIS address the possibility of Cassini colliding with Earth-orbiting satellites.

"I've seen nothing in any of the NASA literature speaking of coordinating the Cassini fly-by trajectory so it avoids space debris," Cassini critic Karl Grossman told the Journal. "It's as if NASA is just making believe the stuff isn't there."

While NASA seemed unconcerned about the risk of orbiting satellites and space debris, the Christian Science Monitor was reporting on June 28 that "orbital flotsam A name for the goods that float upon the sea when cast overboard for the safety of the ship or when a ship is sunk. Distinguished from jetsam (goods deliberately thrown over to lighten ship) and ligan (goods cast into the sea attached to a buoy).  could knock out key satellites and threaten human presence in space."

NASA originally had planned to send the space probe skipping by only 434 miles above the Earth -- a trajectory would have magnified the risks of cross-orbital collision. An outcry from the world's scientific community convinced NASA to increase the fly-by altitude to 719 miles.

Cassini is gone but the danger is not passed. NASA intends to launch several more plutonium-powered probes -- all designed to streak back toward the Earth for fly-by boosts.

What You Can Do: Ask your representatives and the White House [(202) 456-1111] to halt to the use of nuclear power in space. For more information, contact: Action Site to Stop Cassini Earth Flyby/Box 1999, Wendell Depot, MA 01380,].


On July 31, the US brazenly violated the 1979 Moon Treaty by crashing NASA's Lunar Prospector into the Moon's South Pole. NASA hailed its "creative impact" maneuver as 'a final bold experiment" that hit with the force of "a two-ton car [traveling] more than 1,100 mph."

The impact Left the crash-site contaminated with toxic hydrazine hydrazine (hī`drəzēn'), chemical compound, formula NH2NH2, m.p. 1.4°C;, b.p. 113.5°C;, specific gravity 1.011 at 15°C;. It is very soluble in water and soluble in alcohol.  and littered with a cylinder containing the ashs of US scientist Gene Shoemaker. (Previous US Moon-litter includes a metal flag, a beatup moon-buggy and several golf balls.)

If there is enough water on the Moon, the US could colonize col·o·nize  
v. col·o·nized, col·o·niz·ing, col·o·niz·es
1. To form or establish a colony or colonies in.

2. To migrate to and settle in; occupy as a colony.

 the satellite. "This is just the first page in a new chapter about how we explore space," said Lunar Prospector Chief Scientist Alan Binder. "Our goat is to get a commercial Lunar base in 10 to 12 years" -- another violation of the Moon Treaty, which declares Earth's only satellite to be "the common heritage of [hu]mankind."
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Publication:Earth Island Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 1999
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