BEYOND NUCLEAR PUBLICATIONS

Search
JOIN OUR NETWORK

     

     

DonateNow

 

 

ARTICLE ARCHIVE
« News from "Our Friend the Atom," by Harry Shearer on Le Show | Main | Beyond Nuclear to co-present alongside Nukewatch & NIRS at MREA's inaugural MN renewable energy festival! »
Thursday
Sep142017

"The End of Cassini": NASA vaporizes 72.3 pounds of plutonium in Saturn, despite nearby moons that could support extraterrestrial life forms

As Karl Grossman reports at Nation of Change:

The crashing of the nuclear power-energized Cassini space probe into Saturn – a process that began on April 22, Earth Day – will culminate this Friday, September 15. The probe – containing more deadly plutonium than has ever been used on a space device­ – will then reach Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrate as it plummets to Saturn.

Central Florida was spared a regional nuclear catastrophe on October 17, 1997 when Cassini's launch from Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center did not lead to a Titan IV rocket failure. The risk of that happening was a very high 1 in 1,500 chance, even according to NASA's own admission. (Remember the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on lift off. Grossman scooped the story that the next payload on Challenger was to have included plutonium.)

And Planet Earth was spared a global catastrophe, when Cassini's risky slingshot maneuver or flyby did not result in the probe crashing back into the atmosphere and vaporizing. If that had happened, NASA had admitted that “Approximately 7 to 8 billion world population at [the] time…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.” (Remember when NASA missed Mars, by failing to properly synchronize metric and English measurement figures?!)

But Planet Saturn won't be so lucky. NASA will intentionally vaporize Cassini, and its 72.3 pounds of ultra-toxic plutonium fuel, in the planet's atmosphere. This despite the fact that Saturn's nearby moons, Titan and Enceladus, are seen as among the most likely places in the solar system, besides Earth, for the presence of extraterrestrial life.

Grossman's article includes these powerful quotes from leading watchdogs on "nukes in space":

When I heard that NASA would be dive-bombing Cassini into Saturn with 72 pounds of deadly plutonium-238 onboard, I thought of the Army handing out smallpox laden blankets to Indians on the reservations,” comments Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, which has been in the lead in protesting NASA nuclear space missions. “NASA readily admits that ‘biotic or prebiotic’ life very possibly exists on Saturn­ – are they trying to kill it?”

Said Gagnon: “We are told that NASA is out searching for the origins of life in the universe but they seem to have forgotten the prime directive from Captain Kirk on Star Trek to ‘do no harm.’”

Felton Davis, an activist with the Catholic Worker movement in New York City, who participated in anti-Cassini protests through the years, said NASA “should face the environmental reality that other celestial bodies are not garbage dumps.”

Gagnon and Davis's words echo the poetry of Native American poet, musician, and activist/philosopher John Trudell, as well as Native American spiritual leaders, as from Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. These Native American voices and others have warned that we have no right to trash or otherwise abuse outer space, which is sacred, just like Mother Earth. 

NASA knows there are demonstrated, successful alternatives to using high-risk, ultra-toxic plutonium on deep space probes. After all, as Grossman reported, on Independence Day 2016, NASA's solar powered Juno probe reached Jupiter.

Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of Old Westbury on Long Island, N.Y. Karl is a co-founder of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, still serves as an advisor, and regularly writes about plans to launch nuclear power into space. Karl is also a founding member of the board of directors of Beyond Nuclear.