(en) Cassini: NASA's suicide mission prompts global response

josh (josh@tao.ca)
Sun, 5 Oct 1997 10:31:41 -0400

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A handful of rich white men with very dangerous toys are willing to risk humanity to test out nuclear proliferation in space. In October, NASA plans to launch the Cassini space probe aboard a modified Titan rocket, containing 72 pounds of plutonium 238, the deadliest of substances, as fuel for a nuclear engine. Scientists have suggested that 1 pound, if evenly distributed in the air, would be enough to kill every human. Inhalling even one atom of this heavy radioactive isotope is a potentially lethal dose. NASA and DOE experts have claimed that accidents are impossible, though the rocket has only a 19 times out of 20 success rate, and the planned 'sling-shot' maneuver has never been tried. Even if the trip out of earth's gravity well is successful, it's planned trajectory is difficult and dangerous. NASA intends for the rocket to orbit Venus, then fly straight back at the earth, just miss it, pick up speed from the gravitational pull and then fly off towards Saturn, and its goal, the planet's largest moon, Titan. A severe accident in the upper atmosphere at either vehicle exit or flyby could result in it burning up and dispersing its fuel. A scarcely-reported Russian accident occured in 1996 in which a probe that was heading towards Mars, powered by less than one pound of plutonium, exploded high up and spread heavy and deadly plutonium oxides over millions of square kilometres. Health researchers have noted a world-wide increase in lung cancers as a result. A Cassini accident similar to the Challenger disaster would irradiate half of Florida, and one like Russia's might kill billions.

Media coverage has been minimal at best, occasionally referring to the launch as 'controversial' while never mentioning the controversy. Why hasn't the public been notified of the risk? Why aren't alternative energy supplies being considered? Why is a better view of Saturn's moon worth risking all humanity?

But through independant and international federations of free media channels, the story has spread far and wide, provoking direct action around the globe. Networks of anti-nuclear-proliferation, environmental and human rights activists have organised ongoing civil disobedience actions, blockades, demonstrations and street theatres at US consulates and UN offices around the world. Within the US, strong opposition has mounted to NASA's suicide mission, with non-stop actions at the UN, court houses, Lockheed-Martin offices and plants, as well as the launch site itself. A 'shrimp-boat' blockade of the Cape Canaveral launch facility is planned for the day(s) of the launch, as boats accidentally straying too close to the coastal site have successfully delayed launches in the past. Networked social struggles continue to unite the movement for humanity and against neo-liberalism and blind-profit-agendas.

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