issue no.57, summer, 1996
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Risking_the_World Risking_the_World
Despite enormous danger, huge expense, and a clear alternative solar power the US government is pushing ahead with the deployment of nuclear technology in space. In October 1997, NASA plans to launch the Cassini probe to Saturn. Carrying 72.3 pounds of plutonium-238 fuel the largest amount of plutonium ever used in space, the probe will sit atop a Lockheed Martin-built Titan IV rocket. This same kind of rocket has undergone a series of mishaps including a 1993 explosion in California soon after take-off which destroyed a $1 billion spy satellite system and sent its fragments falling into the Pacific Ocean.

Space News, the space industry trade newspaper, reported that "the high risk and cost of the Cassini mission to Saturn troubled NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin so much that he would cancel the program if it were not so important to planetary science." *1

But it is not science alone that is driving the project or causing scientists, politicians, and the military to discount the risks. NASA Chief Scientist Frances Cordova acknowledges that the Titan IV "does not have a 100 percent success rate" and admits that using it for Cassini "is truly putting all your eggs in one basket your 18 instruments on one firecracker." She says, "We can't fail with that mission. It would be very, very, damaging for the agency."2

To say nothing of the Earth and the life on it if something goes wrong. Plutonium has long been described by scientists as the most toxic substance known. It is "so toxic," says Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, "that less than one-millionth of a gram is a carcinogenic dose. One pound, if uniformly distributed, could hypothetically induce lung cancer in every person on Earth." *3
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