18. NASA LIED TO GET NUKES INTO SPACE
Galileo space probe was launched on October 19 amid controversy over its highly
toxic payload of 49.25 pounds of plutonium which provides heat and electricity
for its instruments. Challenged by scientific concern over the potential danger
of launching plutonium into space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
claimed there was no substitute for plutonium as a power source on projects such
as the Galileo mission to Jupiter.
But government-authorized studies, released
under the Freedom of Information Act to investigative journalist Karl Grossman
after the launch, show that scientists under contract to NASA regarded solar energy
as a feasible alternative for Galileo and for other space probes as well. In the
weeks preceding the Galileo launch, NASA stuck to its claim that there was no
alternative to plutonium for these missions. In a "Safety Fact Sheet,"
the agency said "Because other power alternatives are too massive or too
weak ... the RTG (plutonium-powered generator) is the safest, most efficient and
effective power system."
However, studies conducted for NASA by the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology contradict
NASA's claims. One of the laboratory's reports says, "Based on the current
study, it appears that a Galileo Jupiter orbiting mission could be performed with
a concentrated photovoltaic solar array power source without changing the mission
sequence or impacting science objectives ... concentrated solar arrays are a potentially
viable alternative to RTG's despite the difficulties posed by the Galileo mission."
told of the reports, U.S. Representative George Hochbrueckner (D-NY), a member
of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which oversees NASA, was
shocked. "NASA has been telling us over and over again that there is no alternative
to plutonium - and now this. Why did we have to undertake the tremendous risk
with plutonium in light of these reports?" he asked. "We took a big
risk with Galileo and we happened to be lucky. Now we have to make sure we don't
undergo an unnecessary risk again with future probes." In fact, future NASA
missions are scheduled for 1991, 1995, and 1996. Like Galileo, these space probes
are slated to be launched by a Challenger-type space shuttle and to carry plutonium.
did NASA deliberately conceal information from the American people? Why did NASA
insist there were no alternatives to plutonium when alternatives were and are
available and viable? Why did NASA lie? According to Michio Kaku, professor of
nuclear physics at the City University of New York, "It's because they have
a hidden agenda for the RTGs: use in a future Star Wars system."
starting in the mid-1990s, the government plans a series of launches of nuclear
devices in space for military purposes, including orbiting nuclear reactors that
would provide the power for the Strategic Defense Initiative.
NASA lied, the media failed to put the controversial issue on the national agenda.
Efforts to warn the nation of the dangers of the plutonium space probe were among
the top 10 "censored" stories of 1986, 1987, and 1988. Now it appears
that Galileo is just the tip of the iceberg.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: MICHAEL
SOURCE: THE NATION 72 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10011
TITLE: "PLUTONIUM CON"
AUTHORS: KARL GROSSMAN and JUDITH LONG
COMMENTS: For three years, in 1986, 1987, and 1988, investigative
journalist Karl Grossman tried to alert the public to the potential
dangers of launching a highly toxic payload of plutonium into space.
His efforts, which appeared in small circulation publications such as
The Nation, were cited among the top ten "censored" stories
of each of those years. Throughout that period NASA rejected Grossman's
charges saying there was no danger but, in any event, there was no substitute
for plutonium as a power source on the proposed missions. Grossman's
1989 article, based on government documents released to him under the
Freedom of Information Act, revealed that NASA was lying and that there
was an alternative power source which could have been used. Like his
earlier articles, Grossman's 1989 effort went ignored by the national
news media. He notes that despite the revealing new documentation obtained
by FOIA, "again there was silence from the mainstream media."
Grossman suggests that one of the reasons for the media's failure to
cover the space plutonium issue critically is that the U.S. space program,
before and after the Challenger disaster, has been "treated as
a sacred cow by most of the U.S. media." Time will tell whether
the latest NASA debacles with the Hubble space telescope, fuel leaks
in the shuttle fleet, and the grounding of veteran shuttle commanders
for breaking flight safety rules, cause the media to reconsider its
treatment of this "sacred cow."