1,000 march to halt plutonium-bearing Cassini space probe
Howard Rosenfeld
October 1997

As expected, on Friday, October 3, the White House approved the launch of the Cassini space probe to Saturn. At the same time, final preparations were being made for the Oct. 4 Cassini protest.

The rally saw over 1,000 folks turn out, with busloads from Gainesville, Sarasota, Tampa, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

According to Bruce Gagnon, Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice coordinator, "Over 50 media outlets signed in at our press table and CNN was there the entire day, doing several live remote broadcasts throughout the day on CNN International and CNN in the USA. ABC International radio (broadcasting to 83 nations worldwide) also did several live remotes during the day.

During his speech as the rally, nuclear industry watchdog Harvey Wasserman told the crowd: ""Stopping Cassini is part of that, bringing the Nuclear Age to an end and bringing about the age of Solar. The technology to replace nuclear is here today, unlike when we were struggling against nuclear power 20 years ago. Today our nuclear power plants can be shut down and replace by solar and wind energy, just as the Cassini mission can be powered by solar."

"The only thing lacking is the political will. But we do not live in a Democracy today. When this lunatic space shot can be signed off by our President we have a problem."

"We're not just fighting the Cassini but all the planned plutonium shots after the Cassini. We are fighting to end the Nuclear age..."

Renowned physicist Michio Kaku said: "NASA is trying to spread the myth that we are the Luddites, the machine breakers. But canceling the Cassini would mean progress in the interest of the American people because the Cassini mission is a cold-war dinosaur. It was conceived during the cold war when the Russians were putting out huge space probes powered by Uranium and we felt we had to compete. But the cold war is over. The next launch window for this mission is 2001. Instead of launching this dinosaur now, down size it and send it in 2001 with solar."

Behind a Scottish Bagpiper, the Grandmothers for Peace delegation led the 3/4 mile march to the front gate of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There were over 200 SWAT team outfitted police lined up along the fence line inside the base's gate, a tank and assorted helicopters, airboats and base loudspeakers blasting away in the background.

Gagnon described the situation: "Our Grandmothers delegation, led by 87 year old Peg McIntire from St Augustine, Florida, were the first to enter the base. The Air Force decided to open the gate just enough for the elder women to slip in and then they closed it as the crowd moved up to the fence to cheer the grandmothers as they were taken away by the heavily armed police. Then a ladder was put up to the gate, carpet remnants placed over the barbed wire and folks began going over the fence in a non-violent attempt to enter the base in order to sit on the launch pad."

In all 28 were arrested from eight states. All but four were released after spending about five hours in jail. None had to pay a bond and they were given a court date to appear later in October. The four who remained in jail overnight had been arrested for protesting at Cape Canaveral before. They were finally released around noon on Sunday, again without paying bond.

On Tuesday, October 7, the Hawaii County Green Party and the Florida Coalition for filed suit Federal Court in Honolulu in an effort to stop NASA from launching the Cassini Mission.

The suit claims that NASA's decision making process for the Cassini Mission was "capricious and arbitrary." The suit also claims that an accident could have catastrophic effects on human health and the environment.

The Green Party and the Coalition asked the court to prevent the launch of the Cassini until NASA uses an alternative power supply that does not pose the risk to human health and the environment posed by plutonium.

The Green Party and the Coalition also filed a second action requesting the court to grant a temporary restraining order delaying the launch and providing more time for the litigation.

By Saturday, Oct. 11 the City Councils of Olympia, Lacey and Tomwaters, Wahsington, had passed anti-Cassini resolutions.

The Norwegian Peace Alliance also demonstrated outside the U.S. embassy in Oslo and delivered a letter opposing Cassini to the U.S. Ambassador.

According to CNN, "The Hawaii County Green Party and the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice had asked the U.S. District Court to stop the launch. Although plutonium has been used in previous space missions, the groups said the Cassini project's 72 pounds of plutonium present an unprecedented risk.

But U.S. Judge David Ezra said the economic and scientific harm that NASA and other defendants in the case would suffer if the launch were delayed outweighed the potential harm asserted by the two groups."

Also according to Air Force meteorologists, it is not the plutonium that is most worrying if released but the 1.85 million pounds of toxic rocket fuel. If the wind was blowing toward land and the rocket exploded, the hydrazine, nitrogen tetroxide and hydrogen chloride fumes could sicken residents.

At presstime, the launch of the Cassini space probe was still being hampered by problems at NASA. An October 13 launch was scrubbed and rescheduled for Oct. 15 because of software problems and high winds.

For the most recent news on the Cassini launch and activities planned to stop it and oppose future plutonium launches, visit the FCPJ WWW-site at http://www.afn.org/~fcpj or call them at (352) 468-3295.

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