NASA, Energy scientists explain plutonium-powered craft to mayor

September 24, 1997|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

The delegation: space scientists armed with charts and a model. The mission: to convince Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that NASA's nuclear-powered voyage to Saturn will be safe.

Five NASA and Department of Energy officials visited City Hall yesterday to reassure the mayor about the launch of the Cassini spacecraft that will be powered with 72 pounds of radioactive plutonium. They left vowing to update NASA's Web page.

Twelve days ago, Schmoke grew nervous about the Cassini mission while reading about it on the Internet and wrote Vice President Al Gore asking him "to intervene to question NASA officials about the potentially harmful environmental impact."

Yesterday, the NASA group sought to allay the mayor's cosmic concerns, saying any health and environmental risks would be minute, even in an accident.

"I have a much higher comfort level with the whole project than a week ago," Schmoke said after the 45-minute meeting.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has generated electricity from plutonium in 23 missions, said Dr. Earle K. Huckins III, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space science.

Beverly Cook, the Energy Department's program director for space power systems, showed Schmoke one of the solid, graphite blocks that contain the plutonium pellets.

"We expect absolutely no hazard," said Cook, who plans to attend the Oct. 13 launch.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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