Cassini: How Environmentalists Tried to Stop Progress

One of the most famous images from Cassini. Had the environmental lobby got their way, we’d never have seen it.

In his memoirs, Failure is not an option, NASA’s Gene Kranz recalls being sent back to college in the summer of ‘68. While he was busy studying in the library, students regularly noisily protested on the campus grounds. Kranz recalls that, in those fractious years of the late 60s, the Apollo program unified America as little else did.

Which is not entirely true: there were protests against Apollo, especially from civil rights groups who complained about the money spent to put “whitey on the moon”. Still, fifty years later, Apollo is generally regarded as a pinnacle moment for human civilisation.

But how would such an audacious program fare today?

While it doesn’t have quite the glamour of Apollo, the Cassini program is rightly regarded as another triumph of space exploration. Not only did Cassini spend months provided stunning images and data about Saturn and its rings, it also landed on what is often regarded as one of the most fascinating bodies in the solar system, Saturn’s moon Titan.

A stunning vista of Saturn’s moon, Titan, captured by Cassini’s Huygens probe.

Few now care to remember that, if environmentalists had had their way, Cassini would never have happened.

When Cassini was launched in 1997, a galaxy of the usual stars of the environmental and anti-nuclear lobbies lined up to protest. Green-left bible Mother Jones claimed that the probe “could wipe out mankind”.

At issue was Cassini’s power source: 30 kilograms of plutonium 238. NASA was adamant that the chance of an accident at launch, much less during a near-Earth fly-by a year later, were slim, and the possibility of plutonium escaping into the atmosphere even slimmer, due to the craft’s design. Even should that worse-case scenario occur, the total effect would be almost unnoticeable: at worse, 120 extra people in the entire world might die of cancer over the next 50 years.

The protesters, of course, said that NASA were lying, big-money shills. “They’re making these numbers up,” claimed physicist Michio Kaku. Kaku claimed that casualties would be in the millions, and the economy of central Florida destroyed.

As always, the doomsayers assembled an impressive lobby-group of lab-coated activists. “It’ll raise holy hell,” causing lung and bone cancers, claimed John Gofman, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California-Berkeley. A retired NASA electrical engineer swore that he would take his family out of the country, to be safe.

As always, the doomsayers assembled an impressive lobby-group of lab-coated activists. “It’ll raise holy hell,” causing lung and bone cancers, claimed John Gofman, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California-Berkeley. A retired NASA electrical engineer swore that he would take his family out of the country, to be safe.
Then, of course, there were the nosey-nannas. When hundreds of environmentalists tried to storm the launch pad, leading the pack were “Grandmothers for peace”. Protesters dragged their infant children along, as well. Activists chained themselves to the fence and dozens were arrested trying to break into the launch centre. There were rallies and candlelight vigils at the White House.

There was even lawfare. The Greens Party and the Florida Coalition For Peace and Justice filed a joint lawsuit, trying to get an injunction to block the launch.

Of course, when Cassini went off without a hitch, and proved to be a stunning scientific success, the activists simply slunk away and off to their next protest. The whole debacle has been consigned to the Memory Hole. The same roster of activists continue to make the same uninformed, scary claims about climate change, biodiversity, you name it, without a whiff of shame. After all, for a movement whose great heroes include the perpetually-wrong Paul Ehrlich, David Suzuki and Tim Flannery, being proved wrong is practically a rite of passage.

It’s almost certain that, should America rouse its energy to once more try something as audacious as the Moon landings, the same clown-show of environmentalists, activist-scientists and nosey-nannas would come crawling out of the woodwork with their ridiculous scaremongering. As it is, leftist bibles like HuffPo are already grumbling about how white and male the Apollo program was. The whole program today would be run through the wringer of intersectionality: it would be one small step for a trans.

More importantly, though, Cassini was a road-test of the greens’ beloved “precautionary principle”. If NASA had actually buckled and applied the precautionary principle, Cassini would never have happened. Our understanding of the solar system, and the universe, would be forever poorer.

For the first time since the Middle-Ages, irrationalism and superstition would have drawn a veil over human knowledge.

It’s been argued by philosophers of science like Matt Ridley that the capability or the will to attempt a program like Apollo has been lost, perhaps forever. Bearing in mind how environmentalism very nearly stopped the whole Cassini mission, it’s sadly tempting to think that he’s right. Our future now is not the hopeful, beaming faces of men like Neil Armstrong, but the grim glower of ignorant inquisitors like Greta Thunberg.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s