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About that Controversy…

Jeff Foust was wondering where the controversy over New Horizons was…it looks like Bruce has found a sudden groundswell of public opposition:

The national media has begun checking in with us about the building opposition to the launch. Journalism professor Karl Grossman’s op-eds, reporting on opposition to the mission, are now appearing in papers across the country. I’ve been hearing from people – Oregon to Florida – who have been writing letters to Congress, NASA, and their local papers expressing their outrage about the launching of nuclear power into space. NASA is losing the support of taxpayers nationwide as they push these toxic launches.

Sounds like a major surge of support for his position…but then, what quality of “organizer” would Bruce be if he didn’t present his position as having strong and growing support? Some evidence of this beyond a few papers reprinting Karl Grossman’s ill-informed and misleading op-ed and anecdotal evidence of “hearing from people” might convince me that this wasn’t just a self-serving misrepresentation.

As for NASA losing support nationwide because of RTG-powered spacecraft…prove it.

Plans are also underway in Florida for a demonstration at Cape Canveral Air Force Station on January 7.

And I’m sure that all five or six of the participants will feel good about themselves and their moral superiority afterwards.

Bruce then goes on to demonstrate that he knows little if anything about New Horizons beyond the fact that plutonium is involved:

The planets have been out there a long time and aren’t going anywhere.

In fact, time is of the essence where Pluto is concerned:

Scientists believe that as Pluto continues its 248-yearlong orbit around the sun, its tenuous atmosphere eventually will freeze and collapse to the surface. Pluto has been racing away from the sun since its closest approach in 1989 and scientists do not know how much time remains before Pluto’s atmosphere collapses. Once that happens its atmosphere is not expected to re-emerge for about 200 years.

“Some people think its 20 years off and some people think its five years off,” said Stern. “No one really knows when Pluto’s atmosphere will snow out and collapse.”

Oh, but what do they know? They’re just scientists.

Of course, no Bruce Gagnon anti-space-nuclear-power post would be complete without his trademark appeal for alternatives:

Develop alternative technologies for space exploration. No nuclear launches!

And as usual, Bruce insists on alternatives but offers none…not even a glimmer of a clue as to what other options he might have in mind. Given his poor understanding of physics and engineering and his fascination with windmills, one has to wonder if he expects deep space science probes to be powered by the solar wind…

3 comments to About that Controversy…

  • On the other hand ..

    “Develop alternative technologies for space exploration. No nuclear launches!”

    You’ll note he’s for space exploration now, where last year he was again’ spreading our seed into the cosmos until we’ve resolved that pesky green and inhumanity to man problem.

  • Rob

    Mr. Gagnon meet Mr. Facts, Mr. Facts please say hello to Mr. Gagnon.

    Mr. Gagnon, in order to actually meet Mr. Facts, you must remove your finger from your ears, open your eyes, and also, there is no one here by the name of la-la-la-la.

    I’m still a little pissed that he disabled the comments section on his blog. It is so easy to be right when you close yourself off in your own little world, and shut out the opposition.

  • Robin Goodfellow

    Note that out to (and past) Pluto there really aren’t any current technology options for power other than nuclear. At Pluto’s closest approach to the Sun the light is 1/1,000th as bright as at Earth. Meaning that you would need thousands of square feet (hundreds of square meters) in photovoltaic array area, weighing at least 3x as much as the entire New Horizons craft does currently, to match the power output of the craft’s RTG. And that does not include the extra weight in support, thermal control, power processing, and scan platform structures that would be required for such a design. Nor does it include the PV area needed for the extra power required to heat the spacecraft to keep it operational. In total, a solar powered Pluto spacecraft would be many, many times heavier than New Horizons. It would also be much less reliable since PV arrays degrade over time in space, due to natural radiation damage, and would require precision pointing (at Pluto’s distance from the Sun, even a momentary loss of attitude control would quickly drain the batteries and sap the heat from such a spacecraft). And, by forcing the spacecraft to always remain in the same orientation with respect to the Sun, moving scan platforms for the antenna and instruments would be required. These moving parts would require heating (further increasing the size of the PV array needed) and would be prone to jamming in the extreme cold and hard vacuum of the outer solar system, especially after many years travel. Meanwhile, all this extra weight has required the use of a heavier, more expensive launcher and slowed the speed of the spacecraft through the solar system. Now you have a multi-decade, multi-billion dollar mission which is also less capable and much riskier. Assuming you can even get it to work at all (which is no guarantee). This is not my idea of progress.

    In contrast, we have decades of experience with safe, reliable spaceflight RTGs, which have been engineered with innumerable safety features (including the ability to withstand a catastrophic launch failure). We also have decades of tremendous success in RTG powered space exploration missions. Missions like Pioneer, Voyager, Viking, Galileo, and Cassini. Missions which have expanded our awareness of our Solar System and inspired our sense of adventure and wonder.