7 January 2006
Activists hope to derail launch
Group to protest at station today
By Todd Halverson



Enlarge this image
Liftoff this month. The New Horizons mission to Pluto is scheduled for launch Jan. 17 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA image.
Launch update
The New Horizons mission to Pluto remains set for launch Jan. 17 following a fuel-tank analysis engineers completed this week. NASA has not released details of the review of the tank on the Atlas 5 rocket, which was inspected using a boroscope to make sure it had not suffered the signs of stress seen in a similar tank.
The launch can happen as late as Feb. 14. But the craft must launch by Jan. 28 to get to Pluto as early as 2015, with a gravity assist from Jupiter. Later launch dates push arrival times into the future. There's also a backup launch window next year. The latest arrival at Pluto would be 2020.

CAPE CANAVERAL - A group opposed to the use of nuclear power in space will protest outside Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today to draw attention to NASA's plans to launch a plutonium-powered spacecraft this month.

Organizer Maria Telesca-Whipple, of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, said she expects about three dozen people to gather at the south gate to the air station between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The site is on the north side of Port Canaveral.

The demonstrators oppose the scheduled Jan. 17 launch of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on the world's first mission to Pluto.

Mounted atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket, the spacecraft will carry a radioisotope thermal electric generator, or RTG, which is designed to convert heat from the decay of plutonium into electricity to power spacecraft systems.

NASA and Department of Energy studies show that the mission poses more danger to central Florida than a typical rocket launch. There is a 1 in 350 chance that a launch area accident could result in a release of radioactive material.

Telesca-Whipple and other activists worry about worst-case scenarios cited in the government studies. There is a one in 18 million chance that an accident could contaminate up to 115 square miles between Daytona Beach, Vero Beach and Orlando, the studies show. Cleanup costs are estimated as high as $1.3 billion per square mile.

Telesca-Whipple said the demonstrators want to make certain that people, particularly newcomers to the area, are aware of the launch plans.

"We want to bring it to the attention of the people at-large," said Telesca-Whipple, 45, a married mother of two from Rockledge. "We want to get the word out."

Officials with NASA and the Brevard County Office of Emergency Management also want the public to be aware of the launch, which is scheduled to take place between 1:24 p.m. and 3:24 p.m. on Jan. 17.

If the Atlas 5 rocket explodes, they say there would be no cause for alarm or evacuation.

As with any launch accident that releases toxic rocket propellant, people might be asked to seek shelter. They might be asked to bring pets inside, close doors, windows and fireplaces, and turn off ventilation systems.

Activists staged similar protests before some of those flights, so plans for the demonstrations did not surprise officials.

"We expected a certain amount of this," said Lt. Col. Maria Carl, chief of public affairs at the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, which oversees operations at the air station. "And hey, this is America. You are allowed to protest."

Contact Halvorson at 639-0576 or thalvorson@flatoday.net

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