Page 017

Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.



            Chapter 1 -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1




     Somebody's out there, somebody's waiting

     Somebody's trying to tell me something


   -- from `Somebody's Trying to Tell Me Something', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6,

   5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil


   Monday, 16 October 1989

   Kennedy Space Center, Florida


   NASA buzzed with the excitement of a launch. Galileo was finally going

   to Jupiter.


   Administrators and scientists in the world's most prestigious space

   agency had spent years trying to get the unmanned probe into space.

   Now, on Tuesday, 17 October, if all went well, the five astronauts in

   the Atlantis space shuttle would blast off from the Kennedy Space

   Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with Galileo in tow. On the team's

   fifth orbit, as the shuttle floated 295 kilometres above the Gulf of

   Mexico, the crew would liberate the three-tonne space probe.


   An hour later, as Galileo skated safely away from the shuttle, the

   probe's 32500 pound booster system would fire up and NASA staff would

   watch this exquisite piece of human ingenuity embark on a six-year

   mission to the largest planet in the solar system. Galileo would take

   a necessarily circuitous route, flying by Venus once and Earth twice

   in a gravitational slingshot effort to get up enough momentum to reach



   NASA's finest minds had wrestled for years with the problem of exactly

   how to get the probe across the solar system. Solar power was one

   option. But if Jupiter was a long way from Earth, it was even further

   from the Sun--778.3 million kilometres to be exact. Galileo would need

   ridiculously large solar panels to generate enough power for its

   instruments at such a distance from the Sun. In the end, NASA's

   engineers decided on a tried if not true earthly energy source:

   nuclear power.


   Nuclear power was perfect for space, a giant void free of human life

   which could play host to a bit of radioactive plutonium 238 dioxide.

   The plutonium was compact for the amount of energy it gave off--and it

   lasted a long time. It seemed logical enough. Pop just under 24

   kilograms of plutonium in a lead box, let it heat up through its own

   decay, generate electricity for the probe's instruments, and presto!

   Galileo would be on its way to investigate Jupiter.


   American anti-nuclear activists didn't quite see it that way. They

   figured what goes up might come down. And they didn't much like the idea

   of plutonium rain. NASA assured them Galileo's power pack was quite

   safe. The agency spent about $50 million on tests which supposedly

   proved the probe's generators were very safe. They would survive intact

   in the face of any number of terrible explosions, mishaps and

   accidents. NASA told journalists that the odds of a plutonium release

   due to `inadvertent atmospheric re-entry' were 1 in 2 million. The

   likelihood of a plutonium radiation leak as a result of a launch