News Release

The Columbia Disaster: Interviews Available


Dumas is the author of Lethal Arrogance: Human Fallibility and Dangerous Technologies and is a professor of political economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. He said today: “The tragic breakup of the space shuttle Columbia as it re-entered the atmosphere this morning once more underlines the vulnerability of highly complex technologies. It is too early to know what caused the shuttle to disintegrate — human error, technical failure, or something else. But the lesson is clear: when fallible human beings interact with powerful technologies, failures are inevitable. This time, the failure took the lives of seven astronauts. The next catastrophic human-technical failure could take the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, if the technology involved is a nuclear power plant, a highly toxic chemicals facility, or a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction. For the same reasons, the space-based weapons the government is so determined to deploy will be no less vulnerable to malfunction, with potentially disastrous consequences. The Columbia tragedy is the latest in a series of warnings we have been given that we must now find ways to eliminate the most dangerous of our technologies if we are to permanently avoid catastrophe.”
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Grossman is the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet and is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. He said today: “The Columbia tragedy comes as NASA has been moving on a vastly expanded program for the use of nuclear power in space. Dubbed Project Prometheus, it is to broaden NASA’s $1 billion Nuclear Systems Initiative begun last year and include development of a nuclear-propelled rocket. Consider the consequences if a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor came down in pieces over Texas or elsewhere on earth. Indeed, in May and June, NASA intends to launch from Florida two rockets, both carrying rovers to land on Mars that are equipped with plutonium-powered heaters…. NASA’s Environmental Impact Statement says for each shot ‘the overall chance of any accident that releases radioactive materials to the environment is about 1 in 230.’ These are high odds for catastrophe…. The Columbia disaster must show us the awful folly of this atomic space path.”
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Director of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Gagnon said today: “The Pentagon’s role in the space program has been expanding, especially since the recent budget cuts. Recent statements by former Secretary of the Navy, and now new NASA director, Sean O’Keefe have indicated that all future NASA missions will be ‘dual-use’ — in other words, the Pentagon will continue to take over the space program. ‘Star Wars’ accelerates the weaponization of space — the so-called ‘missile defense’ programs are actually offensive systems although the Pentagon likes to pretend that they are mainly for defensive purposes. As the Columbia tragedy shows, all these technologies are error-prone.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167