It was a dark and stormy night. But (almost) without flinching we set off to hear Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Kevin Grazier speaking about the Cassini mission to Saturn.
During the talk (see article), he mentioned how there was opposition to the mission, stemming from the nuclear power source required for travel so far from the sun (the plutonium is encased in ceramic designed to survive re-entry at 11km per second, in the event of an accident). At a party he overheard one guest declaring that Cassini carried a nuclear warhead, which the scientists planned to fire into Saturn’s atmosphere, setting it alight. He has an interesting life. As well as his fulltime Nasa job, he lectures at UCLA, gives public addresses at Griffiths Observatory and tours the US giving talks to school students, and is a member of the screenwriter’s guild. We thought he was worth a profile.
He enthralled the crowd for over an hour and fired up this family to keep a close eye on Cassini’s odyssey. We also had great fun making our very own paper model of the space probe (saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/kids/models/pprmdl.pdf). Making the real one must have been even more difficult. Recommend this a good thing for a skeptic to do on a rainy day. Speaking of spacecraft, one of our members almost saw a UFO on a recent visit to the west coast, but his sceptical facilities got in the way of what could have been a really exciting discovery (see article).
Another thing to do on inclement days is visit the new website on evolution, put together by Waikato University biological sciences staff. Skeptics members were invited to comment, on the site, and all were very complimentary. Public understanding of evolutionary theory is very poor, and this should be a very useful educational tool.
The lead article this issue provides insight into the consumer response to BSE. It’s interesting that, in spite of the wave of panic which overtook British beef eaters, concern over beef consumption dropped dramatically when the price was right.
Finally, founding member and long-time stalwart Bernard Howard brings us up to date on the latest health fad from Europe. Bernard is recovering after two weeks in hospital; our thoughts are with you, Bernard, get well soon.