Bob's Links and Rants

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The enemy within

My first job out of college was with Rocketdyne, located in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Rocketdyne made most of the rocket engines used in America's space program, including the F-1 engines on the Saturn V rocket which launched to missions to the Moon. When I was there, the main project was the Space Shuttle Main Engine. At that time, Rocketdyne was a division of Rockwell; today it is owned by Boeing. I worked in the main factory (which included a lot of research and office facilities) in Canoga Park, near the western end of the valley. A few miles to the north, up in the hills, was Rocketdyne's rocket testing facility--the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. I only went there a few times--once to view a test of an Atlas rocket, one of the older engines Rocketdyne was still selling to NASA because the Space Shuttle was so far behind schedule. The place reminded me of the home of some James Bond villain--especially during the test!

Well, it turns out (I'm sure you'll be surprised) that Rocketdyne wasn't all that careful with the environment. In 1959, long before I got there, there was a nuclear meltdown at Santa Susana. Rocketdyne (hold on to your hat!) covered up the seriousness of the incident and its environmental effects for decades. Even now, developers continue to build homes near the site of the incident on ground which is probably contaminated. Hundreds of cases of cancer and birth defects have been reported in the area, and Rocketdyne is the main suspect.

From Steve Greenberg.