Houston Chronicle Scrapes The Bottom of The Barrel

As low as an astronaut can go, Opinion, Houston Chronicle

"Nowak's actions set a standard of sorts to define what an astronaut can do, and not be asked for his or her resignation. Who else at NASA can stalk and then pepper spray a rival in an extramarital affair, and keep his or her job? This fits a clear pattern at NASA. Rise high enough in the organization and your responsibility for flawed actions ceases to be an issue. Not a single major participant in the Columbia disaster has been fired. Not one. In the seemingly unlikely event that Nowak avoids prison, history tells us that she will survive in her job."

Editor's note: The Houston Chronicle has certainly stooped to a new low by publishing a rambling diatribe by space policy wannabe Robert Oler - one wherein he cites the actions of one troubled individual as being representative of the job performance of all within the agency. Oler's comparison is not only unsupportable it is despicable and insulting to the vast majority of employees at NASA.

Also, FYI, there is no "Clear Lake Group". In reality it is two guys, one of whom does not even live in Clear Lake, who pretend to understand space policy - and sucker naive publications into publishing their rants. Indeed, Oler is so sloppy when it comes to detail that he seems not to have noticed that he got the spelling of Lindsey's name wrong half a dozen times.

Editor's update: Mr. Oler has some further (sickening) thoughts on Lisa Nowak - check out this link - scroll down a bit - its the first posting by Mr. Oler under "comments".

Comments? Send them to nasawatch@reston.com. Comments thus far:


Olers history belies his motive in writing the article. Regardless of his motherhood and apple pie comments, one needs only to see his name as author to know that he is exploiting another opportunity to criticize NASA. Your comments concerning the Clear Lake Group and Olers status as a space policy wannabe are right on target.


I just read your blurb on Robert Oler, and his snide remarks on your linked page, and I couldn't agree with you more. As a NASA contractor, I'm not exactly pleased with Nowak's behavior. But her bad example should not reflect badly on the public perceptions of astronauts and others involved in NASA projects. And other than the already-fading source of late-night jokes, I think the public will get over this pretty quickly. My experience in public outreach efforts shows that the large majority of folks I have encountered still go "Wow! That's way cool!" when they find out I work at NASA - the name still inspires awe. This mudslinging by Oler (who I've never heard of, nor the Clear Lake Group, despite nearly 15 years at NASA) smacks of the same misguided thinking displayed by those who condemned our entire military when a small number of soldiers in Iraq committed crimes. Lisa Nowak is only one of tens of thousands of us, and I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of us do not act that way.


Aren't people missing the basic legal point about Lisa Nowak? I might be naive, but people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. That may sound like a bad speech from Perry Mason, excuse me Law and Order, but until the state of Florida proves her guilt, then she is innocent and as such should be allowed to stay with NASA. If a jury decides her to be guilty, then she shouldn't resign; her government employment should be terminated.


My opinion is that this is a personal issue that was initially independent of NASA. This was mostly (at least) a new situation for NASA to have to deal with. In a society where one is innocent until proven guilty, I'd say that NASA was following (or attempting to follow) the proper procedures. I expect Ms. Nowak will [be asked to] resign at some point in the near future. She ought to. But, to tie this in with other NASA policy and performance issues is just stupid. Sure, there are other issues to address (as in any large, dynamic organization), but those should be addressed separately. The Nowak issue should not be employed maliciously as a sledgehammer to drive home a personal "political" position. Such an endeavor doesn't serve any constructive purpose.


I have to disagree with you on this, Keith. I think the idea behind Oler's words is perfectly right. And I'm not even close to the US space program in any manner but I love astronautics. Don't take the grammar mistakes and let them cloud the whole picture portraied in the article. I want to believe that, in due time, Lisa will resign. I want. I think, we need! The post Columbia "change of culture" with more freedom of speech, of thought, etc is nothing if it isn't followed up with the correct and appropiate actions due to any past wrong doing! I can't accept age resignation or reassignment as a consequence of wrong doings. That's promoting and prolonging incompetence and "the culture". ABOVE ALL, that's the kind of thing that dyes the whole organization and it's people!! (comments in editorials or alike are "peanuts" compared to that.)


This whole Lisa Nowak thing is bringing to the surface the dysfunctional culture that has develop in the past couple of years. In Von Braun's day, anyone who did not speak up when they saw a problem, even if they caused it, would be liable to be fired. Today the opposite is the case. This problem is not confined to the astronaut corps. People at MSFC who have dared to question the Ares 1 have been reassigned, contractors lambasted for publishing papers illustrating alternatives, and a general level of fear when anyone questions what is going on at the agency. The responses to the Lisa Nowak thing need to be read by the leadership at NASA and they need to understand that this portends nothing good for the future.

We are not going to the Moon with this culture.


Congress should pass a new law. Lose an orbiter, go to jail.


Okay. I work at NASA and lately they have made us all fear that saying anything could get us fired!

My comments: While this opinion may be packaged badly - much of what is in this editorial is sadly true. If the person in question were anyone other than an astronaut or management on high, not only would there have been no help offered but instead a swift action to fire the person. Like it or not astronauts are viewed in a different light. They are supposed to be role models. Attacking someone is hardly what I call role model behavior. No astronaut can stand up and say "well I didn't sign up to be a role model" because guess what? Yes they did. By taking a job that millions would love to have they accepted this responsibility.

As far as the comments on Columbia go -- they are dead on. I hardly think that reassigning someone who had a hand (in any way) to the death of 7 people is sufficient. NASA talks about changing the culture but how can you expect a culture to change when no one has the dignity, maturity and responsibility to stand up and say "I screwed up and I am sorry." Instead they hide behind their actions and say things like "Blame No One." Give me a break! I think if the general public knew the truth about much of this NASA's already troubled public opinion might fall more. After Enron , the general public expected people to not only be fired but thrown in jail (and this wasn't even their tax dollars being spent! and no one died!) so it would stand to reason that the general public would expect that the people who made seriously flawed decisions in the case of Columbia should be fired. Instead they are reassigned and people like Linda Ham are sent to Rice University to get an MBA on our tax dollars.

I love NASA. I work here because I believe in the mission and the many great people who make the mission happen. What I don't believe in is people not accepting responsibility for their actions and thus damaging the beautiful idea of our space program.


Gotta disagree with you on this one, Keith. Robert Oler is absolutely correct. No one but an astronaut would be treated this way. Simply put, if I had been accused of what Lisa Nowak has been accused of, NASA would find a way to let me go.

As for his comments on the Columbia accident, Robert is right on the money. No one has been fired. Resigning or being reassigned to other jobs doesn't cut it. People should have been FIRED and this is way the agency should have publicly handled it. I work for the Shuttle Program and if my hardware or decisions cause an accident and astronauts die, I expect to be fired (and deservedly so).

MSFC Shuttle Program Team Member


Lots of flaws in your disjointed view of things.

1. Flying the T-38 to Orlando was authorized as the quickest way to get there and find out what was happening. They returned on a commercial flight.

2. If you think she was in any coherent state to resign then and there on the spot, you don't get it. She'll resign at the appropriate time without your guidance.

3. From the very beginning, there have been MALE astronauts who have not been very good husbands. The first man on the moon admitted as much in his book.

4. The management team at JSC during the Columbia accident has either resigned from the agency or been reassigned to other duties.

5. If she goes to prison, she'll lose her job. Your logic is amazing.

6. Not one of the 28 cadets at USAFA has been dismissed for cheating yet. 19 have admitted to it.

7. The heart of honor, sir, is to not kick someone when she has already done it to herself. You need to bone up on mental health issues in our society.

8. Your diatribe carries a strong air of bitterness, toward the Navy and NASA. Which direction do you think your credibility will go from here?

I hope the Chronicle didn't have to pay a huge sum for your thoughts.


With regard to your posting of Robert Oler opinion in the Houston Chronicle, I think he is right on target. There are a lot of regular NASA employees and families, contractors, advocacy groups, and supporters trying to promote all the good things about space activities and yet, the Agency itself has managed to work to defeat all of this by its actions. But then again, it was his opinion, you posted your opinion, and this is my opinion. I would hate to think by your comment toward the Chronicle, that you are promoting censorship by the news media. This is on the opinion/editorial page.

Editor's note: DUH, I just posted YOUR comments, didn't I?

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 19, 2007 12:07 AM.

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