Dear NASA: Please Focus on Space Exploration, Not Menus

Keith's note: A personal note about aerospace companies and corporate giving. Every company who supported the nuclear space event at the Air & Space Museum tonight has a clear, consistent record of giving to meritorious causes. All aerospace companies do. I know many of the people who write the checks and the professional associations that participate. I have worked with these people on educational and outreach projects. Their intentions and generosity, while facilitated by commerce, are honest and true - and if at all possible they'd love to be able to spend much, much more if only the funds were there. Indeed, some of their projects are simply inspired. Often times they fill in the gaps where NASA is lacking in funds or flexibility and push their employers to squeeze out a few more dollars.

But at the end of the day these companies take their guidance and hints - subtle and overt - from NASA civil servants. In the case of this reception, it would not have been possible to do this event if NASA was not in the loop driving the event to begin with and making the arrangements with the Smithsonian. Just look at the invitation - the NASA logo is on it - not the donors. These donors need to be acknowledged up front without any deception - both for the sake of transparency as well as to say thank you.

NASA's Education and Public Outreach efforts in the mission directorates (SMD, ESMD, and SOMD) do some really valuable things that touch many lives and encourage careers. But they also do self-serving, goofy, backslapping, inside the beltway stunts like these parties. If the intent was to promote the role and value of nuclear powered spaceflight then would it not have been better to focus the effort outward at the public and not inward i.e. the space cadet attendees' stomachs? Think of all the pseudoscience, arm waving, and blatant misinformation that is promulgated every time an RTG flies. Why not spend these party funds on enlightening the public and training students with facts?

Corporate giving is good and should be encouraged. It enhances overall social responsibility and offers flexibility that is often needed. But corporate donors follow NASA's lead. As such, NASA needs to think long and hard about how it drops hints and approves the endorsement of projects.

I organized two large events for NASA In 1987 and 1988 and rented the very same space for a big shindig. I have attended countless events and eaten the food for the past 25 years. Guilty. Been there, done that. That said, I have to ask, was this party worth the equivalent of one year of college for someone? That is what it cost. Did it promote the intended issue or just feed people chow next to Skylab?

Tonight I went outside with my wife and watched the ISS soar over our home in Reston, Virginia. It is indeed "one of the brightest objects in the sky" as we promised it would be when I worked on it 20 years ago. An hour later I managed to catch ORS1 as it was launched from NASA Wallops - from the same spot in the street in front our home. We were distracted by a plethora of fireflies sparkling in the cool summer air. I went inside and Twittered a note - with this link to a clip from "The Right Stuff". Watch the whole clip - but focus on 09:10. Fireflies leaping from an ancient people into a sky with astronauts flying above it.

It is things such as this that NASA and its corporate family should be focusing on. Bring the value to everyone, everywhere, and then derive value and support in return from the very same wide audience. Feeding a bunch of Washington, DC insiders and bureaucrats food they shouldn't be eating in the first place is not the way to promote the value of the exploration of space. Just say no.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 30, 2011 12:30 AM.

Final Atlantis Up Close Photo Op - Part 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

ORS-1 Launched From Wallops is the next entry in this blog.

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