Recently in NASA Culture Category

From Worms to Meatballs -- NASA Talk Traces Emblematic History, NASA Langley

On Tuesday, July 9, at NASA's Langley Research Center, retired NASA aerospace engineer Joe Chambers will present, "Wings, Meatballs, Worms and Swooshes: The Unknown Story of the NASA Seal and Insignia,"

Chambers will discuss the history and origins of the official NASA seal and the less-formal NASA insignia and how they became two of the most recognized emblems throughout the world.

This evening at 7:30, Chambers will present a similar program for the general public at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. This Sigma Series event is free and no reservations are required.

Mary Roach's Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void will give you a whole new view of an astronaut's life

Frank Sietzen, Jr.: For most of us spacers human spaceflight is nothing to, well, joke about. After all, riding rockets into the cosmos is serious business, and there's nothing that NASA or we do better than take ourselves seriously - perhaps too seriously. In the last 30 years or so, only Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" gave us permission to laugh out loud when contemplating some of the inconveniences of spaceflight. Until now, that is.

Mary Roach, one of America's most successful and prolific science writers, has made an art form out of picking a little known or understood area of science and doing some first-person research. In her "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers", she tells us more than we'd ever wish to know about what happens to our bodies after we croak. In "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" she gives us a window on ghosts, spooks, and what many believe follows death. In "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" she throws herself into deconstructing the sexual impulse, visiting the top sex researchers in the world's universities and laboratories, while enlisting some front-line help from her long-suffering husband, no less.

In "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void" Roach gives the same in-depth treatment to global preparations for long duration human spaceflight.

Citizen Scientists Discover Rotating Pulsar, NSF

"Idle computers are the astronomers' playground: Three citizen scientists--an American couple and a German--have discovered a new radio pulsar hidden in data gathered by the Arecibo Observatory. This is the first deep-space discovery by Einstein@Home, which uses donated time from the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers from 192 different countries. This is the first genuine astronomical discovery by a public volunteer distributed computing project"

Keith's note: GSFC PAO has taken to bragging a bit. This little gem is posted at the bottom of some photo captions on their Flickr account: "NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe."

Is this accurate? I'm not exactly certain that it is. The words they use are not exactly defined i.e. "organization". Perhaps GSFC PAO could provide the statistics upon which they make this claim.

Making NASA "Open"

NASA Idea Brainstorming Tool, Open Government at NASA

"NASA is seeking input on the creation of the NASA Open Government Plan. As outlined in the Open Government Directive, this brainstorming tool is a mechanism gain input on how to make the key principle of openness a meaningful pillar of NASA's mission, and how to implement participation, transparency and collaboration activities such that NASA becomes more relevant, efficient, and accountable. Key ideas and suggestions developed through this process will be prioritized in the NASA Open Government Plan."

Keith's note: You can watch the NASA Advisory Council's Subcommittee on Education and Public Outreach meeting today live via USTREAMTV here between 10 am and 4 pm EST.

After all the abuse I heap on the agency, I am glad to see that NASA is finally getting the message. Eventually, all NAC meetings - including all NAC subcommittee meetings - need to be made available to the public like this - live and interactive. Right now these meetings are only witnessed by one or two dozen people. The presentations often take a long time to get online - if ever. Transcripts or recordings are never posted. All that emerges are meeting summaries than can take months to produce - and when they do, are bland and devoid of any meaningful content. Hardly what anyone would call "transparent". Murky at best.

reader note: "An unbadged man said to me as I left my JSC building last Friday, "Is this a place of business or a campus? I mean, is this 'where it all happens'?" I was going to challenge him but he explained he was a bus driver from that bus over there that had brought in some people. I said, just, Yes Sir! and went on home. (It was a tough week.)

In this day and age, should I have pointed over his shoulder and said... That flag up there on that roof flies every day there are Americans on orbit. It has been there continuously, longer than I've been working here. If you go through those doors across the parking lot and turn left and could get past the locked doors and guards, you would be in Mission Control. THE Mission Control Houston. You could pick up a mic and talk to the astronauts and cosmonauts working in space right now. If you turn right instead, you'd find a building full of mission operations people who a week ago had no question that their contributions were valued by the country.

Today, I don't know how that question would be answered in that building. I'm angry the question has even come up. I wasn't born here at JSC, but I got here as soon as I could. I just don't know whether here is supposed to be 'where it all happens' anymore."

Keith's note: You know that the message plan NASA has been trying to roll out is not working when signs carried by protesters outside of KSC today say "Obama lied - NASA died". It gets worse: I also received a link to a YouTube video from someone sitting at their desk at NASA that uses captioned movie footage of an actor playing Hitler to criticise the Obama decision on Constellation. This ain't good folks.

Keith's update: Oh yes - to all of you who are demanding that I post a link to the Hitler video: No way. I find even a casual comparison of anyone to Hitler under any circumstances to be reprehensible and I will not allow this website to be a party to that. If you do not like this policy, then go find another website to read. There will be no further discussion on this topic. Alas, Portal to the Universe, "the latest Cornerstone project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009)" apparently thinks that Hitler jokes are funny. The posting is by "AmericaSpace" which is run by Jim Hillhouse. Using Hitler - in any context - is never funny and only serves to drag any associated discussion into the gutter.

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden outlines the Administration's fiscal year 2011 budget request as the agency's road map for a new era of innovation and discovery, and answers questions from reporters as the featured Newsmaker at the National Press Club in Washington Feb. 2"

Keith's note: If you go to 55:18 in this video, I ask Charlie Bolden how he is going to get people to make the transition from flying government-operated spacecraft to commerically- operated spacecraft - and the emotion that goes with making the transition from one way of thinking to another. Bolden's reply gets deep into the emotions and mindsets that underly the changes that the Constellation workforce is now going through - and how he is going to work through that process with them.

Transcript below

Keith's note: Now that NASA has been directed by the White House to cancel Constellation, and with it, all of NASA's big time lunar ambitions, I wonder when they will start to yank things like this sad dancing Moon walker animation offline. Seriously - this is not an insignificant task since there is an immense amount of VSE-related material that NASA has put online since 2004 that will now need to be modified or deleted. In addition, many third party websites contain large amounts of this material as well. And when do you start? Now? When Congress gives up trying to stop this cancellation?

Imagine that there was an Internet in 1967 and you had to erase the Apollo program.

Planet 51 PSA Campaign Brings NASA's Message of Exploration Down to Earth

"In a public service announcement about diversity, Johnson underscores the importance of a global work force: "On this planet promoting diversity is very important. At NASA, astronauts from all nationalities and backgrounds work together aboard the International Space Station to help improve our lives here on Earth. I'm here to tell you that every barrier is meant to be broken, whether it's the sound barrier, the furthest layer of the Earth's atmosphere, the outer limits of our solar system, or the challenges we face here at home."

Keith's note: There was a lot of talk (with no mention whatsoever of NASA or space exploration) at TEDxNASA held by NASA LaRC in Newport News, VA on Friday about dealing with poverty, racism, inclusivenes, inspiration, etc. On the same day that this event was being held, NASA HQ PAO released a PSA featuring Dwayne "Rock" Johnson, who stars in the new film "Planet 51". A DVD of this film was flown and photographed in space.

NASA LaRC Internal Email: The 'Langley Story'

"Today I am announcing a major external communications initiative we've titled "Telling the Langley Story." This center-wide activity will help us develop a new, more compelling method to talk about our work, the role we play in NASA and our contributions to the public good. We've found that people outside our gates from the general public to policy makers to the next-generation workforce don't really understand who we are or what we do. Why? One, we don't always tell them in terms they understand and, two, we often don't tell them how what we do benefits them directly. We want to change that."

Keith's note: Interesting idea - but wouldn't it be nice if this was coordinated with HQ and that a similar survey used across all field centers so that you ask the right questions, get the right answers, and be able to understand the agency's issues as a whole? One should not squash the initiative to do this - but based on my conversations with folks at LaRC and elsewhere at NASA this is part of a knee jerk reaction to criticism about how TEDxNASA was operated - good and bad.

Keith's 17 Nov update: I just got the press release via NASA LaRC's official email distribution list - it was sent out at 9:26 am EST. I am a little baffled as to why a press release first issued only via PR Newswire 4 days ago on 13 November only gets delivered to NASA LaRC's official distribution list 4 days later - and only 3 days before the event itself - announcing that tickets are available "starting Saturday, Nov. 14" i.e. 3 days ago. Oh yes, tickets will not be available after 5 pm today - no mention of that either. And no mention whatsoever is made in the release of the fact that the event will be webcast live. One could easily get the impression that LaRC PAO is not especially interested in this event.

Keith's 17 Nov update: Someone just sent me the final TEDxNASA program and I have posted it here.

The Next Giant Leap, GQ

"You are reading this because you have no idea what NASA is doing. And NASA, tongue-tied by jargon, can't figure out how to tell you. But the agency is engaged in work that can be more enduring and far-reaching than anything else this country is paying for. At NASA's inception the government declared that "activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind," and this is one of the few promises in American history that have been kept. NASA is now fifty. The moonwalk was forty years ago this month. The NASA of yore did the unimaginable in eight years, making good on President Kennedy's assertion that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." It succeeded for two reasons: access to a staggering 4.4 percent of the federal budget (now it's half a percent) and, more importantly, perhaps resurgently, a national desire to believe in ourselves--and in something more than ourselves. Since then, NASA, vision flickering, public imagination uncaptured, has stooped to offering belittling practical justifications for spaceflight (GPS, cell phones) that ground and practicalize the sublime, killing its poetry."

Oiling the Wheels

Frank's Note: Check out this report on federal campaign contributions for last year's campaign cycle at Open Secrets

Honeywell lead the defense/aerospace sector with a total contributions of $2.5 million. Lockheed was right behind at $1.6 million and Boeing in third place at $1.3 million. Interestingly enough, their contributions were almost evenly divided between Dems and the GOP, with Dems slightly ahead in the dollars donated. Of course, from the perspective of the aerospace giants, this just makes good (political) sense. But how do readers think change will come about if the status quo is so well represented?

Editor's 25 Aug note: The following farewell message was openly sent to several hundred employees at NASA MSFC. It is well worth reading.

Editor's 26 Aug Update: The author of this memo has responded with additional comments.

From: Finckenor, Jeffrey L. (MSFC-EV32)
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2008 8:23 AM
To: [Hundreds of people at NASA MSFC and Elsewhere]
Subject: Farewell Address

I wanted to let you know that I am leaving NASA. I am leaving civil service and going to work on Army helicopters, within walking distance of my current desk. My last day here is September 5.

In my 19 years here I have always been struck and humbled by the amazing level of talent of all of you. As well as how friendly, helpful and dedicated so many people have been. During much of my career here I've been tickled that I could actually get paid to do things that were so much fun.

As many of you can probably guess, the immediate cause of my departure is the CAD/PDM issue, but even I realize that this is just a symptom of much larger, agency wide problems. It just happens to be the particular symptom I'm close to and know something about. Over the last few years numerous people have asked if there was any hope the CAD/PDM problem could be fixed. My answer was usually that "I'm still here, so I still have hope". Well, I no longer have hope. With catastrophic level risks accumulating across the program, and a steadfast refusal to accept reality, it's become clear to me that as bad as things are they are going to have to get a whole lot worse before the pieces can be picked up and we can get something that works.

NASA GSFC Internal Memo: Outlook Calendars

"There have been several instances where individuals who have been invited to a meeting have forwarded the meeting invitation to other individuals. Even though this is an option that is available in Outlook, it is not advisable for several reasons. It is considered poor meeting etiquette to invite other people to a meeting who are not on the original guest list."

NASA Deputy Administrator's Blog Jun 25, 2007

"I was in Colorado and Arizona on June 17-20. I will write more about my meetings there in my next entry. I have been traveling quite a bit in the past few months and there is no sense that it will slow down any time soon. I think these trips are necessary, talking to people outside the beltway to see what their thoughts are about NASA and exploration. But the main purpose has been to focus on fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations for NASA."

NASA Deputy Administrator's Blog Jun 15, 2007 - Shana Dale

"I am looking for a more direct way to communicate with people inside the agency. There is so much that goes on at headquarters and I want to be able to pull the curtain back on at least some of it and also explain what is going on with new initiatives. I anticipate updating the blog every week - I know, not as routine as many but it's hard even to find time to eat lunch."

Today's Ask the Administrator Answer, previous post

[Mike Griffin] "Finally, no, I do not read NASAWatch, or any other blog."

Editor's note: Gee Mike, you won't even read your own Deputy's blog?

Something To Fall Back On

Two bits, four bits, six bits, inertia - No joke: This Texans cheerleader works with NASA, Sports Illustrated

"Summer Williams is a Houston Texans cheerleader. She's also a rocket scientist. This is a true story. "Well," Williams said, "I don't actually use the term 'rocket scientist.' "

Mission: Cultural, Times Picayune

"The room, which cost $875,000 and took seven months to design and build, is at the heart of the cultural and organizational changes at NASA that were demanded by the federal board that investigated the Columbia accident."

Editor's earlier note: $875K? Gee, I hope the chairs are nice and comfy.

OK, We're Listening

20 October 2004: Message from NASA HQ - Public Inquiries Management Office, NASA HQ

"As NASA plots new courses to the moon, Mars, and beyond, we must equally plot communications strategies to keep our public and international communities informed of NASA's missions and accomplishments. One strategy is the realignment of the Public Inquiries Management Office (PIMO) within the Office of Public Affairs. This realignment centralizes the agency's management of public inquiries, albeit the medium--paper mail, e-mail, and voice-mail communications. As NASA moves forward, it is paramount that we explain our missions, programs, and activities in such a way that engenders a positive image for the agency."

NASA Web Portal Affinity Kit

"The Portal will use cutting-edge technology and thoughtfully created content to put NASA in the best light possible."

Editor's note: so long as NASA is focused on presenting a "positive image for the agency" or "the best light possible" it is going to stumble again and again. Rather, I would suggest, the better tactic for NASA PAO to take would be to present an "accurate" image of the agency - both flaws and strengths - as well as its accomplishments and challenges. When you try to distort reality and spin people's perceptions, they resist being spun. In contrast, when you are straight with people, they take the effort at face value and take the time to listen. THAT is how NASA should format its message.

8 October 2004: Ames Federal Employees Union complaint: "slandering NASA's civil servant workforce"

"First, NASA does not have a poor-performer problem. Your statement demeans the hard working men and women of this Agency who have dedicated their professional lives to NASA. You owe NASA's rank-and-file workforce an apology. It is outrageous that NASA's Chief Human Capital Officer would imply that poor performance is a major problem at NASA without any evidence to back this up. If you believe that poor performance is such a problem that it should trigger a request for additional legislative relief, why then did you not mention this in your Senate testimony on July 20th about NASA's workforce planning?"

Editor's note: I just have to say that this is getting to be a little silly. The Union folks dump on Vicki Novak for implying "that poor performance is a major problem at NASA without any evidence to back this up" in a paragraph that starts with the equally unsubstantiated statement "First, NASA does not have a poor-performer problem." My question to the union folks: please provide evidence to back up YOUR claim.

4 October 2004: NOAA-N-Prime Satellite Mishap Investigation Report Released

"The Government's inability to identify and correct deficiencies in the TIROS operations and LMSSC oversight processes were due to inadequate resource management, an unhealthy organizational climate, and the lack of effective oversight processes."

Otherwise, armwaving and name calling aside, this letter references problems that continue to plague the agency.


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