News: March 2006 Archives

Ten Years Online

Editor's note: As best as I can calculate, NASA Watch is 10 years old today. It started as "NASA RIF Watch". The "RIF" was dropped when the threat of a RIF under Dan Goldin subsided. Looking back at how things were in 1996 and flashing forward to current events i.e. Contractor layoffs and RIF threats, program cuts made with no consistent underlying rationale, NASA cost numbers that can't be believed, a financial management system that is still broken, employees afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, vexing space station and shuttle delays, and a Public Affairs Office that stumbles on a daily basis and often can't get out of its own way - Gee, it looks like not much has changed.

This is the news item I posted that pushed me to create a website (NASA RIF Watch) a few days later: "NASA is planning a RIF in Summer 1997", 28 March 1996, posted sci.space.policy:

Shut Out Once Again

Editor's note: According to discussions with several reporters in the past few minutes, a teleconference with Mike Griffin was to be held today from 4:00 - 5:00 pm EST. Reporters were called about this event by Doc Mirelson in the NASA news room starting yesterday. Once again, as been the case in the past few months, I did not get an invitation to participate. Oh well.

Note to NASA: Other than trying to keep my readers informed, why should I pay any attention to complaints from NASA HQ PAO about the accuracy of things on NASA Watch given that you go out your way to deny me access to more accurate information?

Editor's note: C'mon, Mike. I put in a formal request for a transcript of the event with Tom DeLay yesterday. It has been nearly a week since the event in question. Dean Acosta told me that he did not have a recording or a transcript when I spoke with him yesterday. Now you claim that you have the transcript. If so, then why haven't I been sent that transcript? Why haven't you posted it online? You folks are going out of your way to let the misunderstanding about what you did or did not say at this event persist - and then you turn around criticize the media for working with what they can dig up on their own.

And you chose to highlight this communications dysfunctionality during an employee update wherein you are unveiling a new agency communications policy. Go figure.

Editor's update: According to Mike Griffin on the webcast, after sitting on the transcript, NASA is now going to release it.

New NASA Media Policy


Administrator Griffin and Deputy Administrator Dale to Hold NASA Update - March 30, 2006

Watch NASA TV

NASA Principles and Policies on Scientific Openness

"The resulting new policy, which will be available today on our Web site at http://www.nasa.gov/commpolicy, contains a statement of principles and revised policies that will enable better cooperation across our agency and more effective communication with the public."

NASA Policy on the Release of Information to News and Information Media

"This directive sets forth policy governing the release of public information, which is defined as information in any form provided to news and information media, especially information that has the potential to generate significant media, or public interest or inquiry. Examples include, but are not limited to, press releases, media advisories, news features, and web postings. Not included under this definition are scientific and technical reports, web postings designed for technical or scientific interchange, and technical information presented at professional meetings or in professional journals."

NASA denies chief made formal DeLay endorsement, Houston Chronicle

"The space program has had no better friend in its entire existence than Tom DeLay," Griffin said Friday of DeLay's legislative support of the agency. "He's still with us and we need to keep him there."

Editor's Update: Mike Griffin may not have meant to endorse Delay for re-election - but that is exactly what he apparently did.

Editor's note: The following email exchange occurred between Mike Griffin and a NASA Watch reader regarding the impression many have that Griffin endorsed Rep. Tom DeLay last week based upon a newspaper article.

Griffin says: "The Hatch Act applies to the career civil service cadre. I am a political appointee, not a career civil servant. If I chose to "endorse" a candidate from my party -- and I have not -- there would be no violation of the Hatch Act." Curiously, Griffin has not sought to correct his earlier public remarks which suggest that doing this might be a violation of the Hatch Act - comments made in relation to Sean O'Keefe's activities. The full email exchange follows (with the reader's name withheld):

NASA Scientist Dr. Thomas Goodwin to Present Data on Growing Human Brain from Precursor Cells at Harborview Medical Center, Genetic Engineering News

"Dr. Thomas Goodwin, project scientist for NASA's Integrated Cell Science Project, has been invited by the University of Washington to share his research data on using nanosecond pulsed electromagnetic field technology to grow brain tissue from human brain cells harvested at the time of surgery. ... Dr. Gordon, the original investigator of nPEMF in the US, considers Dr. Goodwin's data "a seminal study defining the efficacy of this and other technologies alleged to restore tissues following trauma"."

Editor's note: Gee, this sure sounds like a political endorsement to me. I guess Mike had a chat with a lawyer about the Hatch Act.

District 22 congressional race gets crowded, Galveston County Daily News

"The congressman did pick up surprisingly out of the norm endorsement over the weekend when NASA director Michael Griffin asked those in the space community to send DeLay back to Washington.

In his keynote speech to the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Friday night, Griffin said DeLay was "the best friend NASA has" in Congress. He also said every effort should be made to re-elect him to office."

Mike Griffin After Nine Months, Orlando Sentinel

"Orlando Sentinel: 2006 is an election year. Your predecessor, Mr. [Sean] O'Keefe, went out and campaigned for some candidates. Do you plan to do the same?

Griffin: No. I don't know if Mr. O'Keefe did that or not, but my understanding of the Hatch Act is that I am prohibited from engaging in political activities or supporting particular candidates. So I certainly will not be doing that."

Mike Griffin May Be a Great Engineer But ..., earlier NASA Watch post

Editor's Update: Dean Acosta just called me and said that he had spoken directly with Mike Griffin about this - and that Griffin was very specific in saying that his intent was not to endorse anyone - and that if people mistook his comments (in Texas) as being an endorsement, then that was unfortunate. Acosta also acknowledged that a presidential appointee such as Griffin (or O'Keefe) can indeed make political endorsements - but that Griffin had made it very clear (as he stated earlier) that he does not intend to be making any such endorsements.

This is somewhat in contrast to the comment Griffin made earlier i.e. that "my understanding of the Hatch Act is that I am prohibited from engaging in political activities or supporting particular candidates."

NASA is trying to get a hold of a recording of the event such that Griffin's actual words can be reported - this article only makes a partial quote.

The Hill on Space

Robotic space exploration needs continued support, The Hill

A new space race for a new generation, The Hill

Mobilizing NASA's mission of human space exploration, The Hill

"I worked with the administration to ensure that increased funding was specifically designated in this budget for the space shuttle program, allowing for 16-17 shuttle missions. Though some have criticized this robust series of flights as an impossible goal, the "impossible," after all, is NASA's business."

NASA legend, LSU alumnus recognized with establishment of engineering professorship

"Officially titled the "Smiley and Bernice Romero Raborn Chair in Mechanical Engineering, as part of the Initiative to Recognize Max Faget," or Raborn/Faget Chair for short, the professorship will be created through a $600,000 donation from the Raborn family and matched by $400,000 in funds from the state of Louisiana."

College of Engineering receives $1 million grant - Fund to be used for new professorship, LSU Reville

"The department has hired Leroy Chiao, who retired from NASA in December 2005 after he worked as an astronaut for 14 years and logged more than 220 days in space... The initiative seeks to recognize Faget's outstanding contributions to the aerospace industry and increase the Universitys national standing."

Editor's note: Hey they did fake those moon photos after all - except they did it last week. Have a look at this link wherein an eerily accurate reporduction of the famous "Buzz shot" from Apollo 11 is presented. The image was recreated by Tredistudio.

Reader note: regarding comments made at the third annual Project Management Challenge yesterday:

"Bill Gerstenmaier gave a keynote speech where he described the "fifth dimension" of project management (Politics). In the speech he had a chart which showed information flowing from lowly workerbee up to NASA HQ and congress and back down again. Then he added "outside channels" and specifically mentioned "our friends at NASAWatch" and how managers need to be aware that in this information age, much information will go around proper channels. I applaud him for aknowledging that there was no way to stop this and aknowledging that it showed a problem with the communication flow inside of NASA."

Rewriting the Science, 60 Minutes, CBS

[Airs 19 March 2006] "NASA's top scientist studying climate says the Bush administration is restricting what he can say about global warming. Scott Pelley reports. Catherine Herrick and Bill Owens are the producers."

Editor's note: James Hansen was interviewed for this story. Click on image to enlarge.

Editor's note: Channel 13 will be reporting tonight that a man "died afterfalling off a building at the Kennedy Space Center. The man had been working on the roof of a warehouse owned by Boeing. A NASA spokesman says the worker tripped on wires used for lightning protection."

Eric Sterner To Be Named as NASA Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy and Plans, SpaceRef

"According to a widely circulated email, and multiple NASA sources, Eric Sterner will be departing his staff position at the House Armed Services Committee to assume the position of Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy and Plans at NASA Headquarters."

House Science Committee Chair Boehlert Announces Retirement

"I have never been one to stick my finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing or to be guided in my direction by the latest poll numbers - I think the people we - all of us in Congress - the people we represent want leadership, not followership."

NASA OIG Memo on ITAR

Editor's Update: Now John Kelly is threatening to investigate why I left NASA. Go for it John. The answer: out of frustration with how the agency was being run - and I left to run a breast cancer peer review project for the U.S. Army. I hired several dozen SSF contractor personnel who had been laid off. They are very easy to find if you want to confirm things.

Editor's note: Florida Today's John Kelly and I have been having a pointless email volley this morning. He's clearly upset. Normally I just keep these silly conversations private. But when an accusation against me - or the hint thereof - creeps into the email - one that hints at a story someone is working on - I feel it is time to go public to nip things in the bud.

John just said this:

Rumor control: No layoffs at USA, Florida Today

Editor's note: According to ace Florida Today reporter Todd Halvorsen on his new space blog "The independent web site NASA Watch trotted out a scary headline Tuesday: "USA Layoffs Are About To Begin." The item inferred the company, which employs about 10,000 people, including 6,500 at Kennedy Space Center, was on the verge of pink-slipping employees, and that they would be sent packing without severance pay."

Gee Todd, let's read my post a little more carefully, OK? And wouldn't it be useful for your readers to have a link to the actual post you are referring to - and not have them rely only on what you want them to think I wrote? Here is a pertinent excerpt:

Editor's update:Florida Today finally relented and linked back to my original post on NASA Watch - thanks in great part to comments made by Rand Simberg.

"Yesterday United Space Alliance held an informational meeting in Houston to advise employees that their tasks were no longer deemed necessary. As a result, USA would soon be eliminating those tasks from the current contract with NASA."

"Houston" Todd. Is that where the Kennedy Space Center is? Do you see the word "Florida" in there? I don't need to "infer" anything, Todd. If I had meant to say KSC - and that 10,000 people were affected, I would have said so. Face it: the meeting happened with some employees at USA in Houston. If it was an all hands meeting - there - or anywhere else, I would have said so. I did not. When USA asked to respond, I let them - and posted their reply - verbatim. As for the severance pay issue, I am repeating what people who are directly affected told me, Todd. Why not check this out for yourself? Note that USA's spokesman Jeff Carr did not deny that such a meeting happened - nor did he deny that people's jobs were being eliminated. Nor did he guarantee that they would not be laid off.

Are you really this lazy - and hard up - for news that you try and make it up - using NASA Watch (of all things) as the topic?

P.S. When are you going to admit that this article on NASAspaceflight.com scooped you - and everyone else - on STS-121 issues - as everyone else has already noted?

Sayonara Sherry?

Boehlert may not run again, Finger Lakes Times

"Boehlert chairs the Science Committee, which has jurisdiction over all federal nonmilitary scientific and technology research and development program, including NASA and the National Science Foundation."

Editor's note: Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is favored to take over House Science Committee in either case since Boehlert will have to relinquish his chairmanship due to term limits.

Scientists Commend NASA's Progress on Communications, NY Times

"A review of communications policies at NASA, set off by reports that political appointees had tried to muzzle some agency scientists, received a public vote of support yesterday from dozens of scientists and other staff members at the space agency."

"We, the undersigned, encourage all NASA affiliated scientists and engineers to openly present their expertise for the public good such that NASAs implementation of openness may serve as a model for all US federal agencies."

View - and sign the letter (sorry, only NASA civil servants can sign - and apparetly JPLers are being given special treatment).

Former Top Bush Aide Accused of Md. Theft, Washington Post

"Working out of a small office on the second floor of the West Wing, [Claude A.] Allen shaped administration policy on such issues as health care, space exploration, housing and education."

Editor's note: Yesterday I contacted the NASA HQ Newsroom to see if rumors of an important announcement were true. I was told they were not. Further inquires about whether advance notice was sent out by NASA PAO to the media were answered with "No". Well, that simply is not the case. The following two advance notices were sent out by NASA PAO - albeit NASA JPL PAO. One was sent 2 days in advance, the other 1 day in advance. It is quite obvious by now that NASA HQ PAO was unaware of what JPL PAO was up to - and that they felt that they had a big announcement and that they were going to selectively notify media of that impending story - under embargo. This is yet another example of a Public Affairs Office which is unable to coordinate the activities of its various field centers.

From another space reporter: "Keith, Doc is bullshi**ing you. [News organization name] got the alert early yesterday AM. It is touted IN THE NASA MESSAGE as a 'big' announcement based on an embargoed 'SCIENCE' article."

Editor's Update: Drudge Report even has the press release online.

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon."

Big NASA Announcement Today, Orlando Channel 13

"NASA is planning to make a huge announcement today, about possible life in our own solar system. Exact details of what we can expect to hear have not been released. We do know that evidence has been found that could point to life relatively close to the earth."

Editor's note: I just spoke with Doc Mirelson at NASA HQ PAO. He was not aware of any specific "huge announcement" that NASA would be making today but suggested that the reporter who wrote this story might be referencing a 2:00 pm Cassini update. NASA does have a habit of alerting the media ahead of time when something big is going to be announced. No such alert has been sent out.

However when I spoke with Eric Hupp a few minutes later she did say that there would be a "large announcement" (as opposed to "huge" I suppose) from the Cassini Team - and that press releases will be issued by NASA and a number of universities today at 2:00 PM EST.

This announcement is in reference to a paper that will appear in Science magazine - and that magazine has it under embargo. I have not seen any of these embargoed press releases but from what I have pieced together the references to "life relatively close to the earth" may be a bit of a stretch to say the least. This announcement is a follow-on to previous announcements about discoveries on a moon in the Saturnian system - and the ramifications for life cannot be totally ignored - but that claim is not the thrust of the discovery.

Of course, this is now spreading like crazy. Drudge Report now has this top banner: "Orlando Channel 13: Big NASA Announcement Set For Today... // NASA is planning to make a huge announcement today, about possible life in our own solar system" which of course means that Channel 13's webserver is being bombarded - and indeed, when you try and get to this article you often get a server error.

In the end, however, the annoying thing about all of this is that NASA did not send a heads up that an announcement would be made (as they regularly do - often with out any details other than "stay tuned"), that there is no press event on NASA TV, and that the agency repeatedly allows itself to have embargo regulations dictated to it regarding the release of results of taxpayer funded science by a magazine.

The Drudge Report has this story (and the press release) as their ultra- top news flash - above Condi and Iran. If *he* thinks this is more important (or at least of near-equal billing) than those issues - and yet PAO is stumbling to find out what is going on - then I have to ask how NASA can possible say it has anyone doing "strategic communications" as is the title of Joe Davis' operation.

Of course, the sad aspect of this story is with regard to all of this sudden interest and excitement about life in the universe among the media and the general public - interest that seems to be on a hair trigger. Gee, do you think this might be something that people expect - and want - NASA to be doing?. Too bad Mike Griffin and Mary Cleave don't get that message - and want to cut NASA's Astrobiology program - the effort which studies this topic - by 50%

Editor's note: I have received several complaints about the lack of a listing for recent Space Transportation Association breakfasts - one was held yesterday. I try and post things like this as soon as I get them, but STA decided to stop sending me advance notice of these events several months ago. I can't alert folks to events that I do not know about.

NASA Administrator Griffin's Remarks to Space Shuttle Contractor Employees

"But the fact that the Vision does not call for a race does not mean we should rest on our laurels, nor postpone the difficult choices to be made as we embark upon this journey. We have a lot of hard work to do, and will need your help now more than ever."

Editor's note: NASA PAO titles this as "Administrator's March 7 Remarks to USA Employees" - yet this speech was at the Annual Space Shuttle Network Conference, hosted by USA - i.e. there were employees from a number of other contractors in the audience. Hmm. Was Mike Griffin only talking to USA folks - or did PAO slip up?

Editor's update: PAO fixed it. True to form, they never admitted that they made a mistake.

NASA Honors Stennis Employees For Bravery, Dedication, WLOX

"The country is indebted to your bravery, hard work and dedication in the face of severe distress," NASA's Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said."

NASA Presents Awards, Picayune Item

"Four residents of Pearl River County received Outstanding Public Service Medals for their efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Public Service Medals are the highest achievement NASA employees can receive."

Editor's note: Research In Motion has reached a legal agreement that will allow RIM to keep all of those crackberry's operating. Now, both NASA civil servants - and contractor employees alike - can be assured that they can continue to check their email and ignore the person at the head of the table who is giving the presentation.

Me and My Everything, Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette), Washington Post

"I cannot imagine how Washington's professional class made impromptu social arrangements before the advent of the BlackBerry. Berryless planning would involve real-time conversation, pinning someone down for an answer, and possible rejection."

Comments Relating to Joint Space Exploration Efforts Made By President Bush During his Trip to India (excerpts), White House

Fact Sheet on U.S. - India Space Cooperation, Department of State

"The Chandrayaan-1 mission is an important step forward in U.S.-India space ties. Negotiations have taken place for two NASA instruments -- a Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar to map ice deposits in the Moon's polar regions and a Moon Mineralogy Mapper to assess mineral resources of the Moon -- to join India's instruments in mutual exploration of the Moon. The Chandrayaan-1 mission will be a major advance for U.S./Indian civil space cooperation, as well as for the scientific activities critical to President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration."

Astronauts blast science budget cuts, Reuters/CNN

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Bush administration's focus on big, expensive space missions is starving budgets for some of NASA's most productive small-scale science programs, astronomers told the U.S. Congress on Thursday."

Editor's note: This is what happens when a perfectly fine wire report (in this case from Reuters) has a new title added to it by an outlet which pays for the right to post their stories. I was in the room and saw who was there. With the exception of Mary Cleave (a former astronaut who actually made the budget cuts) everyone who was "blasting" NASA from the witness table was an astronomer, astrophysicist, or geophysicist. Contrary to what the title says there were no "astronauts blasting science budget cuts" -- at least not at that hearing ... Editor's update: The fixed it to read "scientists".

NASA LaRC Internal Memo: Town Meeting/CD COMM #2006-1 Strategy Implementation Retreat

"As mentioned in the Director's CD COMM below, there will be a Town Meeting held today to discuss LaRC's strategies for the future and the recent Strategy Implementation Retreat."

NASA Crackberry Update

Minor win for BlackBerry maker?, C|Net.com

Companies Contemplate Life Without BlackBerrys, Washington Post

"If all other legal measures fail and the judge orders service cut off for most non-government users -- roughly two-thirds of the 3.2 million U.S. subscribers -- RIM has said it has a software solution that will work around its patent problem."


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