News: May 2007 Archives

Editor's note: This letter (500 KB PDF) was written by a NASA subcontractor to JSC management in February 2007 regarding experiences on Constellation outreach and public relations.

Multiple NASA sources have authenticated this document - yet I have deleted information that would easily identify the author. This letter has been making the rounds, via faxed photocopies of photocopies, so I am certain it won't be that heard for someone to identify the author if they have a mind to do so. I just do not want to make it easier for that to happen than I need to. The reason: people who speak out at NASA often find future work prospects suddenly evaporating. Besides, it is the content of this letter that is important, not the identity of its author.

I find myself in near total agreement with the opinions expressed by the author with regard to the dysfunctional way NASA conducts public affairs and outreach. As to the problems the agency has in carrying such activities out, the author describes them perfectly. The author also offers some intelligent analysis and solutions that NASA would do well to consider.

Several years ago, something called "One NASA" appeared on everyone's to do list at NASA. It sounded great - for about 10 seconds - until you realized what it actually called for: the agency acting as one cohesive, integrated entity with all people and organizations helping one another so as to speak with a unified voice. In other words, everyone was supposed to put aside parochial issues and work for the common good.

We all know that NASA is utterly incapable of doing this - especially when it comes to PAO and outreach. Headquarters directorates, programs, and agency field centers all have their own outreach efforts (and budgets) over which PAO or Headquarters (the 9th floor) itself has little or no oversight. And none of these things are ever integrated properly with other projects and programs resulting in needless conflicts and duplications.

And of course, everyone has their little petty political games to play so as to posture themselves, their project, and their field center in a position so as to benefit the most and/or thwart others from doing so. This letter outlines a classic example of how NASA simply cannot get out of its own way. Marsha Ivin's behavior is utterly unprofessional and inexcusable.

I went back and forth as to whether I should post this. I eventually decided that the document already had a wide distribution. But much more importantly, I feel that the author has written some important things that need to be heard. Will posting this make the agency and some people who work there look bad? I guess so. But so long as these problems are allowed to fester unattended - things will only get worse.

The VSE will call upon every resource - and every person - at NASA to contribute together as a team. The activities described in this letter are anything but teamwork.

To be certain, there are people at PAO and Strategic Communications at NASA HQ who are trying to do the right thing and are addressing some of these lingering issues. But if, in the end, NASA is incapable of moving beyond the petty antics and confused messages that are outlined in this letter, the VSE will never result in one single piece of functional hardware.

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

Probe of NASA case widens, Daily Press

"A probe of NASA's embattled inspector general widened Thursday when lawmakers said they plan to request a criminal investigation into the destruction of a video of a key NASA staff meeting."

Editor's note: NASA Ames Research Director Pete Worden spoke this morning at ISDC (International Space Development Conference) in Dallas. He also spoke - simultaneously - in Second Life. The virtual meeting area was more or less filled to capacity. Among the items on the stage was no other than Flat Gorby making his Second Life debut. Screengrabs - 1 - 2 - 3

Statement of Michael Wholley at House Hearing on NASA IG Investigation

"Sometime either later that day or early the next day, I honestly cannot recall which, I reviewed relevant portions of the Federal Records Act (FRA) and, in particular, the definition of what constituted a record. I also briefly reviewed the Freedom of Information Act. I concluded that these were not "records" for purposes of the FRA, but also concluded that if they were retained and filed they could become "records" by virtue of that retention. From my perspective, and as I stated to the subcommittee staff, I did not believe it wise to have these in any way become "records" subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act. This was a closed meeting, specifically directed to not be recorded, and these DVDs were not Agency records at that time. I personally made the decision to destroy them, and I did so by breaking them into pieces and throwing them in the trash."

Editor's note: Earth to Mike: The moment the recording began of activities occuring at NASA the recording was a "record" of those events. The final recording was then copied i.e. formally stored and duplicated. Once completed the copies were retained and stored in a specific location. Whether or not these recordings should have been made is not the point. The fact that they existed is. These recordings became "records" before you even got hold of them. "Retention" of that record had already occurred. As such, you destroyed a record of government activity - one made by the government.

Reader note: "Maybe Wholley should have labelled the recordings "Apollo 11 Video - Original Live Feed from Lunar Surface". They would have been promptly mis-filed and lost forever."

Statement of Michael Wholley at House Hearing on NASA IG Investigation

"I have spent my professional life trying to resolve problems and trying to make things better. Despite my honest and considered efforts in the matter of the destruction of the DVDs, I regret that I have failed to do so in this regard."

Statement of Paul Morrell at House Hearing on NASA IG Investigation

"It was and remains my strong belief that the Office of Public Affairs had no legitimate reason or authority to request, copy, or possess a recording of what was a non-public affairs related meeting between the administrator and the OIG staff. Furthermore, it was and remains my very strong belief that participants in a closed meeting have the right to expect that the contents of that meeting will remain secure and private even when they know the meeting is being recorded internally. It was my very strong concern that possession of this recording by Public Affairs compromised the foregoing."

Sensenbrenner Concerned Over Handling of NASA IG Investigation, Tape Destruction

"Perhaps more unfortunately, we also need to understand why recordings of that meeting were destroyed. I believe in open government and I am very concerned to hear that a government employee was beating a videocassette with a plank and an Agency's General Counsel physically destroyed a stack of DVDs."

Opening Statement By Chairman Brad Miller

"NASA officials, Mr. Wholly and Paul Morrell, knew that there were questions about the propriety of the meeting, they knew that the Cobb matter was the subject of interest by the oversight committees of the House and Senate, and they knew that the DVD of the meeting would be subject to disclosure, and Mr. Wholly made a conscious decision to destroy the DVDs. It is impossible not to conclude the worst from that conduct."

Subcommittee Investigates Destruction of Video Records by Senior NASA Officials During IG Probe

"This is the only known instance of the general counsel for a federal agency admitting to personally destroying agency documents to avoid their disclosure."

Hearing Charter: NASA Administrator's Speech to Office of Inspector General Staff, the Subsequent Destruction of Video Records, and Associated Matters

"The actions by staff at the highest levels of NASA to physically destroy records of a questionable meeting between the Administrator and the OIG staff points to a serious lack of public accountability. It is unprecedented for a general counsel to personally and knowingly destroy agency records so that they cannot be obtained by Congress or the public. Apologies referring to the use of "stupid pills" are not acceptable for a person in such a position of public trust and responsibility."

Supplemental Hearing Documents (internal email, notes etc.)

NASA official grilled on destruction of meeting videos, Government Executive

"Wholley testified that he felt the meeting could hurt the administrator. In an e-mail from Wholley to Morrell sent prior to the videocast meeting and distributed at the hearing by committee staff, Wholley wrote that he was concerned that such a meeting could only make Griffin look bad. "I see no 'upside' for Mike [Griffin] in the proposed [course of action], and I do see a downside," Wholley wrote. He warned that if Griffin spoke critically of the IG, it would lend credibility to the complaints, while if he praised the IG, it would shift the controversy to himself."

NASA's chief lawyer under fire, Orlando Sentinel

"U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisc., lashed into Wholley for destroying public records and said he's willing to sign a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales with Miller requesting a criminal investigation. "I think it's very clear the tape was a public record," Sensenbrenner said, brandishing a copy of federal law on preserving public documents. "It's also a crime to destroy public records."

NEO Report Update

Editor's note: The entire NASA report is now available at the NASA FOIA website. Too bad it took FOIA requests to get it released. Too bad as well that you have to look for it on NASA's FOIA website (not a frequent hot spot on the web for the general public) or rely on websites like NASA Watch to point out its location. Congress directed NASA to do this study. Moreover, this is an important topic. As such, a link should be prominently placed on NASA's home page. Otherwise, the somewhat incorrect perception that NASA is trying to hide this report is going to become harder to refute.

Editor's note: The House IG hearings have morphed again. Last week, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences was removed as a co-sponsor of what was to have been a joint event. At the same time the House added some additional things to throw at NASA just as the Senate dropped out. Now, the witness list has been published and curiously, everyone except the NASA IQ himself is set to testify. How odd that the House won't even give the NASA IG the chance to defend himself in an open hearing.

Witnesses:
Panel 1
Ms. Evelyn R. Klemstine, Assistant IG for Auditing, Office of Inspector General, NASA
Mr. Kevin Winters, Assistant IG for Investigations, Office of Inspector General, NASA

Panel 2
Mr. Paul Morrell, Chief of Staff, Office of the Administrator, NASA
Mr. Michael Wholley, General Counsel, NASA

Let's Throw Everything at NASA and See What Sticks, previous post

How NASA Screwed Up (And Four Ways to Fix It), Wired

"For a sense of how out of whack NASA priorities have become, briefly ponder that plan. Because the Apollo missions suggested there was little of pressing importance to be learned on the moon, NASA has not landed so much as one automated probe there in three decades. In fact, the rockets used by the Apollo program were retired 30 years ago; even space enthusiasts saw no point in returning to the lunar surface. But now, with the space station a punch line and the shuttles too old to operate much longer, NASA suddenly decides it needs to restore its moon-landing capability in order to build a "permanent" crewed base."

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

A conversation with Shana Dale, deputy administrator of NASA

"... Even cooler, when I got to Ames, in addition to the three (!) press people who joined Dale and me in a big conference room, I also got to speak with General S. Pete Worden, the relatively new head of Ames Research Center and a real force in the aerospace world. After the jump, the full transcript, lightly edited. I took out most of our hems and haws, but left in most of my halting questions. But if you want to hear every um and every recorder stutter, there are links to my digital recording below. It's, like, transparent, and stuff."

Alligator Captured Inside NASA KSC Building (photos)

Editor's note: From someone@nasa.gov: Hi Keith, I'd suggest that you call NASA public affairs to confirm this, but somewhere between KSC and JSC, the location of these photos apparently got promoted. I'm told that they were taken on May 14, at a receiving warehouse in the KSC industrial area, several miles south of the VAB. Gator encounters are a common occurrence here, given that we're situated in the middle of a wildlife refuge. Still, it's rare for them to venture inside.

Editor's note: I just got this hearing update in an email from the House Science & Technology Committee. This is more than just a date and location change for this NASA OIG hearing - note the change in the name of the hearing. Note also that the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences is no longer a co-sponsor of what was to have been a joint event. Curiously, the House has added some additional things to throw at NASA just as the Senate dropped out:

15 May 2007 Update from Jan Walker, DARPA PAO:

"During Scenario 3-1 execution on the evening of May 11, Orbital Express encountered a serious sensor flight computer anomaly on the ASTRO while stationkeeping at 10 meters separation distance from the NextSat. Onboard fault protection reacted immediately, placing the ASTRO into an abort trajectory which carried it to a hold-point 120 meters from the NextSat. The Orbital Express team has spent the past several days recovering from this fault and from problems associated with loss of relative navigation at the longer-than-anticipated separation distances for this scenario. The ASTRO has since coasted at distances of up to several kilometers from the NextSat. Both vehicles are safe. The ASTRO powered up its redundant sensor flight computer and is processing sensor data nominally. The team is in the process of developing a recovery scenario for ingress and remate, and hopes to execute this ingress in the next several days."

Editor's note: I went down to the Mall in downtown Washington, DC on Friday to see the exhibits NASA had set up. Northrop Grumman's full scale Webb Space Telescope mock up was very impressive (Click on image to enlarge). In addition to the exhibit itself, there were half a dozen people eager and ready to answer any questions a visitor might have. With tourist season in full swing there was no shortage of people stopping by to see these exhibits - and the more extensive military technology exhibits nearby. There were also scale models of the Shuttle, the Ares 1, and a full scale inflatable walkthrough mock up (of sorts) of the CEV.

The most complex exhibit NASA had was the long, double trailer exhibit focused on exploration that carries its mobile theater. I stood outside the exhibit for 10 minutes or so to watch the behavior of the NASA folks and the visitors. While there were just as many people staffing the NASA exhibit as were at the Webb exhibit, they really did not do anything except talk to each other. They were not proactive in asking people if they had any questions. No one from NASA was standing next to the large spacecraft models to explain what they were. Also, there was nothing significant to hand out to people outside the trailer.

All the NASA staff seemed to say to people was that the show inside the trailer was underway and that a new one would start in a few minutes. As I watched, more people turned and walked away and left the exhibit area than can be accommodated inside the trailer. That seemed to be a wasted opportunity to me since the people walking up to these exhibits were a representative slice through the American populace - not politicians.

Suggestion: NASA should have more material outside to either keep people's attention while the show plays inside the trailer, or give them something to take away if they do not want to stand around in the hot sun and wait for the next show. Also, if NASA wants people to know what they are doing they need to go out and engage them one on one - not just stand there like movie ushers. The Webb people got it right.

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

Draft Formation Document for the NASA Communications Coordinating Committee (CCC)

"The Chief of Strategic Communications, with support from the Office of Communications Planning (OCP), shall establish and support a Communications Coordinating Committee (CCC). The CCC will provide a coordination and implementation mechanism for NASA's communications and outreach efforts. It is envisioned that this group will help increase cooperation, coordination and resourcesharing to better leverage the agency's overall outreach mission."

NASA Communications Coordinating Committee (CCC) Minutes January 25, 2007

"Following these topics, Bob [Hopkins] provided a preview of a web toolkit that OCP is creating, that will enable NASA employees to gain quick and easy access to "what's hot" links, program updates and presentations, tips for speaking to various audiences, NASA governing documents, and a wealth of other information that is geared toward helping NASA employees better communicate NASA's messages.

The Communications Toolkit was very well received by CCC members, and training on the tool was recommended. It was noted that something like this would be useful to provide externally as well, but there may be a bandwidth problem. A suggestion was made that perhaps a strategic partnership may be a low-cost avenue to providing this service externally."

Editor's note: Try opening this link to Communications Planning: on the NASA HQ Organizational Structure page. I can't seem to get it to work. I tried going to communications.nasa.gov/ but that won't work either. Not a good sign for a "communications planning" page ... unless those to whom the communicating is to be done are not supposed to see the plans ...

Editor's update: Someone@hq.nasa.gov sent me an email telling me that this is an internal website only. Duh. Silly me, I just clicked on a publicly available link on the publicly available NASA Headquarters home page. Here is an idea of what is actually on this page. They call this the "Communications Toolkit". It is obviously not ready for prime time (lots of "tools" are missing). I'd hide it too. I have stripped a lot images off - and many of the links do not work outside the NASA web portal (I guess). I'll bet that anything titled "Elements of a Compelling Story" on a NASA website must be a truly mesmerizing document ...

Editor's update: The link is now gone (at least as the public is concerned).

NASA pilots' case to get federal investigation, Daily Press

"Two former pilots from NASA Langley Research Center who say they were punished for raising safety concerns can take heart in this: Their case has been referred to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for investigation. But the head of that office, Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch, is himself under investigation. Among the allegations: He retaliated against whistle-blowers."

Editor's note: Mike Cabbage is an outstanding reporter and a sterling individual whose credibility is beyond reproach. Dave Mould is to be commended for making this appointment.

To: NASA Public Affairs staff
From: David Mould, assistant administrator
Re: Staff / organizational announcement.
Date: May 10, 2007

I am pleased to announce that veteran correspondent Michael Cabbage is joining the Public Affairs senior management team at NASA Headquarters. Mike comes to NASA after many years as space editor for the Orlando Sentinel. He also has served as a TV commentator on the space program and is an author of the book Comm Check, which has been called one of the best accounts of the Columbia accident.

Damage from space center fire not as severe as first thought, Huntsville Times

"On Monday, Whitaker speculated that the museum may have lost an irreplaceable instruments unit built for the Saturn V program. Today, he said heat appears to have bubbled the paint, but the unit is otherwise OK."

Complete NASA Report "2006 Near Earth Object Survey and Deflection Study" Online at B612 Foundation Website

"The technical report ("2006 Near Earth Object Survey and Deflection Study") backing up NASA's recent summary report to Congress on NEOs is now available on the B612 Foundation website. ... B612 Foundation believes that openness and transparency on the NEO issue is critical to maintaining public confidence in those with responsibility for their safety. While NEO impacts occur very infrequently when they do the devastation can exceed that of any other natural hazard. Furthermore, with adequate warning NEO impacts can actually be prevented, unlike most other natural hazards."

Editor's note: As the B612 Foundation notes on their website: "The analytic work supporting the summary report to Congress is being withheld from public review by NASA despite it having been published as a 3-color glossy "Final Report" and distributed internally." I have yet to hear a single, rational reason why this information is being withheld from public scrutiny.

European Union Outlines Vision for Unifying Space Policy, Science (subscription)

"The European Union (E.U.) doesn't have its own astronauts, operate any satellites, or launch any rockets. The E.U. doesn't even have a space research center, but last week, after 2 years of deliberation, it revealed its much-heralded space policy. The aim is to bring more coordination and coherence to Europe's space programs, which are currently spread among national agencies and the European Space Agency (ESA)."

The Time 100

Alan Stern: "The combination of hands-on and bureaucratic experience gives him a unique feel for the physics responsible for getting machines off the ground and the politics responsible for keeping them flying."

John Mather: "It was his analysis of COBE data that earned him the 2006 Nobel, which he shared with University of California cosmologist George Smoot."

Neil deGrasse Tyson: "You can think of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the Carl Sagan of the 21st centuryas long as you envision a Sagan who's muscular, African American and as cool as his predecessor was geeky."

Richard Branson: "Virgin Galactic, Richard's foray into commercial spaceflight, may seem like the ultimate quest. A final stamp on an amazing career. It won't be. He will hear about something that everyone else thinks is outrageous and make it a reality."

Tullis Onstott: "Wondering whether extraterrestrial life exists? Tullis Onstott, 53, has found itsort of. The fact that the living things he's discovered make their homes nearly two miles below the earth's surface may disqualify them from the extra part of extraterrestrial."

Editor's note: After I finished my live interview with the ISS crew orbiting above the Earth (done on site at NASA ARC) I headed up to SF International Airport extra early to catch my flight home. The taxi driver could not find JetBlue. Eventually we were directed to the International Terminal. Before I knew it I was in a crowd of a hundred people - apparently, I was the only passenger! I knew by now that this was the very first Jet Blue flight from San Francisco to New York. Soon enough I was shaking hands with the CEO of Jet Blue urging him to get flights out of Dulles. Now I am sitting amidst a loud party at gate A-10 while people on stilts walking around advertising "more leg room". Meanwhile, the live orchestra keeps trying to do a passable imitation of Tony Bennett singing "I left My Heart in San Francisco". As the passengers from the New York flight entered a loud cheer went up. Gee, I wonder what's next on the agenda today?

Update: as it happens, the first person to check in got two free round trip tickets. Bummer. I was the second person to check in (almost won!). The mayor of SF was there as were a lot of local dignitaries. This got old fast. I just wanted to get on the plane and go home. When I arrived home I got this official thank you email. All in all, a curious day.

Letter from Sen. Nelson Regarding NASA General Counsel Wholley

"Accordingly, I am renewing my call for Mr. Cobb's resignation and recommend that you require Counsel Wholley's resignation as well. I recommend that you use the expertise available on the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, to reconstitute the NASA OIG, and revisit the policies and procedures governing the relationship between OIG and NASA management."

Editor's note: Making - and then destroying - this recording - was certainly a dumb mistake by someone@nasa. All it serves to do is heighten suspicions about NASA and give Bill Nelson more ammunition to use against the agency.

Bill Nelson's Inquisition Continues, earlier post

Two Letters That Nelson, Gordon, and Miller Do Not Want You To See, earlier post
Can You Hear Me Now? Sen. Nelson's Shouting Press Officer Responds, earlier post
Good Grief, Now Its a "Battle", earlier post
Let's Hang The IG From The Nearest Tree, earlier post


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This page is an archive of entries in the News category from May 2007.

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