An Absence of Space Goals But Not of Conflict of Interest: What in the World is Going on at NASA?

Okay, maybe we should consider privatizing our space program, as President Obama has proposed. There’s something a bit disconcerting about the idea but we certainly can talk about it. Does that mean that the entire concept of space has to be removed from the top three goals, as set by President Obama, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? From NASA Watch. (Thanks, Michael Graham.)

When I became the NASA Administrator — before I became the NASA Administrator — [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Can the US Department of State file a grievance because another department is markedly infringing on their duties?
Speaking of duties, the aptly named (… well, aptly for the time, up until about a year ago, when NASA was charged with doing bold things) NASA administrator Charles Bolden, seems oblivious to the fact that his duties do not include using his office to jack up the value of stock in his personal portfolio.

As the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday, Bolden weighed in against NASA’s participation with the U.S. Navy in a project to develop ocean-based biofuels. He wrote in a series of e-mails that he did not think NASA should be the lead federal agency looking at alternative fuels.
On its face, this is a defensible position. NASA is under tremendous budget pressure, and its leader is right to be wary of taking on commitments when the agency doesn’t have enough money to adequately fund its core, space-related activities. NASA shouldn’t spread itself too thin – especially now.
But Bolden registered his opinion after running the biofuels project past Marathon Oil Corp., a Houston-based company that has invested in a different biofuels venture. Marathon advised against it.
An oil company recommending that NASA not get behind a competing project: Who saw that coming?
It gets worse. Bolden sat on Marathon’s board until Obama named him NASA administrator last year. While he was on the board, the company invested $10 million in the other biofuel project.
And he still owns as much as $1 million worth of stock in the company.

Yikes! As the June 24 editorial in the Orlando Sentinel goes on to observe

It is dumbfounding that Bolden would not only seek the view of an oil company about a competing project, but go to the one on whose board he served, in which he still owns a significant stake. Yet he not only saw nothing amiss in his actions, he even called attention to them. “I continue to have doubts about the viability of this project, especially after discussions with representatives of the Marathon Oil Corporation,” he wrote to other NASA leaders on May 2.

NASA’s Inspector General is investigating this conflict of interest.
It’s not clear who can look into President Obama removing the “S” from NASA …

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Bill
Bill
11 years ago

The NASA administrator seems to be suggesting that the U.S. Government has concluded that Muslims are the equivalent of space aliens — why else would NASA, of all agencies, be asked to expand its relationship with the Muslim world?
Indeed, some might argue that NASA couldn’t do any worse than this country’s military leaders in trying to figure out from what planet the most violent, anti-U.S. Muslims have originated.
But calling in NASA to figure out those Muslims would seem to be a prohibited or at least politically incorrect form of racial profiling — sort of like that new law in Arizona. And if and when NASA finally admits that we are surrounded by real space aliens, how will we be permitted to refer to those aliens without committing similar such political incorrectness?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

This makes as much sense as having ICE inspect Hoover Dam.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

joe bernstein,
Joe I concur with your sentiment!
As a person who has had a direct working relationship with NASA projects over three times involving technology and direct training, I find this posting confusing especially with the current long term NASA activities in Hawaii and the State of Hawaii currently working on a NASA Space Port license.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

joe bernstein,
After doing some digging it’s the “birthers” at it again spinning statements out of context into “partisan politics”.
What they don’t understand is how much damage they do to the U.S.A. credibility spreading falsehoods which are picked up on the Internet in impoverished nations and taken as truth!
Then people start asking why is it costing so much to do regular business now? Because a lot of money is spent undoing “partisan politics” falsehoods spread around the world!
Way to go Monique!

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Why does NASA exist at all? Their budget this year was more than $13 BILLION! Can you think of any other uses in this country for thirteen billion dollars? Oh I don’t know, end hunger, end illiteracy, end homelessness, heck, they can probably just about pay off a great many mortgages and stimulate the economy as people would have a bunch of extra money each month. Why does NASA exist again?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Patrick-your post makes sense.Why go to Mars anyway?Ray Bradbury already described it 50 years ago.
Seriously,I’m not sure what space exploration is giving us back in any practical sense.At least the manned exploration.Unmanned projects are exponentially less expensive.

Bill
Bill
11 years ago

Joe,
What is space exploration giving us? (1) It keeps the scientists busy and from getting into other trouble (recall Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row: “And the riot squad it’s restless, it needs somewhere to go….”); and (2) the military threat (real or imagined) resulting from not going is too great.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Patrick, although it is little spoken of, NASA exists as a remnant of the “Cold War”. We believed it necessary to gain “control of space” before the Russians did. It was doubtless a response to the Russian “Sputnik” having set us on our ear. It did much to restore national pride, putting a man on the Moon is no small thing. I am not sure that it deserves all of the credit for “economic stimulus” that it receives. Doubtless, it did stimulate a drive for “miniaturization” that we now benefit from. It is also given a lot of credit for inventions it did not help to create, notably the transistor. It also creates a large number of very skilled scientists and engineers. The unfortunate part of this is that those people have no plausible employer other than NASA. In slow times, it has been observed that very skilled engineers are driving the tour buses at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy. They are glad to get the work, because there is no other need for their skills. My father was “in missiles”, when government spending slowed things were precarious. That reminds me of a practical aspect of NASA science, it was found that missile guidance systems (a precursor of GPS, that only used one satellite) was adaptable to navigation by United Fruit’s banana boats. Given the notable failure of the “stimulus package”, that involved significantly more money, I do not begrudge the $13 billion spent to advance the “frontiers of science”. There is an interesting book from the 1960’s titled “The Report from Iron Mountain” (author anonymous) which promotes the conclusions of a government panel that states that war, or a credible substitute for war, is necessary for governments to maintain power. This book is generally regarded as a hoax,and not the product of… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Thanks Warrington, your response makes sense, but I’m still not buying it. If extending science and going into space is a good idea, then privatize. Otherwise, it’s “been there, done that”. Put the money to better uses.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

“Secondly, they can be ratcheted down with a great deal of public outcry.”
Sorry, I meant “ratcheted down WITHOUT a great deal of public outcry”

EMT
EMT
11 years ago

Can you think of any other uses in this country for thirteen billion dollars? Oh I don’t know, end hunger, end illiteracy, end homelessness,
Leave it to a lib to think that these problems can be ended at all, much less with a paltry $13 billion.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

EMT-you make a lot of sense too.
Where’s Stuart?We need a contrarian(to this thread)lecture.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

This makes about as much sense as the CEO of Haliburton being VP of the USA.
Or as much sense as Phil Grahams wife sitting on the board of Enron.
Amazing! Monique thinks a million is a conflict of interest, but let’s the hundreds of billions and trillions slide……..how is your math aptitude, Monique?
This whole thread is a non-issue. Our entire country is privatized…….doesn’t Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics and Gruman and Boeing together build most of our military might? Doesn’t Haliburton (KBR) get hundreds of billions for logistics?
What the heck are you even talking about…a little disconcerting????
Funny stuff. One wonder when Americans will learn even the basics.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Stuart-have you always been so condescending?
It really turns people off from absorbing your argument.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Warrington Faust,
You said; “It also creates a large number of very skilled scientists and engineers. The unfortunate part of this is that those people have no plausible employer other than NASA. In slow times, it has been observed that very skilled engineers are driving the tour buses at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy. They are glad to get the work, because there is no other need for their skills.
As I stated I worked on three NASA projects living and working in RI for three different RI companies. I was always gainfully employed regardless what NASA was doing. It was just that the private companies had what NASA was looking for and could deliver product at an effective lower cost. I had an Engineering R&D direct involvement on two projects and a direct on site NASA training course I authored in one project spanning the NASA Sky-Lab program, NASA Space Shuttle Recovery and NASA Airborne Laser Shot on the Space Shuttle.
Everything I’ve been involved with NASA has integrated commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products. Meaning when not sold to NASA it was sold to general public meaning no loss of job.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Ken,
I think you should dig a little deeper. Although I am not conversant with them by title, there are many, many engineers workig at NASA who have become so specialized that they no longer have skills for which there is a commercial demand.
Assuming that an expert is “someone who knows more and more about less and less”.
Where does an engineer who has spent his entire career working on nothing but the shape of the nose cone for a shuttle go for another job? How about the engineer who has spent his entire career working on the adherence properties of the ceramic tiles?
There are probably better, more esoteric, examples; but I am not sufficiently knowledgable to name them.
Perhaps it is only because of my father’s occupation, but I am sure others have reason to remember when engineers were “in surplus” because NASA had cut back. I believe that was in the 70’s.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

>Where does an engineer who has spent his entire career working on nothing but the shape of the nose cone for a shuttle go for another job?
Uh, maybe Boeing?
Maybe one of the many new space start-ups?
Engineering is not as narrow as you seem to think. In any case, any engineers who worked on the design of nose cones are probably over 60 and retired with a great pension.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Stuart,
You forgot to mention to Warrington Faust 3M Corporation, the automobile industry, the boating industry, the small aircraft industry as well as the large aircraft industry you mentioned or the volumes of subcontractors supporting the industries. Air flow and friction design also plays a part in the recreational vehicle industry, off-shore oil industry and alternate energy and the medical industry as well as adhesives!
There is a very large NASA engineering and scientific community located in Hawaii.
Stuart those of us who have put in our years working corporate, federal, and local government are happily retired with as you say “great retirement incomes” because we saved and invested and also “wisely” sought out places to retire that are tax, services, housing, entertainment, weather and financially beneficial to those of us considered retired senior citizens (in Hawaii 55 years and up).

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Ken and Stuart, your responses to the question remind me of the standard rejection reason for Social Security Disability. Even though they have lost their arms, they are still employable as “blueprint readers”.
Private space “start ups” are new, and couldn’t help the unemployed engineers of the 70’s. Not being very familiar with NASA internal operations, I may not have selected fields sufficiently esoteric.
“Air flow and friction design also plays a part in the recreational vehicle industry, off-shore oil industry and alternate energy and the medical industry as well as adhesives!”
What NASA was doing is so advanced, it would be of no use to the industires mentioned. Besides, if they already have one engineer, why do they need two?
I am reminded of the concern that America graduates only a small number of mathematicians. The truth is AMerica does not need all that many mathematicians.
I am reminded of a friend’s daughter who received a PhD in Astro Physics. There is next to no call for astro pysicists. She finally got a job teaching astro phsics. Also a friends sone who was going to study Marine Biology. In the first course, the professor told them “I hope you enjoy playing with Dolphins, because there is almost no well paid jobs in this field”.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Warrington Faust,
You said; “What NASA was doing is so advanced, it would be of no use to the industires mentioned.”
So what you are saying is the three Rhode Island companies I personally worked for were not so advanced in the commercial off the shelf products (temperature control, mobile computers, sonar) and the 10-day operational & technical repair course (down to component level) I personally authored and taught at NASA engine test facility on behalf of Raytheon Company and products supplied by other Rhode Island companies NASA did not need under contractual expertise any private companies to solve problems and supply products and services because they had it all in house with their super engineers nor could the NASA engineer’s intellectual properties be applied elsewhere in private industry!

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Ken,
I think I have rubbed you the wrong way. Still, there are things that only NASA does, and everyone else involved is only peripheral.
There are many private firms that do some of the things that NASA does, but only NASA does all of the things that NASA does. NASA is constrained by budget, but it does not hope to turn a profit. Therefore it will expend engineering talent in ways that a private company would never consider. I have seen the engineers driving the tour buses. I suspect this was government charity. I am reminded of a relative who was a high school principal in a poor Alabama town. He became disabled, with low finances, all the town could do for him was carry him on the payroll as a janitor and he didn’t have to show up much.
Since you are old enough to be retired, it seems funny you cannot recall the surplus of unemployed engineers in the 70’s.
That is the way of government, sometimes there is no private competition. Where would a 20 year veteran of the State Dept’s consular operations find employment in the private sector? Blackwater Security?

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Warrington Faust, I retired early because I financially could due to investments and I have yet to start collecting my federal retirement. You said; “That is the way of government, sometimes there is no private competition. Where would a 20 year veteran of the State Dept’s consular operations find employment in the private sector? Blackwater Security?” Well let’s see I worked once classified as Federal GS-080 Security Specialist and have had workings with the U.S. State Department twice stateside and overseas. First thing comes to my mind is Management! Is there any MANAGEMENT JOBS IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY???????? I’ve also worked as a Federal GS-334 Computer Specialist! Warrington Faust you have not rubbed me the wrong way but your problem is the same as the full bird Army Colonel I worked with from North Carolina (which she retired in South Carolina because retirement pay is not taxed) as the full time civilian counterpart! Your definitions are too narrow with tunnel vision leading to continued count; counterpoint and you don’t know my full employment and association history which if you visit Virginia and very large county annual family gathering picnic you might find some info! I was in the job market in the 70s just married and returned from Viet Nam. My first job was in medical electronics R&D designing implantable pacemakers and building “first” ever intensive care computer system to monitor hospital patients. That is how I took my voc tech. high school, college and military electronic training and converted it into a useful job. My military job and training was electronic secure voice. There are an awful lot of things and designs that the private industry gets involved with in NASA more than you can ever imagine. NASA engineers depend an awful lot on the expertise of military, private industry,… Read more »

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Must be a slow day, why am I responding to this? Warrington Faust, I retired early because I financially could due to investments and I have yet to start collecting my federal retirement. I did the same, although I think of it as “quit” rather than retired. I have no “pension plan” but will never accept Social Security because it is welfare. You said; “That is the way of government, sometimes there is no private competition. Where would a 20 year veteran of the State Dept’s consular operations find employment in the private sector? Blackwater Security?” Well let’s see I worked once classified as Federal GS-080 Security Specialist and have had workings with the U.S. State Department twice stateside and overseas. First thing comes to my mind is Management! Is there any MANAGEMENT JOBS IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY???????? I’ve also worked as a Federal GS-334 Computer Specialist! My bad. “Consular Operations” is a fictional intelligence agency, supposedly operating without congressional oversight. I thought everyone would get it. Warrington Faust you have not rubbed me the wrong way but your problem is the same as the full bird Army Colonel I worked with from North Carolina (which she retired in South Carolina because retirement pay is not taxed) as the full time civilian counterpart! Your definitions are too narrow with tunnel vision leading to continued count; counterpoint and you don’t know my full employment and association history which if you visit Virginia and very large county annual family gathering picnic you might find some info! As it happens, I frequently attend family reunions in Virginia, mostly in the Tidewater and Hampton Roads area. Your name has never come up. Being partially raised in North Carolina/Virginia, I was aware that SOuth Carolina does not tax retirement pay. The same is true in several… Read more »

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