NASA Space Vikings spark inquiry from Congressional stiffs


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For Ved Chirayath, an aeronautics and astronautics graduate student and amateur fashion photographer, a photo project that involved NASA researchers dressed as Vikings was just a creative way to promote space science. “I started this project hoping maybe one day some kid will look at it and say, ‘I want to work for NASA,’ ” says Chirayath, a student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who also works nearby at NASA’s Ames Research Center…

He never suspected that his fanciful image would put him in the crosshairs of a government waste investigation triggered by a senior U.S. senator.

Earlier this month, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, wrote to NASA chief Charles Bolden, asking him to investigate whether Chirayath’s photos involved the possible misuse of ARC funds and staff time. An “interested observer” had brought the photos to Grassley’s attention, Jill Gerber, the senator’s communications manager, tells ScienceInsider. In his 10 July letter, Grassley raised concerns about NASA spending on “non-mission critical activities” and asked Bolden to help him “better understand the participation of NASA employees and resources in this for-profit photography exhibit.”

Soon, agency investigators were asking questions—much to Chirayath’s surprise. “They made contact with just about every person who took part in the shoot,” he says. But there’s no smoking gun, he adds. His effort was strictly not-for-profit and didn’t involve ARC funds…

Being legal, being legit, of course, doesn’t mean a whole boatload to a dillweed bumpkin like Grassley. He’s still whining over the invention [and cost] of color TV.

Last year, Chirayath began working at ARC, where he helps develop small, compact research satellites known as “CubeSats.” The technology, developed in part at Stanford, reminded him of Viking explorers who, from the eighth through 11th centuries, “travelled farther and saw more in much smaller ships than had been used before their time.” That connection inspired his Space Vikings photos, which led to a shoot this past December at a Palo Alto park on a weekday afternoon…

After he posted the pictures online, Chirayath heard rumblings from co-workers that a blogger took issue with the executive staff’s appearance. He thought little of it until investigators started asking questions.

NASA News Chief Allard Beutel says that although the agency has yet to send an official reply, it has concluded that “there were no taxpayer funds used” for Space Vikings. “The employees were on their time, not on work time.”

The flap has left Chirayath perplexed. “NASA can’t afford to promote their missions in this way and this is partly why I started this project,” he says. And that’s ironic, he adds, because “more was probably spent in taxpayer employee man-hours investigating me, my exhibition, and those involved than it might have cost” to produce the photos professionally.

Our Congress-critters do little enough work of any kind – especially productive work. Most of their time is spent promoting their re-election [inquiries like this one qualifies in Iowa] and fronting the various lobbyists who own everything including their underwear.

For a clotted turd like Grassley to whine about a non-profit event promoting NASA is beyond absurd. He should stick to the promotion of racist code words, Herbert Hoover economics and scratching his butt in the nearest corn cob silo.

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