THE NASA STORY

Part One

By Earl L. Crockett

(Updated 5-30-97)
 

This story begins on the 52nd day (February 28, 1997) of a most interesting quest. The beginning message was simple enough: "I'm off to Hawaii with my family for six weeks. Wait until you see the info I'm sending you about the Comet Hale Bopp. Will talk to you when I get back." Well the info never came, and given the reliable source, I jumped on the Internet. The very first image I saw of Hale-Bopp was the September 1995 "Pinwheel" produced by the Hubble Telescope and Harold Weaver; it was as if the object called Hale-Bopp came straight out of the computer screen at me and delivered a punch right between my eyes. I will truly never be the same.

 
On the one hand I've met and corresponded with an incredible group of deeply inspired and committed individuals, and on the other hand I have been patronized, spoken down to, made fun of, marginalized, dismissed, and outright lied to; mostly by persons with very prestigeous scientific degrees who are also on the Nasa payroll one way or the other. The later experience has been most illuminating for an accomplished, white, fifty eight year old business professional who also happens to be an instrument rated private pilot, and a devotee of the inner workings of the cosmological principles of quantum physics. My empathy for those who happen to be less fortunate than myself has increased substantialy. There is nothing more demoralizing than the experience of being powerless; a state most of us in this country are putting up with in varying degrees.

I have choosen on this 52nd day of my quest to do something about the sorry state of affairs that I have found exists between the good people of this country (and the world), and our highly restricted, if not outright prohibited, access to information generated from our $13,700,000,000.00 annual tax contribution to Nasa. I have further choosen to focus my intentions on a real time situation involving the Comet Hale-Bopp and that most wonderful of all possible technological achievments: The Hubble Space Telescope; our former "Window to the Universe".

The situation is rather simple. An individual by the name of Harold Weaver who at varying times is a Professor at John Hopkins University, a staff member at Space Telescope Science Institute, (STScI the managers of the Hubble Telescope), and/or an employee of Applied Research Corporation, Inc (a for profit, publically traded company) applied for and was granted two Observational Proposals for C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp, and has a third in process. The two completed proposals are numbered 5844 and 6663. The abstracts and data sets can be found at:

STScI Home Page:

Proposals:#1and#2.

My initial thrill at finding this data quickly diminished when I found that each file was marked with a "release date" exactly one year from the date of the original photo; in individual data files this release time is actually given down to one, one hundred of a second. When I inquired as to the reason for this one year withhold period I was told that it was required by the original contract between Nasa and AURA, (Association Of Universities For Research, Inc.) a management body that exists between Nasa and STScI. What, and who, AURA is can be seen at:

Aura:

After a little confusion about whom I was talking to, as it appears that the listed officers at AURA are actually employees of STScI, they were nice enough to send me a sample page regarding "data rights" from a current "Call for Proposals". Then came my next big surprise. The contract read, "Go's [proposers] have exclusive rights to *thier* data during a proprietary period..normally..12 months." As a businessman I am very familier with "exclusive rights" and "proprietary" ownership and it is most often associated with that produced from one's own intellect and/or financial resources. Just to be sure I went to Webster's Dictionary and found the following applicable definitions:

Proprietary: "made or marketed by one having exclusive right to manufacture, sell [such as] a drug that is protected by secrecy, patent, or copyright against free competition as to name, composition or process of manufacturing. Privately owned and managed."
At this point in the process (mid January 1997) Hal Weaver had published one and only one photo; the now famous "Pinwheel" taken September 26, 1995, and here I was looking at 119 data sets, and who knows how many actual images, that were, and still are, under lock and key. My mind reeled at the absurdity. I was relativly certain that Hal Weaver wouldn't have much "proprietary data" if he were in his backyard with binoculars like the rest of us instead of using the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope; that you and I have spend billions of tax dollars building, launching into orbit, and maintaining. None the less, he and his "publically traded" employer Applied Research Corp. have the information, and we don't. And by the time the "proprietary data" is released, Hale-Bopp will be long gone from view, and will not appear again in the skies of Planet Earth for 2,200 years.

Part Two

So I began to do what I've been trained to do during my thirty year business career; I began to dig. Here's where we start:

The National Aeronautics Space Act of 1958

"This Act established NASA and laid the foundation for our mission. It directs NASA to conduct space activities devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humankind. We are to preserve the leadership of the United States in aeronautics and space science and technology, and we are to expand knowledge of the Earth and space. We are to conduct human activities in space. We are to enourage the fullest commercial use of space. Furthermore, we are to cooperate with other nations, and we are directed to communicate the results of our efforts widely."
Finding this document was a real thrill; kind of like discovering the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights wrapped up into one paragraph. At the least, I now knew that I had a justifiable premiss on which to base my inquiry. So the very next thing that I did was to go for the money:

{Note: NASA97 page no longer available, see below}

"NASA97 Appropriations Table"

I printed out all four pages and carefully taped them together, and hung the finished product up on my office wall. I've now looked at this budget, and it's $13.7 billion dollars a year total, multiple times a day for nearly a month. The first question that came up was, "Who is actually paying this $13.7 billion?" I dug some more and came up with the following:

"Statement of Operations and Changes in Net Position" "For the Year Ended September 30, 1995"

This is a very sophisticated financial document, and I was frankly amazed and impressed that a government agency actually prepared such a report. And it had exactly what I was looking for; a breakdown of incoming revenues by source. On a 1995 Budget of $13.5 billion you and I contributed $12.9 billion, private industry $56.8 million, other (intra) governmental agencies (mostly Dept. of Defense) $613.3 million, and then a few minor ends and outs. Basically this means that we fund 95.0%, private industry 0.4%, and the Department of Defense 4.5%. We were still in the drivers seat.

I then decided to look into what NASA says about itself and was particularly intereseted in their stated plan to manage their "External Enviroment":

"External Environment" - "Assessment" February 1995

Well times are changing; the Cold War is over, we've got vigorous global competition, budget priorities are changing, and we need to take a close look at our key backers:

"The support of America's poltical leadership is vital to our success. The President has demonstated his support of NASA and has indicated that he will play a significant role in the Administrations foreign policy initiaives and its science and technology agenda. In Congress, NASA continues to enjoy bipartisan support. Continued political support will depend on our ability to play a role in addressing broad national needs and to deliver on our promises."

"Public support for NASA's programs has been positive and generally stable throughout our history. Recent opinion polls continue to show support for U.S. endeavors in space. However, in polls which prioritize national programs, space often does not fare well as it has in the past years. Continued public support will depend on our ability to satisfy the nation's needs and to keep the public fully informed about our activities and their revelance."

Ok, not to bad. Got to keep the President and Congress happy, but we can't forget the public. So what's the purpose?

"Vision, Mission, and Goals"

Well, pretty standard stuff. The outcomes of the mission, however, get interesting:

*Economic Growth and Security: Again, rather mom and apple pie.

*Preserving the Enviroment: Solid appeal.

*Educational Excellence: "We involve the educational community in our endevors to inspire America's students, created learning opportunities, and enlighten inquisitive minds."

Wow! Much better.
*Peacefull Exploration and Discovery. "We explore the universe to enrich human life by stimulating intellectual curiosity, opening new worlds of opportunity, and uniting nations of the world in this quest."
In the meantime, however, please don't be so crude, as to ask to see Hal Weaver's proprietary data files on Hale-Bopp while it's still within view of Planet Earth; to say nothing of the live Hubbell broadcast that is going on at this very moment, and will continue to be delivered, 24 hours a day, to the computer sceens of a few select priviledged individuals.

Onward to Goals:

"GOALS"

The Goals begin and end rather perdictably. The meat is in the middle:

" As we pursue our mission, we will enrich our Nation's society and economy. We will communicate our unique information to increase knowledge, understanding, and application of science and technology. We will contribute to a better life for this and future generations."
At this point I began to conclude that there was a substantial gap between my recent experience of Nasa and it's stated Mission and Goals. My very next clue regarding this "gap" came from below:

"Framework"

"External Customers"

"As a Government agency, we see the following groups as our external customers and stakeholders: The Administration and Congress which provide us with the policy direction and financial resources to conduct our programs; the science and education communities, areospace and non-aerospace industries, Federal agencies, and other primary customers who recieve products directly and use them for purposes which yield public benefit [Translation= The Military], and the public which is both our ultimate provider and the ultimate beneficiary of our products. (See Figure 1, below)"
 
If you look at Figure 1, all becomes clear. We the public are seen as the "Ultimate Resource Provider" and the "Ultimate Benificiary" which is another way of saying that Nasa considers that they get their money from the Administration and Congress (not us) and they use that money to keep their "Customers" happy; and remember we're not "customers" as defined by Nasa. Interesting!

I then went on to the the following:

"Strategic Enterprises"

Space Science Enterprise

In the second sentence of the last paragraph it says "In conducting scientific research, Nasa serves the needs of the scientific and educational communities, the media, and industry-" I'm not quite sure what the imposition of a (-) is in this case but it clearly seperates who "Nasa serves" from the balance of the sentence which reads "...all of which (sic) play vital roles in bringing the benefits of it's scientific research to the public." So it appears that Nasa's operable plan is to serve the "customers" and the media, and then to count on the "customers" and the media to deliver the "benifit" to us, the American taxpayers; Aka the "Ultimate benificiary".

So we seem to be left to "enlighten {our} inquisitive minds" , and "stimulate {our} intellectual curiosity" either by turning on the evening news, or by hanging out in the lobbies of Lockheed Missles and Space Division, Apllied Research Corporation, or maybe the Pentagon. Again we seem to have a large gap between what Nasa says it will do for us and the method by which they think that will be accomplished. And just in case you've never had the experience, it's easier to get information from the Pentagon than it is from governmental contractors; they're better managed, and have better security.


Part Three

March 2, 1997
Dear Shura:
I'm working on a little project this morning and have run up against a barrier. Would you be so kind as to look over these "Spectroscopy" reports done on the object Hale-Bopp and let me know what kind of stuff they're finding. We seem to have a very interesting thing going on here that makes the situation look somewhat like the blind rabbit farmer trying to figure out what this new creature is in the barnyard. So far the blind farmer has steadfastly maintained that all there is that can possibly occupy the barnyard are rabbits, and he has supplied just about a 90% correlation between rabbits and the new creature; mammal, four legs, nose, tail, hair, eyes, internal organs, etc. So he has pronounced that the new creature is a rabbit, but something tells him that it is 3 to 10 times larger than his rabbits. The one thing he can't determine is the actual size, but he has skillfully extrapolated his model for rabbit on to the new creature, and is steadfastly defending his estimate. It appears, however, that new information is starting to come in like "Six foot long ivory tusks" that now has the farmer saying, "We believe that this is the first determination of six foot long ivory tusks on a rabbit." Cheers,
Earl
PS. The farmers neighbor, Mr. Hubble and his foreman Hal Weaver, have sight and can see, but they're not talking.

Part Four

You will recall our previous discussion about Nasa's use of the word "proprietary" in a context that does not match it's root definition. The next term we need to deal with is Nasa's use of the word "customer". This one is much easier because we are all customers every day of our life. We walk into the store, we carefully select the merchandise, and we then pay for it with our hard earned money. Just to be elementary it is the paying of money by us that makes us customers. And if the transaction is reversed, another thing we know about, we further know that it is our obligation to provide the merchandise or service we are being paid for, or we won't be paid again. Is this painfully clear?

So what is the situation with Nasa's use of the term. How does Nasa define "customer"? What Nasa clearly does is to take our $13.7 billion of tax dollars each year, gives it to the scientific and educational communities, private industry, and other governmental agencies (guess who), and then... Nasa calls these people "customers". (Please stay with me on this for one more step.) Nasa expects these "customers" who they have given the $13.7 to, to then shower their appreciation on the unwashed masses out here; you and me. So let's follow the logic: Someone comes into our store, gives us money, we say "Go get it yourself", and walk into the alley behind the store, and lavish our appreciation on the guys in the delivery trucks?

To continue this exercise in Nasa logic and to complete their ultimate usage of "customer" and "proprietary rights" in relation to Harold Weaver, and others in the astronomical community, we need a familier everyday example. It goes like this: We walk into the computer manufacturer to buy the latest system. The sales person says, here take this Cray 2001 it's the biggest and fastest computer in the world and here's a certified check for $13.7 billion dollars that you can use to fund your programs and capital improvements. And by the way, we're also going to give you proprietary rights so that you have the exclusive use of all of the technology you develop with the Cray 2001. Now that you have it we'll never make another. Oh! One more thing. Where do we mail next year's $13.7 billion dollar check?

"Proprietary Rights Information"

There is one small condition, however; before you sell any of this information that you have "exclusive proprietary rights" to (or release any photos or data sets taken with the Hubble) you must fill out a formal application and send it to Company X (STScI) for approval. (Want to guess who pays all the bills at Company X?) And one final thing; if you sell anything (or give out any photos or information from Hubble) without our prior written approval we'll take back the Cray 2001, and we will never, ever, send you money again. Clear? So what does Nasa require for the quid pro quo (tit for tat) from the professional astronomical academic community for this most unusual arrangement? Nasa requires that they behave, and that they do exactly as they are told.

In additon, Nasa is the real "customer" in the transactions with the Aerospace Industry, and they are treated as such complete with all the perk's lavished on customers in the private sector. You know, dinners, golf games, vacations, use of the company Gulfstream V, etc. etc. When it comes to the related scientific educational community it's more appropriate to say that Nasa owns them outright; and all of their observational facilities. If you want to be an astronomer and have a telescope to look through, and a budget to carry out your programs, there is only one place you can get real money; Nasa. We've all heard the expression that "money corrupts". Where it corrupts the most is in a closed market; as if there were only one job in town and you had it, and your family's survival depended on keeping that job. What you would put up with, and the things that you would be willing to do greatly expand in that type of survival situation. That is the relationship that Nasa has with the astronomical community. Now, imagine what you would be willing to do if the greatest eye to the Universe, the Hubble Space Telescope, was the prize for being unconditionally loyal to Nasa?

The next very important piece of this puzzle is the mechanism by which this system perpetuates itself. We give money to Congress, Congress gives money to Nasa, Nasa gives money to the Aerospace Industry, and the Aerospace Industry gives money back to individual Congressional members and the Administration for supporting programs jointly hatched by Nasa and the very same Aerospace Industry. As far as I can tell the first and last clear program instruction that ever came from outside of Nasa was John F. Kennedy's proposal to put a man on the moon.
 

This closed system of mutual benefit that operates between Congress, the Administration, Nasa, and it's contracters is the same situation that has existed for years in the now famous Industrial-Military-Complex that we were first warned about by President Eisenhower. How he ever stayed alive, I'll never know. The Industrial-Military-Complex, however, has always had the benefit of the "TOP SECRET" veil to shield it's operations from public view. In fact, it now seems that Nasa has adopted the very same conditions of secrecy as the military. And once again the Nasa wordsmiths had to find a term to replace "TOP SECRET" because we know that Nasa is mandated as an agency committed to "peaceful activities for the benefit of all humankind", and "TOP SECRET" just doesn't work in that context. The word that they came up with is none other than our old friend "Proprietary".

I can't begin to guess how many times in my thirty years of business experience that I've heard the word proprietary used in it's true meaning. Imagine a conference room with attorneys, CPA's, investment bankers, and business executives holding a high level conversation from a place of trust. Imagine further that the conversation centers around a free flowing question and answer session intended to lead to a joint venture of mutual benefit. Someone invariably, and unintentionaly, asks a question that is considered to be proprietary by the other side. What does the person being asked say in response; TOP SECRET, I'm not going to tell you, or take a flying leap? Obviously not. They simply say, "I'm sorry but that is proprietary", and everyone understands. Further the term is one that is used in my experience, by honorable, ethical, persons to succesfully conduct honorable, ethical, business. Nasa's use of the word proprietary is a corruption that is unconscionable. From this time forward you should always translate any use of the word "proprietary" by Nasa to mean "TOP SECRET". There is no other possible definition.

We will need to ponder on the question of why Nasa seems to be appearing so much like a military operation. There are, however, a few preliminary clues. If you "scratch" a Nasa contracter you'll find a Department of Defense contracter. If you look at who really runs Nasa (and it isn't the political appointee, Goldin) we find that the "Associate Deputy Administrator" (read CEO) is General John R. Daily former number two man in the US Marine Corps and a Washington D.C., "inside the Beltway" pro.

"General John R. Daily, USMS (Ret.)"

It's the same old military gang folks; with the Cold War over, they've just moved over to this agency devoted to "peaceful purposes for all of humankind". The capture of Nasa by the US Military is probably the greatest coup in all of military history. And by the way, there is no such thing as a retired US Marine Corp General. Once a Marine always a Marine, and once inside the Beltway always inside the Beltway.

Sincerely yours,

Earl L. Crockett


 
copyright 1996/97/98 The Millennium Group