Skip to comments.'Space Vikings' Spark NASA Inquiry
Posted on 08/01/2013 12:46:06 PM PDT by Red Badger
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 NASAs Ames Research Center (ARC).
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 Committees top Republican, wrote to NASA chief Charles Bolden, asking him to investigate whether Chirayaths photos involved the possible misuse of ARC funds and staff time. An interested observer had brought the photos to Grassleys attention, Jill Gerber, the senators 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 questionsmuch to Chirayaths surprise. They made contact with just about every person who took part in the shoot, he says. But theres no smoking gun, he adds. His effort was strictly not-for-profit and didnt involve ARC funds.
It all started in 2011, when Chirayatha photo enthusiast whose subjects have included astronomical objects, marine and natural subjects, and nonprofit work he did in Kenyawas looking for ways to combine his love of fashion photography, laboratory-grade optical effects, and scientific topics. He applied for and won two Stanford University grantstotaling $4400to create Physics in Vogue, an exhibition featuring 10 images that explore profound contemporary physics discoveries.
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.
To stage the scene, Chirayath partnered with the Vikings of Bjornstad, a living history group that likes to dress up. He also recruited ARC Director Simon Worden, Chief of Staff Karen Bradford, and executive secretary Carolina Rudisel to slip into costume. The satellite mock-ups were on loan from Pumpkin Inc., run by a Stanford engineering professor.
After he posted the pictures online, Chirayath heard rumblings from co-workers that a blogger took issue with the executive staffs appearance. He thought little of it until investigators started asking questions.
In the past, Grassley and other lawmakers have taken issue with ARCs use of money, including whether it improperly housed aircraft owned by Google at NASA facilities. In this case, all Grassley wants is a simple explanation of the photos, Gerber says. And thats what hes hoping to receive from NASA.
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 cant afford to promote their missions in this way and this is partly why I started this project, he says. And thats 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.
*Correction, 26 July, 11:25 a.m.: Ved Chirayath is an aeronautics and astronautics graduate student, not an astrophysics graduate student, as previously reported. This has been corrected.
Creative license. Ved Chirayath's Space Vikings photo seeks to bind past, present, and future, with old-world explorers meeting "CubeSat" technology.
Spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam...
Must have offended the Muslim Outreach Program.
My first thought as well.
Spam is the new Soylent Green.......
Odd, I don’t see a single kitty in that picture.
The FAA, FCC, and a few others as well.
All of the other Federal program problems being fixed, Charles has time for this...
Can we impeach Congress entirely?
The film “Santa Clause vs. The Martians” inspired me to want to become an astronaut so I could join Santa on the battlefield!
Robinson Crusoe on Mars did it for me.
Dis be in congress’ hood, day be no Holder peeps in wit dem Vikin’s, day din ax no people uh colah to be in dare.
Oh my... How insensitive.
Off with their heads...
Maybe the vikings built all that stuff onthe moon that RCH says is there...
Maybe Vikings beat up some ETs and took their ships and settled the moon, LOL
Imagine what would have happened if he pointed out it was only white men that have ever been to the moon. And then imagine if he’d mentioned also that there was a Christian ceremony performed by one of them there. Player-hating is not a good look, NASA.
Most big government and corporate employers have hired the wrong kind of people since about a decade before the phrase, human resources, was invented by linguistic activists to replace personnel.