New brooms at NASA?

Ellen Stofan (10409828915).jpgFrom Jeff Foust at

Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, Departs Space Agency

She served three years.

In the NASA interview, Stofan cited a range of “fun challenges” she worked on while chief scientist, including helping develop NASA’s long-term strategy for human Mars exploration. That effort, she said, is a key part of a broader scientific theme of searching for evidence of life beyond Earth

Institutionally, she said one of the achievements she was most proud of as chief scientist was getting the agency to voluntarily request demographic information in grant proposals submitted by scientists. That information, she said, is important to understanding any biases in how the agency awards those grants.

“Implicit or unconscious bias is all around us; we may act on deep-seated biases that we don’t even know we have,” she said. “The first step in dealing with bias is seeing if you have a problem, and that is what the data collection will tell us.”

What “demographic information” did NASA have in mind? Are you a Mormon? Are you divorced? How many children do you have? Or even: Do you think fine-tuning of the universe is a matter of evidence or does a multiverse obviate discussion of evidence?  (This last question probably code for “traditional thinker” of some kind, not post-fact progressive.)

Stofan’s departure coincides with NASA selecting a new deputy associate administrator for science. In a Dec. 20 internal memo, the agency said that Dennis Andrucyk will take the position effective Jan. 17. Andrucyk, currently the deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and acting chief technologist, will split his time between the science and space technology directorates until his formal start date.

“Dennis brings to this position a wealth of organizational and leadership experience within NASA,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the memo. “His deep technical knowledge and innovative forward thinking will further enhance our ability to build successful and new missions that help answer some of the most fundamental science questions of our time, including the search for life beyond Earth.”More.

Might there be a new focus on hands-on exploration of possible life sites for Mars, as opposed to, say, the sociology of religion or whether They are out there?

If so, it might be a welcome change from 2011. See, for example, A physicist reflects on the end of space accomplishment – now that speculation has replaced exploration, on recent political hostility to the Mars missions:

The first casualty was the NASA director, replaced with a person of no particular engineering or scientific training. After a year, the second casualty was the Constellation program to the moon. But now the scientists were beginning to feel the heat. So there was a brief public relations noise about robot missions to an asteroid. It’s a pipe dream. As long as engineers who may not be politically loyal run the manned program, the current administration will not fund it.. So until either California or Maryland turn their robotic NASA centers into manned spaceflight centers, there just won’t be any funding, now or in the future.

It’s all a consequence of making everything into a short-term political game.

NASA-watching readers, what do you think?

See also: NASA cares what your religion thinks about ET: One would expect that those world religions that care much one way or the other if NASA finds bacteria in space could fund their own examination of the question.


The aliens went extinct before we found them—there, that’s the answer! But now, consider all the other theses about why the aliens, they never write, they never phone. Lotsa good sci-fi novels in there…


  • Hopefully Obama’s Muslim outreach program goes down the toilet. Where it belongs.

    That’s a good start.

    • It would be.

    • Justin St.Denis

      Obama’s Muslim outreach needs to be retched out into a toilet then flushed to oblivion.

  • Gary

    About 35 years ago I thought I would learn more about Astronomy than what the basics in High School exposed us to .
    The book I bought was not cheap , it started off at our Universal sector and then the Galaxy clusters where our Solar System was formed to give us the Sun(star) and then all the space debris being drawn together while in orbit around the Sun to find it’s Level of mass and speed to be trapped by the Sun’s attraction , which includes little Pluto at 3.5 billion miles away where the Photons emitting from the Sun take 5 1/2 hours to reach it .

    The book also delved into Biology to show the Sun creating life where there is water and then Plants that create oxygen. The Human Biology for the DNA was also explained plus the links to Water and Sun light to stay alive.

    By the mid 1990’s I had told people that the Probes going out in Space better be found by nice Aliens because it’s like having you car break down on a baron Desert highway and wave at cars to stop and help you.
    Let’s hope was don’t wave down the Biker version of Aliens or a Mad Max gang of mutants looking for a new World .

    • FactsWillOut

      Humans are planetary-scale apex predators. The meanest, nastiest killing machines in creation. I’d bet that any spacefaring aliens would be, too.
      We need nukes in space.

      • WalterBannon

        the only good alien is a dead alien

        • FactsWillOut

          In the 50’s “Earth vs the Flying Saucers”, we shot first.
          Fast fwd to 1994, Independence day, and we sang Kumbaya. We are so fucked.

  • ontario john

    Well I hope they have trans gender washrooms at NASA.

    • Justin St.Denis

      You betcha!

  • vwVwwVwv

    there is a hunt for obamas bullshitologists in key positions necesary

  • Exile1981

    She’s leaving because she knows her “outreach” is about to be terminated and better to quit than be fired for cause.

  • WalterBannon

    Ellen was proud of her muslim outreach

    I am proud that she is gone now, but the NASA house is not clean yet. Need to get rid of the climate change activists at Nasa Goddard.

  • Clausewitz

    More worried about quota’s than science and engineering. No wonder the Space Shuttles were falling out of the skies.

    • FactsWillOut

      The shuttles were probably the most successful program, ever. They put more materiel in LEO for less$ than anything before or since.

      Now that Trump is at the helm, it’s time to mine the moon.

      • Clausewitz

        Also they had the highest rate of loss of life of any of the programs that NASA ever started. Till several Shuttles failed the largest loss of life was the Apollo 1 fire.

        • Justin St.Denis

          Not all exploding shuttles actually exploded. NASA and the US Govt both have a real tendency to lie, lie and lie some more.

          Six allegedly dead Shuttle astronauts are employed in various positions around the USA and still using their own names. Think of them as “Newtown astronauts”.

    • Watchman

      We demand a diversity in astronaut deaths: the sexist white male hegemony has dominated this space except for the occasional exception like the last Challenger shuttle flight on Jan 28, 1986.

  • FactsWillOut

    The exploitation of space is one of the very few endeavours that I don’t mind paying taxes for.

    I look forward to the private sector doing a proper job of it, though.

    • Justin St.Denis

      Except the whole space thing could just as easily be a complete hoax. NASA has never proven that it actually accomplished any of its alleged accomplishments. Well, NASA was smart enough to hire Stanley Kubrick to film the first crew of astronauts on the moon – I believe they used Shepherdon Studios in London, and additional footage was shot in the Arizona desert.

  • BillyHW

    When will women stop ruining the world?

    • FactsWillOut

      When men stop letting them.

      Scratch that. When men exist again.

  • FactsWillOut

    Denyse, there is evidence for dark energy and dark matter.
    That means that theres evidence for a multi-verse, ie matter that exists beyond our horizon. Deal with it.

    • Justin St.Denis

      Evidence is not proof. That is why evidence is not “dealt with” but, rather, weighed, studied and evaluated. Denyse is a very good writer, so this is not news to Denyse. As such, Denyse may choose to not respond to you.

    • Watchman

      Dark matter: the universe mass that the racist white male patriarchy refuses to show photographs of for obviously discriminatory purposes.