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Ex-NASA Employee Slams Government for “Folly, Arrogance, and Fully-Informed Ignorance”

Most Historical

A former NASA employee is sounding off on government short-sightedness — and, perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, comparing Congress to Rome.

In an editorial for NASA Watch, former Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proposal manager Jeff Nosanov compared the agency's recent layoffs, which affected eight percent of the lab's employees, to other "historic mistakes" made by fallen empires.

"Occasionally in human history," Nosanov wrote, "a superpower will choose to abandon a position of leadership, or yield dominance of a frontier, in favor of, or because of, internal or domestic conflict."

In the case of the NASA layoffs, which impacted about 530 employees and 40 contractors at the agency's joint facility with Caltech in Pasadena, California, this travesty occurred because Congress is in gridlock over budget issues.

To Nosanov's mind, that failure of leadership is unacceptable precisely because of how important the JPL is to America's extraordinary accomplishments in space — and because, unlike the mistakes made by rulers past, our current ones have historical precedent that should cast out their "ignorance."

"The Western Roman Empire fell into chaos in the fifth century as a result of an overly aggressive foreign policy," he wrote, "leaving the Byzantine Empire to last for 1,00 years."

Big Bag Fumbling

It's not an exaggeration to suggest, as Nosanov does in his passionate editorial, that the JPL is the crown jewel of the American space program. Many of its employees emigrated to this country to work there, he wrote, "fulfilling that great calling of the United States — bringing the best out of people from all over the world."

"JPL led the United States, and humanity, to the Moon in the 1960s with early robotic space exploration," Nosanov continued, "and to this day pushes the boundaries past the edge of the Solar System."

Now, the lab's layoffs have put one of its most important programs — the Mars Sample Return mission, which could help us discover life on the Red Planetin jeopardy, further demonstrating how foolhardy Congress' pursestring-tightening has been.

With layoffs sweeping the tech and science industries writ large, having such sought-after government jobs eradicated "will lay morale in a smoking ruin for a generation," the former JPL employee wrote — and may leave the door open for China to take the lead in space exploration, too.

"History shows us both what happens when a superpower abandons a frontier — someone else takes it, and that such things are conscious choices," he declared. "It is the height of folly, arrogance, and fully-informed ignorance for our leaders to allow this to happen."

JPL and the brilliant folks who were laid off all "deserve better," Nosanov wrote, before casting "shame on those in the political class whose machinations caused today’s tragedy."

More on NASA: NASA Investigating Whether It Could Hire SpaceX for Mars Trip