March 30, 2006

NASA Offers New Media Policy after Censorship Flap

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON -- NASA unveiled a new policy for dealing with the media on Thursday, after accusations it had censored space agency scientists on global warming and the origins of the universe.

"Scientific and technical information from or about (space) agency programs and projects will be accurate and unfiltered," the new policy stated. A full text was released online at

The release came nearly two months after the resignation of a 24-year-old NASA public affairs staff member, George Deutsch, who told space agency writers to refer to the Big Bang as a "theory" because NASA should not discount "intelligent design by a creator."

Most scientists believe a monster explosion, the Big Bang, gave birth to the universe.

Deutsch, a political appointee who worked on President George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, resigned February 7 after reports that he had lied about his college degree.

NASA chief Michael Griffin said political appointees would continue to work at the space agency and would not undermine the new policy for openness.

"The usual political appointee is not in a position to decide policy. Most of them are young folks who worked in one campaign or another and want to work for NASA," Griffin said in a telephone briefing with reporters.


NASA has five political appointees on its 300-member public affairs staff, and fewer than 20 political appointees spread throughout its 17,000-member workforce, agency spokesman Dean Acosta said.

Aside from questions over the Big Bang, climate scientists and those who write about their work at NASA complained that reports on global warming were "constantly watered down" to minimize the connection to the burning of fossil fuels and other human-made pollution.

Griffin himself came in for criticism after offering a warm response last week to an introduction by Texas Republican Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who gave up his post last year after being indicted on money-laundering charges.

"The space program has had no better friend in its entire existence than Tom DeLay," Griffin said on March 24 in Houston. "He's still with us and we need to keep him there."

Griffin denied he was endorsing DeLay's reelection campaign, but said he was entitled to do so if he chose.

"I regret the inartful choice of words," Griffin said at the telephone briefing. "I'm not endorsing anybody, I don't intend to (but) I remind you that I can if I want. ... It was intended to be a gracious remark in response to a gracious introduction."

Asked about the space shuttle program, which has launched only one mission since the fatal 2003 break-up of the shuttle Columbia, Griffin said, "We think we're pretty solid for flying in July."

NASA had hoped to launch the next mission in May, but postponed until July in order to replace fuel sensors in the shuttle's external fuel tank.