JOHN MATHER NOBEL SCHOLARS 2011

The hosting of the John Mather Nobel Scholar program has now shifted from the Henry Foundation to the National Space Grant Foundation. The latter website for the first time makes the process transparent.

I have said a lot of things about this program in the past. So it is fair that I should give an update.

The Scholars are not hand-picked by anyone. Rather, students apply for the scholarship of their own free will through an open process. From these applications the Mather Laureates are chosen.

NASA is very much a party to this. First, the National Space Grant Foundation is a partner to NASA. Second, the applicants must be current summer interns at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Third, a NASA mentor must recommend the applicant for the award. Fourth, Goddard is urging the interns to apply for this program.

So on one hand NASA keeps John Mather emphatically confined to his pre-Nobel job classification. He has not been given any official recognition of his Nobel Prize by his own employers – for whom he bagged the Prize.

On the other hand NASA supports young people in their care to become the Mather Laureates.

Something is clearly out of whack here.

The 2010 PBS TV program HUNTING THE EDGE OF SPACE (Episode 2) surgically expunged John Mather and George Smoot from the history of cosmology. Participants in this program include at least one Goddard colleague of Mather, and at least two colleagues from the Space Telescope Science Institute, an appendage of Goddard. These colleagues include the head of the Institute, a person named Matt Mountain. So these NASA colleagues of Mather fully endorsed the highly public expunging of his name from science.

In the face of this, Goddard is openly endorsing the Mather Laureate program for young people in their charge. If the past is any indication, the Sapce Telescope Science Institute will then serve as a venue for feting the new scholars, photo ops and all.

And indeed, early this month the Space Telescope Science Institute feted John Mather on a gala evening.

There is clearly something out of whack here.

If NASA supports the Mather Laureate program for the kids in their care, then Mather should be given at least some semblence of an official honorific mantle befitting his Nobel Laureate stature. He is now in the exact same job he has been in for some fifteen years – even as he approaches retirement. A more pointed “message” one cannot imagine.

Otherwise Goddard should refuse to have anything to do with this program. Somebody there should have the stones to put an end to this absurdity. If not, then somebody in NASA HQ should.

Indeed, when the program was first started in 2008 under the auspices of the Henry Foundation with a clear impression that it was connected to NASA, the Foundation had to post legal statements that it was not. Now that the National Space Grant Foundation has taken over the program, NASA is right back being its backer. So a decision was made recently by NASA to become re-associated with, and re-embrace the John Mather Nobel Scholar Program.

So right now, NASA is slapping Mather’s right cheek while kissing the left cheek. That is what is out of whack here. Even as one group of people is expunging Mather’s name from science, another group is helping entrench that name. And there are people who are participating in both the groups. That is what is out of whack.

With friends like that …

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