The picture above was created by Ved Chirayath, an aeronautics and astronautics graduate student at Stanford who also works at NASA's Ames Research Center (ARC). Chirayath is a fashion photographer on the side, and he took the Space Vikings picture above - part of a series - as a way to promote NASA's exploratory ventures.
“I started this project hoping maybe one day some kid will look at it and say, ‘I want to work for NASA,’ ” he told Science. The impetus for the photos came from work Chirayath was doing at Ames, where he helped on the CubeSat program, which creates tiny satellites - one liter in volume! - using off the shelf consumer electronics. These satellites reminded Chirayath of Vikings, who “travelled farther and saw more in much smaller ships than had been used before their time.”
So he got together with a Viking re-enactment group (it's the Bay Area, they have all sorts of shit like this) one weekend in a park and took some photos. He roped in some of his supervisors from Ames to get into costume as well. He borrowed the satellite mock-up from a company run by a Stanford engineer. Everybody had a good time. Some fun pictures were produced.
Or not. Because a blogger somewhere - I'm guessing a conservative blogger who would rather see government funding the deaths of children in the MIddle East than exploration of the universe - started grumbling about it. And that grumbling reached the ears of Chuck Grassley, a Republican Senator from Iowa. What kind of an asshole is Grassley? Well, he's the kind of guy who has a 10% approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters, the kind of guy who voted to drill for oil in the Arctic, the kind of guy who is generally profoundly anti-environment, the kind of guy who tried to pass an anti-flag burning Constitutional amendment, the kind of guy who supported universal health care in 1993 but was against it in 2010 when it came from Obama, the kind of guy who has 100% ratings from the Family Research Center and the National Right to Life Committee. Basically the kind of guy who wants the government out of his taxes but in your vagina, and who believes technology is only good when being used to destroy the environment in the name of oil profits.
So Grassley, being the sort of guy he is, launched an investigation to see if NASA improperly used funds to take a bunch of pictures of people dressed like Vikings in a park. Because clearly this is the greatest source of waste in our federal budget.
Too bad for Grassley it was all done on private time, with private money. But how sad is it that NASA, one of the leading technological innovators in the history of mankind, is forced to accept outside, private help in just explaining to people why their mission is important.
So who was wasting taxpayer money? Turns out it was Chuck Grassley. Says Chirayath:
“NASA can’t afford to promote their missions in this way and this is partly why I started this project,” he says. And that’s 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.