This morning I was saddened to wake up and learn of the crash of a floatplane in Alaska carrying former NASA head Sean O’Keefe (and former Senator Ted Stevens). It was initially feared that O’Keefe was among those killed, but I am glad to learn he and his son were among the survivors.
In thinking about Sean O’Keefe, I am reminded of what a controversial figure he was at NASA, felt by most I worked with to be far too willing to leave vital and exciting science back on the ground in order to meet or slash budgets and impress the political machine that put him in power, andthat he hoped had plans for him beyond his NASA post. The worst offense came when he decided to let Hubble die unserviced back in ’04, using as a scapegoat the foam strike issue which suddenly came onto everyone’s radar with Columbia’s destruction. I was part of many discussions which looked unkindly at the sudden cost and risk aversion, at a time when the same administration sitting on top was willing to risk vastly greater sums and vastly greater numbers of lives prosecuting wars of dubious value. O’Keefe’s ultimate legacy and the fondness I’ve heard expressed in more recent years has come somewhat undeservedly from the inarguable success of the twin Mars Explorer Rover (MER) programs, and O’Keefe’s pursuit of FBC (Faster Better Cheaper), ISS not withstanding. MER succeeded not because of O’Keefe but in spite of the cost cuts associated with him. I think O’Keefe is remembered favorably as Reagan has been, their policies may have been flawed, their methods may have been meritless, but no one can argue with the outcomes, and neither do people have a stomach for deeply questioning them. I remember a quote from my high school Latin I class that went something like, “Victories are never questioned by the victors.”
What many do not know is that O’Keefe was a member of the elitist, secretive Bohemian Club, and participant in their Bohemian Grove rituals; his participation has been an open secret within space circles. Much has been suggested about the roles these players have in remaking the world, our America, and the space which surrounds us all.
While it is too soon to meaningfully speculate on whether the plane crash qualifies as a tragic accident or a devious plot, it’s not too soon to remember O’Keefe’s impact on NASA, not too soon to look at his still early role in leading the American branch of the increasingly important European Aeronautic, Defence, and Space Company (EADS), not too soon to wonder what conspiratorial filaments might manifest in these upcoming days, and whether they will join together to support the weight of larger truths. I hope, as I always do, that the world is simpler than that, that what we see is what there is, but more intelligent people than me think differently and who am I to say they are wrong.
On a personal note, I am truly glad Sean O’Keefe has survived, and sad to learn that Mr. Stevens and five others did not. But we must live with what the facts are, and the tragedy that exists because of them.