Sunday, March 4, 2012

CASIS Intrigue

September 9, 2011 — NASA awards CASIS an agreement to manage the U.S. national laboratory on the International Space Station. Left to right: Waleed Abdalati, NASA chief scientist; Mark Uhran, NASA assistant associate administrator for the International Space Station; and Jeanne Becker, CASIS executive director. Image source: NASA. has published the resignation letter submitted February 29 by Jeanne Becker, the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. CASIS is contracted by NASA to manage the U.S. national laboratory on the International Space Station.

Becker cites "the risks to CASIS' nonprofit status of engaging in business operations with ProOrbis." ProOrbis is a management consulting firm retained by both NASA and Space Florida. Becker cites a potential conflict of interest with ProOrbis:

To be clear, ProOrbis, a paid grant writer for Space Florida, not only wrote the bylaws and selection protocol for establishing the CASIS permanent board of directors (thereby directing assembly of the highest governing body for CASIS), ProOrbis also wrote themselves into the proposal as the prime source for CASIS organizational oversight and integration; this was recognized by Space Florida as an issue that the CASIS management team would have to deal with, should the proposal be selected.

Becker cites three villains in this melodrama:

As a result of undue and onerous political pressures exerted over the almost six months of existence of CASIS, business operations have been difficult in standing up this brand new organization. Unrealistic expectations have been levied collectively by Congressional staffers, by NASA (Mr. Uhran) and by ProOrbis. These pressures have placed unnecessary stress and hardship on CASIS, not only organizationally but also on management, forcing a defensive posture with constant focus on mitigation strategies to fend off political threats of the elimination of CASIS.

"Mr. Uhran" is Mark Uhran, the NASA assistant associate administrator for the International Space Station.

The use of the phrase "Congressional staffers" is particularly interesting, because we're left wondering just whose staffers are the ones accused of meddling.

UPDATE March 4, 2012 7:45 PM ESTProOrbis responds to Ms. Becker's resignation, as posted on

Issues of conflict of interest for all the principal parties were satisfactorily addressed in the Cooperative Agreement and provisions were put in place to mitigate any potential conflicts. Dr. Becker's concerns about a non-profit organization working with a private company were addressed by legal counsel, which determined that they would not in any way prevent CASIS from engaging ProOrbis or executing the proposal.

UPDATE March 6, 2012 7:45 PM reports that CASIS has named former SpaceX executive Bobby Block as CASIS communications director:

Today, Robert "Bobby" Block was named director of communications for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) - the non-profit entity selected in 2011 by NASA to maximize utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory.

In this position, Block will be responsible for promoting the CASIS and ISS National Laboratory brands internationally through targeted communications, marketing and public relations campaigns. He will also lead an aggressive effort to build lasting partnerships with industry and stakeholder media.

Prior to joining CASIS, Block served as the vice president of corporate communications for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a commercial spaceflight company based in Hawthorne, CA. While at SpaceX, Block was credited by space industry media with making the company more "press friendly" and transparent. Prior to SpaceX, Block held senior-level news reporting positions at nationally-recognized organizations like Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the Orlando Sentinel. He is an author and award-winning journalist with more than three decades of experience in media and public relations.

"Bobby brings high-level media and public relations expertise to our growing organization," said CASIS Interim Executive Director Jim Royston. "In the coming months, as he leads our branding and promotional efforts, I am confident we will significantly raise the profile of CASIS and the ISS National Lab in the international marketplace."


  1. Hooboy! ProOrbis is a small -- 10 principles -- management consulting firm. A baby Bain, so to speak. It's an all-woman firm, which explains its attractiveness to NASA and Florida. They were to draw up a provisional charter for an orbiting National Laboratory, and did so while writing themselves in in a management role, and NOBODY AT ALL saw this as overreaching until now? Oh give me a break!

    Where is Rush Limbaugh when we really need him?

  2. Well, a day later and a coffee cup or two wiser, this still looks like a 4-star clusterf***. About all that's changed is that I've begin shifting from being an ISS supporter to an advocate of smashing an ICBM through the damned thing. And I'm increasingly persuaded that nothing can be accomplished in the US space program without giving LARGE funding and ABSOLUTE authority to retired Admirals and Generals who are accustomed to wielding power in the face of hostile bureaucrats, State Dept punks, Pentagon brass, and hostile natives.

    Is there something special about NASA that attracts such buffoons and facilitates their rise to power? Or is this simply the way the American Empire functions at this moment in our National Glory, with NASA not being much different than city management in any good sized American cummunity? And what connection can be drawn from this debacle to our persistant little scream-and-shout backdrop of "Socialist! Socialist! L-I-B-E-R-T-A-R-I-A-N-I-S-M!!! Free Enterprise all the way!!" that adds so much vibrancy to our internet discussions?