September 13, 1997

NASA worker suspended for 2 days

By Robyn Suriano


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A NASA employee who has publicly protested the space agency's controversial Cassini mission to Saturn was suspended this week for an unrelated work infraction.

James Ream, 56, of Mims was suspended without pay Thursday and Friday. He is scheduled to return to work Monday as a facilities engineer at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA officials say the punishment has nothing to do with his opposition to Cassini, a $3.3 billion mission that will use radioactive plutonium fuel to power the probe's instruments.

"He had some work to carry out, and he was not doing that work," said Ken Aguilar, KSC's director of personnel, Ream is appealing the suspension, which NASA says centered on his failure to obey directions to order $45,000 worth of office partitions.

Ream says he did not carry out the request because the partitions were not going to be used in accordance with government regulations. He was told to order then anyway on July 15, but refused.

Reams says the timing of his suspension is suspect.

Ream joined anti-Cassini protesters in demonstrations on July 24, 25 and 26. Two of the protests took place outside Cape Canaveral Air Station. The other was at KSC.

He was given notice of his suspension Aug. 18, more than a month after he refused to order the partitions.

"I have to assume that they are two separate issues," Ream said.

"But the fact that the Cassini thing came along at the same time as this seems a bit suspicious. I know that my opinions have rubbed some people the wrong way and it has caused them to question my loyalty to NASA."

After attending the protests, Ream said he was questioned by KSC security officials on July 31 and asked to sign a letter promising he would not aid protesters who might try to infiltrate Cape Canaveral to disrupt the launch.

On Aug. 26, Ream went before Titusville City Council and asked members to pass a resolution against the launch.

The council declined. Ream says he plans to participate in other upcoming Cassini protests.

Ream, who has worked for NASA since 1966, has never been suspended before and does not have any reprimands in his file, said Aguilar.

Ream says he is worried the plutonium fuel could be released if the Titan rocket that is to carry Cassini into space Oct. 13 is destroyed in a launch accident.

NASA says the mission is safe and there is little chance the plutonium could be released in a mishap.

Compliments of Proposition One Committee