NASA moral dilemma

NASA segX47
Apr 12 15 Comments

I work at the NASA Jet propulsion Lab. JPL is technically on a NASA site but is owned by Caltech, so it gets some benefits to being sort of government but also sort of a contractor...

Well, it turns out this works nicely for their business model. They receive 90% of public money for NASA HQ to mitigate the effects of climate change, and then get investments to do R&D to do exactly the opposite. A year ago NASA started receiving money from Chevron oil and gas, $10+ million in investing new technologies for maximizing fracking, cutting Chevron overhead costs, building robots for underground exploration of Earth. We have top JPL engineers, who came here for reasons like studying and mitigating climate change, who instead are using their skills for Chevron.

This is mostly public info but the details aren’t really accessible although I’m not under any NDA. JPL has a mission statement that goes directly against what Chevron is doing to our environment. My team works on the AI for these systems. How do I sleep at night ? Should I reframe this moral dilemma and accept this as the way business goes. Should I try to do more to stop this? I’ve talked to both of my superiors and my coworkers about this. Their explanation is the money will help NASA develop capabilities for our missions.

Because we are sort of a NASA site using NASA resources, I also feel this like using public resources on private businesses... I guess technically it is separate. Maybe I should just quit.

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TOP 15 Comments
  • Northrop Grumman / Eng HowCouldYu
    Firstly let me say, the fact that you are willing to make a change purely on your companies mission statement is INSPIRING. I’d say for most of us on Blind (and other fellow defense industry employees), we work on whatever because it’s a job and it pays. I am beyond impressed that you are questioning the morality of this contract from Chevron, and I wish more employees across the world would hold their companies more accountable.

    Now that my praise for you is out of the way, I think you should weigh your options. Can you move groups internally? Do you have any immediate external opportunities? If so, then I would get those aligned, and take your concerns up the chain of command. Are they going to cancel the chevron contract? Highly unlikely unless you scheduled a walk out like they did at Google when Google was about to help the pentagon with video imaging. It’s possible if you have that kind of passion. Will it upset the management? Most definitely. So be prepared to move around. But I’m glad you’re asking the right questions.

    Did I help you? Probably not! Good luck lol
    Apr 12 2
    • NASA segX47
      OP
      Haha I appreciate it. I definitely want this information more accessible across lab.. I think that’s a good first step. Anonymously contacting the chain of command would be good too. Although at some point when an external opportunity arose I wouldn’t mind the backlash of having my name associated against Chevron. I don’t think I can stop it in time. It’s one top JPL management signature away from being a 3 year partnership.
      Apr 12
    • Northrop Grumman / Eng HowCouldYu
      That’s truly a shame. Theyre gunna spin it as “ohh no these new tools will make extracting oil more ENVIRONMENTALLY friendly and less POLLUTING” when in reality we should be getting off oil all together. Be careful how they twist it
      Apr 12
  • Credit Karma ceasar
    The world is not always black and white. Even Batman kills in the comics.
    Apr 12 0
  • Tesla shbdbdien
    You can’t stop climate change cause nobody can figure out why it changes. During the dinosaurs era levels of CO was extremely high.
    Apr 12 1
    • NASA segX47
      OP
      Totally right , I changed it to “study and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change”
      Apr 12
  • Barclays PLC FAANGHNTER
    What you develop will help with exploration in future. I work in a bank IT I sleep alright.
    Apr 12 0
  • Amazon dotard
    So it goes
    Apr 12 0
  • Credit Karma ceasar
    But idk my suggestion would be if your over 35 mature enough and still have this moral delimma then yes quit. If your below < 35 years of age. You still have alot to learn about life my friend.
    Apr 12 0
  • Microchip nqqh55
    OP should be a role model for us all.

    Having said that OP, if I was in your shoes, I wouldn't be blowing whistles inside the company. I would be satisfied if I knew that reporters had access to the story, and at that point, leave it to the media market to do its thing. Or not. Working where you are, with a defense/aerospace heavy culture (not many SJW's), I don't anticipate you'll be able to gather momentum for a Google-like protest.

    In addition, to help you sleep at night - look at it this way - it appears that the the work you do for Chevron is multi use - underground exploration, imaging, whatever. There are some good outcomes possible - JPL should happily take Chevron's money, further their own research with it so that we can better mine asteroids and actually have a chance of GTFO this rock, and, to boot, bring popcorn cuz the entire oil industry is going downnnnnn in the next 25 years (fingers crossed).

    Disclaimer/context - I have also had to come to terms with the moral dilemma of working on dual use products as part of my work.
    Apr 15 0
  • NASA segX47
    OP
    I guess when you look at the slice of society posting here, I imagine everyone here gets their hands dirty so this conversation might lead to “do the dirty work”
    Apr 12 0
  • Oracle alwzangry
    Kudos for thinking about doing the right thing. Do you think quitting will get the message across, or would you be better off influencing from where you are?

    If you figure out how you can stay and guide the solutions to be least impactful to the environment, you'll be on the right track. There's a dark side to everything. Focus on how to mitigate the effects - exactly what your project goal is/should be. For example, how do you make fracking safer? Come up with criteria for calculating the risk to the environment based on soil composition, depth of bedrock, water table, how far from water supply or agriculture or residential areas. Better yet, interface with those working on safe nuke tech for supplying power to reduce the need for fracking.

    Don't quit and go to another soul-less job. Face it! Your heart and mind are in the right place.
    Apr 12 0
  • Tektronix BazzokaGrl
    I think we all have situations like this in technology. The government isn't running the current camps on pen and scratch paper. The solutions created at top tech companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce and Google are used in enterprises in private and public sectors that suppress and harm people. Did the inventor of the cotton gin mean to make slavery a more profitable model for the southern states in the late 1700's? Probably not.

    Once you create something and put it out in the world it can be used for purposes that go against your values. That's free will. It's a philosophy rabbit hole and you can struggle with it as a compassionate person. Most people ignore it and try to live their lives as best they can.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-moral-values/
    Apr 12 0
  • Microsoft lMQO62
    Good. Climate change in terms of global warming is a fraud anyways.
    Apr 12 0

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