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2/26/2009
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NASA's Bad Week: A Crash; Accusations Of Fraud

On Tuesday, a failed NASA launch sent a satellite deep into the frigid sea near Antarctica. On Wednesday, the FBI searched the offices of a University of Florida professor accused of swindling the space agency out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. [Update: on Friday, the White House released its budget proposal, which calls for the space shuttle to be retired.] Luckily for NASA, the week's nearly o

On Tuesday, a failed NASA launch sent a satellite deep into the frigid sea near Antarctica. On Wednesday, the FBI searched the offices of a University of Florida professor accused of swindling the space agency out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. [Update: on Friday, the White House released its budget proposal, which calls for the space shuttle to be retired.] Luckily for NASA, the week's nearly over.The botched satellite launch Tuesday sent NASA investigators scrambling to determine what went wrong. Initial speculation is that a clamshell-shaped cover over the craft, which was supposed to separate at launch, did not -- a mishap reminiscent of a clamshell calamity of another sort (scroll down for video).

The Orbital Sciences' satellite was being deployed to gather data about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels so scientists could study how CO2 moves in and out of the Earth's atmosphere. They had hoped to map the Earth's CO2 levels by collecting 8 million measurements from the craft every day for at least two years.

The loss of the $278 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory means scientists must look for alternative sources of data to study (Japan may be able to help) and new funding at a time when funding is tight.

At least the space agency will no longer be hemorrhaging dollars to New Era Technology. Court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tallahassee allege that Netech, a company run by University of Florida professor Samim Anghaie and family members, submitted fraudulent invoices to NASA totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Orlando Sentinel reports:

"The submission of fraudulent invoices by Netech resulted in the government paying Netech, via direct deposits into their corporate bank account, monies well in excess of what was actually earned," said agents of the FBI and NASA's Office of Inspector General in a statement to support a warrant for seizing Anghaie's property.

Banking records dating to 2000 show Netech deposits from NASA, Air Force, and Department of Energy contracts totaling nearly $3.4 million, according to the AP.

The Iranian-born Anghaie has been studying the use of nuclear power [conspiracy theorists take note] for space travel under two NASA grants and directs the university's Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute. He has been placed on leave from the university with pay. No charges have been filed.

And it's only Thursday.

There was one bright spot for the agency this week: NASA engineers seem to have resolved the valve problem that caused them to scrub launch of the shuttle Discovery this month. The new launch date, announced Wednesday, is March 12.

Another failed clamshell deployment:

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