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Rocket Wizards Burned Up Over Probe

Published: September 11, 2007

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are so irritated by a new requirement for intrusive background checks that they're filing suit. Good for them.

Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation won't be safer if it begins inspecting every detail of the lives of its key workers.

A request by Homeland Security for better identification cards is being interpreted by NASA and the California Institute of Technology, which manages the rocket lab, as requiring everyone working near sensitive information to open for review their medical records, sex lives, finances and whatever else investigators want to know. Anyone who refuses will get locked out, whether janitor or rocket designer.

'I can fly a spacecraft to any planet in the solar system,' says Dennis Byrnes, a flight dynamics engineer, 'and I'm being judged by people who don't have a clue as to my technical qualifications on whether I'm suitable for government service.'

Byrnes says he and other scientists are happy to wear ID cards, but they're determined not to give up civil liberties and are mad about the recently 'poisoned atmosphere of mistrust.'

His work on space flight, satellites and probes of the universe proves that space can be explored without jettisoning the Constitution's protections of privacy and its safeguards against unreasonable search.

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