In August 2018, a screenshot purportedly showing an ill-fated exchange between a recently hired NASA intern and Homer Hickam, a member of the National Space Council that oversees NASA, was widely circulated on social media along with the claim that it resulted in Naomi’s preemptive firing:
These tweets, as well as the Twitter handle @NaomiH_Official, were deleted shortly after this exchange went viral, but a number of news outlets managed to archive them via screenshots. Hickam and Naomi have declined requests for comment from the media.
So was this exchange real? Did Naomi really lose her internship after insulting a member of the National Space Council?
Hickam, a former NASA engineer whose 1998 memoir Rocket Boys served as the basis for the movie October Sky, confirmed that the exchange was real on his web site. Hickam explained in the since-deleted blog post (an archived version can be seen here) that he didn’t mean to get Naomi in trouble when he responded to her tweet, and that he has since reached out to NASA on her behalf.
Hickam’s post is reproduced in full below:
Recently, it was called to my attention on Twitter that someone was being hired by NASA and that they were using the F-word in a tweet about it.
I’m a Vietnam vet and not at all offended by the F-word. However, when I saw NASA and the word used together, it occurred to me that this young person might get in trouble if NASA saw it so I tweeted to her one word: “Language” and intended to leave it at that.
Soon, her friends took umbrage and said a lot of unkind things but long after I was gone as I immediately deleted my comments and blocked all concerned.
Later, I learned she had lost her offer for an internship with NASA. This I had nothing to do with nor could I since I do not hire and fire at the agency or have any say on employment whatsoever. As it turned out, it was due to the NASA hashtag her friends used that called the agency’s attention to it long after my comments were gone.
She reached out to me with an unnecessary apology which I heartily accepted and returned with my own. After talking to her, I am certain she deserves a position in the aerospace industry and I’m doing all I can to secure her one that will be better than she lost. I have also talked to the folks that had to do with her internship and made absolutely certain that there will be no black mark on her record.
— Homer Hickam
It’s unclear if Hickam was successful in getting Naomi a position at NASA. The Twitter account @NaomihOfficial, purportedly Naomi’s new account, posted a message on 23 August 2018 expressing hope that she might get her internship back:
I think I might get my internship again thank you all for the support
— Naomi 😎 H (@NaomihOfficial) August 23, 2018
A spokesperson for the NASA Johnson Space Center informed us that the Universities Space Research Association is responsible for administrating the internship program. While they couldn’t comment on this specific incident, they did tell us that interns receive a manual which includes guidelines on how to behave on social media:
The Universities Space Research Association has responsibility for administering the internship program but does confer with NASA regarding its selection decisions. Privacy regulations prohibit the agency from discussing specific details. Interns do receive a manual that includes expectations regarding use of social media. If a student is rejected they can reapply for the program.