Not even a NASA VIP could help me

by guest contributor David Coppedge1

The launch of Explorer 1, America’s first satellite, was a pivotal event in American history. After the Russian scare with Sputnik 1 and 2, and the fiery loss of the US Navy's attempt to launch their Vanguard satellite, the Army succeeded with a JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) satellite blasted into orbit atop Wernher von Braun's Jupiter-C rocket. Most of the space pioneers from that day, January 31, 1958, have passed on, but one important player remains: Dr Henry Richter. At age 91, he is still sharp and a NASA V.I.P. Earlier this year he spoke at JPL on the 60th anniversary of Explorer 1.

An interview with Dr. Henry Richter.

I am honored to consider Dr Richter a very special friend. I took this picture of him on January 30, 2008, the eve of JPL's 50th Anniversary celebration for Explorer 1. He was speaking in the JPL Library for its ‘JPL Stories’ series, giving his eyewitness account of that fateful month that had catapulted JPL into national fame and led to the birth of NASA. Back in 2003, I had heard Dr William Pickering speak here. Pickering was JPL Director in those days. He died the following year.

Behind him, Dr Richter had supplied numerous photos, documents and charts from his collection. His memory and his research gives his published memoir an exceptional look into the space race. Titled America's Leap Into Space: My Time at JPL and the First Explorer Satellites,2 Dr Richter's book is a valuable resource for space historians. And now, on January 31, 2018, he was guest of honor at JPL once again, to speak and sign copies of his book.

How did a man of his eminence get to know little old me? I got a surprise phone call one day about 2006 or 2007. He said he had read some of my articles from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) about astronomy, and wanted to meet me. We set up a time to chat during the lunch hour. When I found out who he was, I nearly fell off my chair! About 78 at the time, Dr Henry Richter was humble and gracious, and told me how he had come to know the Lord after he left the lab, and was now a firm believer in creation. By that 50th Anniversary celebration day in January 2008, we were good friends, and I was glad to see him honored by the lab for his achievements. A few months later, he would be in Washington DC to be honored with all the surviving JPL Directors.

History of a recent kind

Now that you know a little about Dr Henry Richter, let me tell how he came into my story. I used to be Team Leader working on computer systems for NASA’s Cassini project to Saturn. He learned about the trouble I had gotten into in March 2009 for sharing intelligent design DVDs with co-workers. I had told him how my boss yelled at me that I was “pushing religion” and had shouted, “Intelligent design is religion!” He learned how my boss immediately called Human Resources (HR), who began an investigation of me, based on one complaint by a co-worker who had told my boss—but not me—that she “felt harassed” by the DVD. Richter learned that I had been disciplined and demoted a month later, and was given a Written Warning declaring that I had violated JPL’s policies on Unlawful Harassment and its Ethics policy by sharing my “personal views” expressed in the DVDs. He also knew I was pursuing internal remedies but was getting nowhere. On his own initiative, he decided to intervene.

You may have heard how this matter escalated into a court trial in 2012 against JPL, supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Unfortunately, I lost the case when the sitting judge ruled against me with no explanation. The details are explained in Dr Jerry Bergman’s new book, Censoring the Darwin Skeptics (Leafcutter Press, 2018).3

In my court documents (Exhibit 125), there is a private letter Dr Henry Richter had written to the Deputy Director at the time, Gen. Eugene Tattini. Richter was obviously well known by the JPL administrators, and had an especially good relationship with Tattini. Here is what he wrote on June 9:

General T:

The David Coppedge matter

Maybe five months ago Mr Coppedge was informed of a complaint against him accusing him of pushing religion at people. David is one of us that believes the Universe is no accident, call it Intelligent Design or Creation.

It has been my experience that David does not push ideas or dogma. What he does is to have a supply of DVDs such as The Privileged Planet, Ben Stein’s Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, and others when asked for them. His offer of materials is done off line, not during business activities. Someone was evidently offended by his practice and a complaint was filed. David has tried to go through the JPL HR policies as to what is acceptable, and to find his recourse at this point. Listening to him, the HR people do not seem to understand even their own policies. For example, there is an appeal process, but no one in HR knows how to file it.

​He has essentially been demoted. He says there are no complaints about his technical work on the Cassini Mission. The accusation is one of violating political correctness. His Section Chief has had a couple meetings with him, but it seems like the meeting was "because he was supposed to," not anything with substance. I feel a real injustice is going on. An incident such as this would not have happened when I was employed at the Lab, but this is a new political scene. It seems freedom of speech and action do not apply universally.

[signed] Henry

A plea for a fair hearing

"Well," you may be thinking. "This had to make an impression on JPL's top brass! HR investigator Huntley and her bosses probably stood up and took notice of this!" It would be like receiving a statement from John Glenn or Wernher von Braun. To think so, however, would be to underestimate the intolerance of JPL for political incorrectness. Notice that Dr Richter was not asking for favors for a friend, but for justice. So what notice did this hot letter receive?

Undoubtedly Tattini was alarmed when he read it. Richter told me he knew about the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which documents persecution of Darwin doubters and ID supporters, and liked its narrator, Ben Stein. But he did what administrators typically do: keep out of departmental business and let them do their jobs. At document discovery over a year later, we found out what happened to the letter. The HR manager scribbled on it, saying, simply, "Tattini received this letter. No action necessary. Just add it to Coppedge file." On they went, continuing to violate my rights and their own policies. The outcome—the investigation, lawsuit, firing, trial and loss—I have documented in previous posts on my blog.4 Not even a NASA V.I.P could help me.

Richter and Coppedge—now helping CMI

To end on a happy note, my friendship with Dr Henry Richter grew even richer after the trial. We have not only kept in touch over the years, but in 2015 I decided to help him with a book he had self-published years before, in which he described numerous examples of intelligent design in the universe, planet earth, and life. He concluded his little book with his personal testimony of how he had found peace in Christ after a series of post-JPL setbacks in his life, including divorce, made him realize he was not very good at proving himself a success. His dear second wife Beverly, a Christian, shared the Gospel with him, and it made all the difference. Dr Richter had the courage to share this part of his life briefly in that 2008 talk. This photo dates from that occasion.

I helped him expand the book with many new scientific facts about design. I also found a publisher, CMI, that agreed to do the publishing, promotion and distribution. After two years of work, Spacecraft Earth: A Guide for Passengers came out in November 2017. They did "a marvellous job," Richter says in a promotional video which can be viewed at the link for the book.

Dr Richter has also recently helped CMI with their movie Alien Intrusion: Unmasking a Deception. Gary Bates and his team travelled to San Diego to interview Dr Richter and get his insights into the implausibility of interstellar travel. A DVD is now available for purchase and or preorders.

God is good at compensating folks who dare to stand for the right. Even though I lost my job at JPL, I gained a great friend in Dr Henry Richter, and together we cooperated on a project that may get the Gospel to thousands of people.

Published: 26 June 2018

References and notes

  1. See interview with David at creation.com/david-coppedge-creation-safari-man. Return to text.
  2. henryrichter.org/americas-leap-into-space. Return to text.
  3. amazon.com/Censoring-Darwin-Skeptics-Eliminating-Dissidents/dp/0981873421/ref=sr_1_1. Return to text.
  4. davidcoppedge.com/jpl-trial-blog.html Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Spacecraft Earth
by Dr Henry Richter with David F Coppedge
US $14.00
Soft cover