Guwahati/New Delhi, March 6: An Assam government science agency has found itself embroiled in a row kicked up by a former NASA associate who was invited to attend a conference here but was sent back the day he arrived.
Ralph Kennedy Johnston Sr, who says he was formerly associated with the US space agency's Apollo lunar missions, has complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Assam Science Technology and Environmental Council (Astec) "deported" him without giving him a chance to defend himself.
Ralph Kennedy Johnston Sr
Johnston, in a letter to the Prime Minister's Office, has said he had attended educational meetings in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore and had been listed as a "distinguished speaker" at a conference in Guwahati on February 28, National Science Day.
But when he reached Guwahati on February 25, Johnston wrote, he was allegedly sent back to New Delhi the same day by Astec organisers. "I was sent to New Delhi without even being given a chance to defend myself. I had to purchase my own ticket back to the US for over $1,200, even though I had been brought to India (Assam) and had been promised airfare home," Johnston alleged.
"This would be an international crime that you deported a foreign passenger, just as such, based it on a single email," he said in his letter, adding: "... please register this as a complaint and take severe action. I hope that concerned actions will be taken soon and justice will be done to me and financial accommodations promised will be fulfilled."
The Assam government, following a query from the PMO, today sought a clarification on the issue from Astec.
Astec officials said they had initially accepted a request from Johnston on whether he could attend the scheduled Assam Science Festival conference on February 28. But they decided to send him away when it received an email from another former NASA associate named James Oberg claiming that Johnston was a "cheat."
A Wikipedia entry describes Oberg as an American space journalist and historian who had spent 22 years as a space engineer in NASA.
Johnston's CV on the Internet says during the Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972, he had been employed by Brown and Root, principal contractors to NASA for management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory where moonrocks were stored, curated and catalogued.
His job had involved packaging and shipping lunar samples to science laboratories.
Johnston has said he was touring India "for interacting with and inspiring millions of students" on space education. He said he flew into India on February 2 and visited Chennai and Hyderabad, then returned to the US on February 12 to attend a "UFO conference" in Arizona where he was a "guest speaker". He returned to India on February 20 to attend a conference in Bangalore from where he flew to Guwahati, assuming Astec would pay his return airfare.
Arup Kumar Misra, Astec director, declined to comment on the issue. However, sources there admitted that the council had sent Johnston back as they wanted to avoid controversies. Mishra said they checked Johnston's credentials and found he had worked as a curator at NASA between 1969 and 1972 but was recruited through another agency. "Later, we were informed that NASA denounced him so we had to send him back," he added.