Would-Be NASA Intern Reportedly Loses Position Over Vulgar Tweets

nasa logo twitter exchange homer hickam
A Twitter exchange may have cost one prospective NASA intern a job. (Image credit: NASA)

A newly hired NASA intern recently lost a position at the agency after a vulgar exchange with a famous NASA engineer on Twitter, according to news reports, such as one from USA Today.

The exchange — captured by several news outlets through screenshots — began when the user, who used the handle @NaomiH_official, wrote in all caps, "I got accepted for a NASA internship," adding a sentence with profanity to express excitement.

The post garnered a stern response from Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer whose memoir "Rocket Boys" — about growing up in a rural coal-mine community during the 1930s Depression while he learned about rocketry — inspired the 1999 Hollywood movie "October Sky." "Language," Hickam replied to the tweet.

@NaomiH_official responded to Hickam with another vulgar tweet, adding at the end of it, "I'm working for NASA." Hickam answered: "And I am on the National Space Council that oversees NASA," referring to his appointment from earlier this year. The conversation quickly went viral on Twitter, garnering thousands of responses from other users.

Following the exchange on social media, Hickam wrote a blog post (which has since been deleted, but is cited in USA Today and other outlets) saying he had heard @NaomiH_official was fired from the internship. Hickam added that he hadn't reached out to the agency about the tweets and that he does not have a say in NASA employment decisions. The agency got wind of the conversation because so many users had responded while tagging NASA, Hickam said.

"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," Hickam wrote in the post, which was cited in several news reports. "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."

Hickam added that @NaomiH_official apologized for the comments, as did he, and he is doing "all that he can" to find the Twitter user a position in the aerospace industry. Meanwhile, @NaomiH_official made their Twitter profile private, adding in the bio area, "Taking a break from Twitter for a while."

NASA did not immediately respond to requests for comment from USA Today and other news outlets that reached out to the agency.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace