Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has landed robotic explorers on the surface of Mars, sent probes to outer planets and operates a worldwide network of antennae that communicates with interplanetary spacecraft.
Its latest mission is defending itself in a workplace lawsuit filed by a former computer specialist who claims he was demoted – and then let go – for promoting his views on intelligent design, the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.
David Coppedge, who worked as a “team lead” on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, alleges that he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work.
Mr Coppedge lost his “team lead” title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.
Opening statements are expected to begin today in Los Angeles Superior Court after two years of legal wrangling in a case that has generated interest among supporters of intelligent design.
The Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are both supporting Mr Coppedge’s case.