NASA administrator Charles Bolden was just starting his after-dinner speech Friday night at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago when a young woman got onto the stage and took control of the microphone. “NASA needs to scrap plans to fund cruel and wasteful on monkeys,” she said. “Stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars on wasteful experiments. Shame on you, Charles Bolden! NASA needs to stop animal experiments.”
The audience, initially stunned by the protestor, started to boo her; one person even shouted “Jerk!”. “Hold on, hold on,” Bolden said, directing his comments at the audience. “One of the good things about the country in which we live,” he said, even as the protestor was continuing her anti-experiment rant, “and one of the things I wore my uniform for—I’m still a United States Marine,” a comment that got a round of applause as the audience. “And one of the things that I always told my Marines when I was among them on active duty was that we may not always agree with everything that we’re asked to do, we may not agree with everyone we’re asked to protect, but in the United States of America we serve the Constitution.” As the woman was removed from the room, he said, “The young lady had every right to express herself—maybe not that way, but this is maybe the only country in the world in which she could do that.”
The unidentified woman, according to eyewitness accounts, was handed over to hotel security and local police; she was ejected from the hotel but not arrested. It’s unknown if she’s in any way affiliated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have protested a study by NASA that would involve exposing monkeys to radiation as part of efforts to understand the effects of long-duration interplanetary spaceflight, the study the protestor appeared to be referring to. PETA has been protesting these plans for several months, including small demonstrations outside NASA Headquarters and other centers, although they haven’t stolen the stage, so to speak, in past protests.