(Courtesy Ved Chirayath)

We’ve seen IRS workers dressed as characters from Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island.

So perhaps it’s not at all odd that NASA folks would don a little Viking garb.

NASA Ames Director Simon Worden and several members of his staff are among the band of Viking portrayed in a photographic series shot by Bay Area photographer Ved Chirayath who describes his work as “us[ing] cutting-edge photography to channel people’s scientific curiosity.”

The photographs portray the civil-servants-turned-Vikings in a woodland setting (it’s actually a park in Palo Alto, Calif.), charging toward several futuristic-looking satellites. There’s dramatic lighting and convincing costumes. Worden’s wearing an armored helmet that would looks at home on the set of the Lord of the Rings.

Under the photos, the artist describes his vision: “NASA Ames Research Center leads the charge in small satellite innovation and development while evoking the Viking spirit of exploration and adventure.”

Not everyone, though, is impressed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, asking him to ‘splain a few things. “I am concerned that in NASA’s case, federal tax dollars may still be spent on non-mission critical activities,” the Iowa Republican wrote.

Grassley asked Bolden to provide a host of information, including whether the NASA employees used company time or other official resources for the photo shoot, whether folks back at NASA knew about the project, and whether the agency will receive any funds, presumably from the sale of the photos.

A NASA spokesman tells the Loop that the agency is working on a full response to Grassley’s questions, but he assures us that there’s nothing untoward here.

“This was not an official NASA activity,” he said. “No taxpayer funds were used and the employees involved did not do this on work time.”

And the photographer, too, seems puzzled by the inquiry. Chirayath, a Stanford graduate student, says the shoestring shoot was staffed with volunteers, and what little money it cost was funded by a small grant he got from Stanford. “No one’s making a penny from this — no one’s buying these pictures. I just want to help NASA and promote science.”

He said he’s been contacted by NASA investigators who interviewed him extensively and combed through his e-mails relating to the photo shoot. “I would question whether its a good use of NASA employees’ time to spend all that time scaring a graduate student, wanting to know whether anyone got any benefits from” the project.

So, did they? “Um, I passed out water bottles. .. And I gave some people hand-made thank-you cards.”