NASA&’s Biggest Problem: No Vision

You know, the biggest problem with NASA is that, over the last 15 years, no one has given much of a damn about NASA.

Not George H.W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, and not George W. Bush.

Bush pere was left to figure out how to manage foreign and domestic policy in a post-Cold War world, and in a lot of ways, NASA was a Cold War relic. The Space Race was won; unfortunately, it was won in the 1960’s and had decayed in the 1970’s. The lax attitudes of the 1980’s then caused the Challenger disaster, which dealt NASA a blow. Rather than accept Challenger as a lesson learned–that politics shouldn’t drive management decisions that override safety–the prevailing attitude came to be, “We can’t lose any more astronauts.”

There’s not much you can do to make zero-loss-of-life a 100% reality. You do as much as you can, but poop still happens. No one outside the NASA community wants to accept that, and no one inside the NASA community wants to voice it. To voice it seems callous to the disinterested observer.

Columbia‘s disintegration was a tragedy, but it was just a result of waning interest and funding in NASA from Washington in the Clinton-Bush years. Clinton used Dan Goldin–installed by Bush pere–as his hatchet man with a mantra: “Faster, Better, Cheaper”. Goldin damn near killed NASA.

Bush fils doesn’t have anyone in his entourage with any kind of space experience. His NASA Administrator? And old OMB guy–a beancounter. Amazingly, Sean O’Keefe is providing leadership.

But there’s no vision.


Don Peterson doesn’t say it in this op-ed, but it’s there: that everyone is reacting to perceived issues is dangerous. “Full envelope, full escape” seems to be the growing mantra for crew support. Unfortunately, to worry about such a capability for STS ignores STS’s biggest contribution to manned spaceflight: cargo carrier.

All the stuff we build here on this contract all goes into STS. None of it could go in a rocket. None.

Everyone’s running scared, but … all you’ve got to do is make sure that the safety people get listened to and that the quality people aren’t grumbled at like they always are, and this problem largely goes away.

NASA draws some of the most talented minds in the world, and the contractor community’s right behind them. What NASA needs is better oversight, better management, and more resources. It doesn’t need a new crew transfer vehicle; not today.

Parts Failing Can Be Good

Turns out that one of the control moment gyroscopes that maintain ISS’s on-orbit attitude failed this weekend. This is actually a good thing: we build the Flight Support Equipment [FSE] that attaches a control moment gyroscope [CMG] to a Flight Releaseable Attachment Mechanism [FRAM], the do-it-all piece of machinery that’s almost as handy as duct tape.

Why is this good? Well, CMG is farther along than another one of our projects, which is going to get bumped to a later flight now that a CMG needs to be replaced. Schedule pressure alleviations are always a good thing in the aerospace business, so hey, this isn’t all bad. And it’s not as if ISS is going to crash in flames, either. 🙂


Is this the start of a new pop music genre?

“The idea of a cool Nasa makes some scientists wince. ‘When governments try to harness popular culture they just embarrass themselves,’ James Oberg, a former space shuttle engineer, said.”

I personally am nauseated now…


What the … [expletive deleted–this is a family site]. JPL’s new “neatness” policy has to be the biggest load of crap I’ve heard from NASA in ages.

I mean, really. Engineers are more productive in messy environments. Why? They aren’t spending time cleaning up all the [-ed-] that Pointy Haired Bosses give to them! GAOHGOQIHEGOPQIE:OQHGOQIH!

Okay, I’ve had a bad, bad day at work, and now this. Time to go home and not worry about it any more.