Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Feeding the Tigers.

"Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry." -- Winston Churchill

Five or so years in the making, "The Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report," mysteriously surfaced today. It came out on a day when most people are still on vacation between Christmas and New Years and probably not paying much attention to the news beyond what is happening in the Middle East. One spokesperson said it was released now to keep the crew's children from having to deal with questions from their classmates the following morning.

They say the report was commissioned to serve as a design guide for future spacecraft engineers. When was the last time you heard about something like NASA-STD-3000 being released to the news media for review?

No, today's release fits as another piece of the duplicitous campaign for the Emperor to keep his job. The report outlines in some detail the many hardware and human failures that occurred inside Columbia during re-entry. Couched as "safety recommendations" for future vehicles, they illustrate the fragility of the systems that came into play after foam incapacitated the orbiter's wing.

Along with his wife's unashamed late evening emails, a shady astronaut's petition, a moon man's op-ed piece, and a loud discrediting of the Snow Princess's credentials in a semi-public forum, the timing of the report is designed to give weight to the Emperor's shuttle retirement arguments and the need to go full steam ahead with his misbegotten replacements.

This man knows no bounds, using seven dead crew as a lever for advancing his own career.

At this point we have to ask, if our nation's space program is (like the space shuttle itself?) so fragile that it can not withstand independent scrutiny, yet so dependent on one single individual for its completion, can it realistically be expected to be sustainable? If the program plan is rational, should it not stand up to review? If the program is executable, could it not be led by any of the other competent leaders this country has to offer? And would not its founder be proud to demonstrate that for his legacy.

Icons like Low, Kraft, Gilruth, and Faget never campaigned for their jobs and they knew their value was not in being invaluable. If ARES/ORION was rational and executable, the current leadership would not find it necessary to campaign so desparately, with so little integrity, and without an ounce of shame, for their retention. That decision would be obvious.

And so is the one that has been made on D Street.

Monday, December 29, 2008

More Than Fish Rotting Here

For all the hoopla and commentary over the Christmas gifts given to SpaceX and Orbital, we nevertheless have to wonder how PlanetSpace ended up with a piece of coal in its stocking. Bringing together a team of "been there, done that" Who-villian contractors, PlanetSpace certainly fielded a competent proposal. Too competent and too cheap, perhaps? How else could Orbital, with opposite polarity on those all important proposal criteria have eked out a win? We thought the days of putting lipstick on pigs were behind us now.

The Emperor's heavy hand will be evident to those that go looking for it. It certainly won't help his negotiating position with the suits when the time comes.

Where Art Thou, John Young?

We need you now, more than ever, for the public relations onslaught, some would call it an outright war, continues today lacking your words of wisdom.

Instead another man who left behind the first boot print on the moon, the man who has kept quiet all these years, the man of honor and integrity, the man who heeds the call when called, was called by the man with none of the above. It's a shame that he has been taken advantage of in such a manner.

Fortunately, those casting spears once again in the direction of the Snow Princess and her elfish Changelings will once again fall short. The folks making the call on D Street are smelling the rotting fish in Denmark, or 14th street perhaps, ooops, sorry we do mean E Street, and will announce their new charge shortly.

And the theater of self destruction will finally come to a ignominious close.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

And Now, This Public Service Announcement

We're not responsible for it, but we're happy to pass the word along....

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/RemoveTheEmperorNow/

P.S. You'll have to replace "TheEmperor" with somebody's name...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Emperor's New Math

One metric ton is approximately 2204.6 lbs.

Twenty metric tons is therefore about 44092 lbs.

For $1.9B, Orbital Sciences may deliver 44092 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) over the course of eight launches of its non-existent Taurus II rocket. By the way, the first stage of this rocket is derived from the Ukrainian-Russian Zenit. The same Russians we are worried about helping us through the Emperor's self-made "gap."

Back to the chalkboard. We divide 44092 lbs into $1.9B and find that Orbital will charge about $43092 per pound under its new commercial services contract to take cargo to ISS.

The KSC website shuttle faq reports that a space shuttle flight costs about $450M to launch. They also say that a space shuttle costs about $1.7B to build.

The Emperor's book, "Space Vehicle Design," states on page 241 that a space shuttle can carry about 16 metric tons (35273.6 lbs) to ISS on each flight. Using the $450M per flight number from the KSC web site, that works out to about $12757 per pound.

To summarize, go Commercial for $43092/lb.

Or go NASA for $12757/lb. (gold plated toilets and hammers included).

Or we could build a brand new space shuttle that could almost launch all of this cargo at once for less than the cost of paying for just one of the two commercial contracts just awarded. For the total $3.5B offered, using NASA's numbers, we could buy two brand spanking new shuttles, launch each with their requisite loads, complete the contract obligations, and have two only slightly used space shuttles left over for whatever comes next.

What is wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Emperor/Blagojevich

No, we're not suggesting that the not so good Governor of Illinois is being considered as the next Emperor. But its not really surprising that both names ended up in a Washington Post article today on the Worst Leadership Performances of 2008.

We've been telling you about one of them, in detail, for the past year.

We suspect both of them may eventually end up in the same place again some day soon. Politics makes for strange cell-mates, doesn't it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life!

Lacking anything more recent to show off, the Emperor's television channel will honor the 40th anniversary of the almost pre-historic Christmas Eve broadcast by the Apollo 8 crew with special programming on Dec. 24 and 25.

Imagine how that looks to aliens watching these broadcasts, repeated ad nauseum like Jimmy Stewart's signature piece every year.

"Bleep, blop, zink, zurum, nick nak tambo. Flidge mach nix barum. Claffffannnnkkkk." Roughly translated: "Hey Billy Bob, here's that same loop we saw 40 blagocks ago. Put them in the stagnant column. Borrrrinnnnngggg."

We can't wait until next year. We hear that a colorized version will make a debut.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

(N)eed (A)nother (S)enior (A)stronaut?

The Emperor's Agency's acronym has found yet another interpretation in another newspaper op-ed piece. While the current crop of astronauts has not been know for blowing away intelligence tests, we would hope for better from the current head astronaut. Perhaps his arm was twisted by the Emperor in a tortuous manner which no mortal could resist? Perhaps BroomHilda cast one of her last spells over him? Or perhaps he is just plain dumb?

Flyboy Lindsey tries to convince us that ARES-1 "... consists of a two-stage launch vehicle based on an upgraded shuttle solid rocket booster and an improved upper-stage engine from the Apollo program. Both are proven, reliable, human-rated components." We might believe him, except for the fact that the ARES-1 SRB is entirely new save for the cases that surround the new propellant, grain pattern, avionics, oscillation damping system, and software. When you change something, anything really, on a space vehicle you are opening the door to a new set of potential failures. Upgraded, improved, whatever is not "proven" by any means.

Lindsey goes on to say that "Ares I also has the unique advantage of using the same components that will serve as the baseline for an ultra heavy-lift unmanned Ares V rocket needed to carry supplies, hardware and equipment to the moon." Except for the fact that the ARES V has an extra 1/2 segment, avionics, software....need we continue?

The capstone of the story is that Lindsey says that "NASA spent several years studying architectures and researching every available commercial rocket to find the design that could best accomplish those dual mission objectives in the safest, most reliable way." Einstein's time dilation must have really taken hold of ESAS's 60, er 120, day study as that duration now appears to be turning into Lindsey's years.

For the Emperor to use his commander-in-space-chief status to lord over the astronaut corp hard enough to publish yet another set of half-truths (most of the rest of the country would call them "lies") is, to use a timely phrase, "abominable."

Launch Pad Roulette?

Schedule Pressure. Two words, capitalized here for emphasis, that have played a large role in both successes and failures in our conquest of space. Forty years ago it played a role in propelling humankind to the moon. In a heroic and historic effort to meet an end of the decade timetable, the Apollo 8 astronauts embarked on a daring adventure doing a figure eight around our nearest celestial neighbor.

Soon, another daring adventure will be launched. However, instead of employing a brand new shiny spaceship, the brave crew will climb into a rickety, claptrap, make-do spaceplane to save our precious view into the cosmos. Not to take away from the crew's bravery and desire to serve, but we do this despite the fact that we will spend more to put these people and museum piece at risk than it would have cost to build and launch a brand new space telescope on an un-crewed rocket.

Both the crew of Apollo 8 and the crew of the Hubble Repair Mission were/are trained professionals who understand the risks of spaceflight. In both cases, calculated risk mitigations were/are being employed to give the astronauts their best chance of survival. These decisions, and the options that were/have been afforded, were originally made in a calm, deliberate, and thoughtful environment.

The way it should be.

But now, Viceroy Hanley is once again showing his manifest ignorance, supported by the Emperor, and getting pushed by the Italian Waiter to relieve a requirement for a launch on need shuttle to rescue the Hubble crew if their rickshaw is unable to return them safely to mother earth. Instead they want to take the pad from which the back-up will launch and use it to test the igniter continuity between the blockhouse and the ARES-1X rocket (for that is the only outcome of this test which in no way resembles a real ARES-1).

Precious time could be lost in the event of a real emergency getting the back-up ready for flight if it is not standing ready on the alternate pad. The original plans were made without regard to schedule pressure and optimized to give the valiant crew the best chance possible to make it home should the worst case scenario be realized. Overriding these instincts, originally developed in a calm hour, would be irresponsible.

Such inanity has been the norm in the reign of the Emperor. We are not surprised by this last desperate move as he and his bumbling minions are shown the door on E Street. The Snow Princess and her elfish Changelings need to put a chill on this idea through whatever means possible. The outgoing cast should not be allowed to allow the effect of their bad decisions to put our national assets at further risk.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three Questions?

Having somehow evaded jail despite being the master of the revolving door, the proprietor of Doc's Aerospace (who must also not be too busy or he wouldn't have had the time to write such drivel) asks us three questions this week in an op-ed piece for a prominent national trade newspaper. Should the Emperor continue as Emperor? Should the exploration program continue on its current path? Should the space shuttle retire in 2010? You can guess his answers and read the rest of his pablum for yourself.

You will also enjoy some new rewriting of history, as the stickly author ignores his and the Emperor's initial promises of a 2011 delivery of CEV, instead fast forwarding into a discussion of budgeting mumbo jumbo and a $4.8B (thought that used to be just $2B?) gap to maintain the other "gap" (getting to LEO after space shuttle retirement) to just four years. Perhaps a remedial course in creative writing would go a long way towards making the author more understandable in his retelling of this fairy tale.

Nevertheless, we have three questions of our own.

"Soon?"

"Simple?"

"Safe?"

2016, Thrust oscillation and flight dynamic control, and a 1 in 8 chance of making it back from the moon were not the answers that were suggested "less than three years" ago. Eh, What's up, Doc?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dark Energy

Astronomers have made note this week of more evidence of a confusing, not well understood, repulsive force at work in the universe. So-called "Dark Energy" is keeping galaxies and star clusters from continuing to compact and absorb available surrounding matter. Instead, it is speeding up the expansion of the universe and may just shred it into pieces many eons from now.

Similarly, a "dark energy" is enveloping the Emperor and his minions. Like its astronomical namesake, it threatens to tear apart supporters and supported alike. Confusing, in that many of the same politicians who sang the Emperor's praises at his confirmation hearing are now quietly suggesting that he should step down before he lights up the evening news again. They do not want him conveying any further stain on his boss's legacy in his final hours. While the Changelings will show the Emperor the door shortly, the sitting administration would like him to exit, stage left, right now.

Likewise, the minions continued in their directed act of dark defiance and published a draft RFP for their overweight, wobbly, Tinkertoy (emphasis on toy) lunar lander design studies. Seeking to avoid the calamity that is CEV, the grinchy lander kids are offering a pittance of a reward for help from the wisest of Who-villian contractors who forgo their holiday plans to prepare a proposal that will likely never be awarded. While the rest of us are snuggled in our beds, story boards and discriminators will fill the contractors' heads, and the Snow Princess can only watch the impending train wreck from on top of the mountain. She is powerless against the scroogish dark forces until the candle burns down and releases the locks that constrain her to repel the dark energy that encompasses E Street.

Einstein's cosmological constant may or may not be responsible for the Dark Energy that pervades the ether. Nevertheless, one thing can be observed in our own local situation. We can be certain of where the dark energy on E Street is emanating from.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Revels? Or Rebels?

With the onset of cold breezes, snow, and spirited song echoing in the dense air, Revels, with a 'v,' celebrate the seasons and cycles of human life through the arts, the songs and dances, and the stories from traditional cultures. They recognize the events, desires, and dilemmas from another place and time as their own. They bring joy and smiles to young and old alike.

Rebels, with a 'b,' are those who see such dilemmas and resist the status quo authority to perpetuate them. At MSFC, the minions working on ARES-1 may now wear both sashes across their shoulders as they stand up to the Italian Waiter and decline to work on the misbegotten stick. There, too, many are deriving great pleasure and satisfaction for the display of technical integrity that these modern day Revels are standing up for.

Like any inexperienced supervisor, he has responded with threats and firings. As they say, the beatings will continue until morale improves. Perhaps January 16 would be a good day to consider for that turnaround?

Friday, December 12, 2008

In His Own Words

May 2005
"What needs to be done to ensure openness and sound decision-making," the Emperor said, "boils to down to common courtesy. What I see that we need to focus on in NASA in terms of mending the culture -- to the extent that it needs to be mended -- are traits that we were taught at kindergarten: listen to what other people have to say; pay attention to their opinions; give them the respect of hearing them out and hearing them through and encouraging them to speak and making sure that all the viewpoints are heard."

"In a bit of tongue-in-cheek sort of way I've often defined management as the art of making decisions with less information than any fool would like to have. That is what we get paid to do. But in order to make decisions with less information than you would really like to have, it is at the very least important to hear all the information you can get," the Emperor said.

Sept 05
"...meetings that I’ve been in, leading up to Return to Flight, that there have been arguments, questioning, vigorous back-and-forth exchanges on technical matters. I think that is the right culture, and what is basically an engineering development and operations organization. As long as we can maintain that, we are on the road to recovery," the Emperor said.

Feb 2006
"The job of the Office of Public Affairs, at every level in NASA, is to convey the work done at NASA to our stakeholders in an intelligible way," the Emperor wrote.

Feb 2008
"Any candidate who contacts NASA and wants a briefing on what we are doing is entitled, and we are able to do that," the Emperor said.

Sept 07
"There's nothing more important to me in an agency like NASA than having an open, free, non-political discourse on topics," the Emperor said.

Oct 2008
"I am, of course, speaking about ethical decision making in our professional lives, about creating a culture within which all can act and speak with openness and honesty, about embracing the responsibility for our statements and actions. Integrity matters enormously. I personally believe that without it, there is nothing else which does matter," the Emperor said.

"Long stated as one of the core values of our agency, it is nonetheless hard to define integrity in the abstract. It is much easier to recognize it when we see it. It is a quality not well suited to self-assessment, a quality for which we are more easily judged by others than by ourselves. I’m sure that each of you has observed acts of notable integrity, as well as cases where people fell well short of expectations. We should examine the differences, make note of what integrity 'looks like' in practice, and strive for it."

"In engineering practice, integrity is speaking up in a meeting when you do not believe the facts match the conclusions being reached, or that certain facts are being ignored. Integrity is following the data. Integrity is refusing to fall in love with your own analysis, admitting that you are wrong when presented with new data that should alter your earlier view. Integrity is keeping a promise or commitment or, when circumstances change, explaining why an agreement cannot be kept. Integrity is walking into your boss’s office, closing the door, and speaking with frankness, openness, and honesty – and listening the same way. Integrity is being willing to put your badge on the boss’s desk when you believe that an ethical breach warrants such drastic action."

"That then leaves the question of objectivity, which of course is exactly the point of comments about “stifling dissent” or “unfairly skewed” analysis. Such accusations are deeply troubling because, in the end, they are accusations that we lack integrity. They chip away at the foundation of the high-integrity organization we strive to build at NASA. The efficacy of our team is predicated upon our ability to “follow the data”, to communicate constructively the differences of technical opinion throughout the organization. Accusations to the contrary, such as those in the mainstream media or as found on many web postings, reverberate as echoes of lessons not learned from the Challenger and Columbia tragedies."

"So – differences of engineering opinion are cited as evidence of lying, of malfeasance? This is not how any of us were taught to conduct an engineering discussion. Quite frankly, it is demeaning to the profession."

Dec 08
“... I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” the Snow Princess said. “If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” The Emperor replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Inside the Cuckoos Nest.

The story we are about to tell you will not believe. But every word is true.

The Emperor has lost it. And so has one of his top minions who we have had great faith in, but who, apparently, has been under pressure of the kind for which no man, or woman, can forever hold out.

Shortly, you will hear of the exchange between the Emperor and the Snow Princess. In a library known for celebrating silence, the Princess's competence was questioned in a fatal explosion of unadulterated ego. Failing to come to grips with his impending fate, the clothless wonder was on the verge of accepting reality, ceding ARES-1 as a unaccomplishable failure, in exchange for keeping his job to complete the rest of his green cheese program. Instead, he self-destructed in front of the gathered assembly in the only ego maniacal way a man of many degrees can implode.

But the infection that lead to such an outburst is apparently spreading as well. The Viceroy of SOMD has also positioned his sword pointing toward his chest in support of Viceroy Hanley. Whether it be pressure, or stress, or overt threats to his future lot in life, we do not know, but how the last man in whom we placed our trust caved to such an irrational position is most unfortunate. We do hope, this blindness is but a temporary condition and passes with the removal of the next couple of calendar pages from our walls.

If there is any doubt among you, our dear readers, of this boorish semblance of a human who has lobotomized his followers staying on past Jan 20, it should now be retired. Not even snow in Houston will save him now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bad Models?

Further review of yesterday's MSL press conference surfaces even more disturbing revelations. As the Emperor pleaded the minions' latest $400M overrun case, he philosophized on why no blame should be assigned, at least not to him and his accountants.

So development programs have unknowns, we take that as given. The Emperor says you can't predict them, and NASA is in the business of doing cutting edge stuff, so Congress expects overruns. But, do they really?

You may ask, why not put reserves into the budgets of this projects? The real answer is that there is a pot of reserve, held at multiple levels within the Empire. But you can not individually put encompassing reserves in each program or there would be no resources to actually do programs. Some will do better, some will do worse, and hopefully what is kept in the side pot will cover.

Unfortunately, under the Emperor, working with inexperienced, or worse, incompetent, program managers, the balance tips in the wrong direction and reserves are called for throughout the portfolio. The misbegotten things called ARES and ORION have drained the pool and only the turds are left sitting on the bottom. Within its own little hot tub of Mars programs, the steroidally sized MSL and its Rube Goldbergian SkyCrane delivery system, has also left the planetary reserve pot bone dry. Europa's whales will be quite safe for some time to come.

But those unknowns of which the Emperor spoke have some statistics associated with them or he would not be directing the cost probability analysis that was mentioned. Apparently, the models aren't giving out good answers for uncertainties, resulting in the present situation. And this is why we should be afraid. Very afraid.

Engineers build models of systems and then test them for accuracy with real world examples. If errors are found, the models are recalibrated and, hopefully, will generate better answers the next time they are used. So, too, should financial models have been updated over the years. If the models are not attended to, things like MSL result.

Kind of makes you wonder how those ARES-1 models are coming along, don't it?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grinch-whacked!

There will soon be one Grinch who has reason to frown, surrounded and stopped by all the new kids in town. Sooner or later all dream stealers find that they’re out in the cold and left far behind.

In a last ditch effort to make it difficult for the Changelings to kill his already stillborn program, the Emperor (a.k.a. Grinch) has seemingly flooded the market with RFPs and RFIs of late. The subservient Who-ville contractors had already resigned themselves to another year without a proper holiday.

Well, they can get the decorations out again and put away the slide rules.

The elfs want a look-see before more good money is sent after bad. And they've asked for time to do a thorough job before that happens. The Emperor will surely cry foul and add to his list of excuses as he makes way for the door. He had better start writing his other three letters to leave behind in the top desk drawer as well.

So the Who-ville contractors will sit by the fire and celebrate the new year surrounded by family and friends of very good cheer. And the Grinch will be found with his feet in the snow, grimacing and wondering, how could it be so?

Complexity Bites

"Amazingly complex."

"Incredibly complex."

Such is the rationale Doug McCuistion offered for charging us taxpayers yet another $400M to what started as a $650M mission and is now going north of $2B. Once again, the Emperor presides over another gap...delaying a return visit to Mars to 2011.

Is it any wonder they are paying the Russians $47M for a $20M ride to ISS?

The destruction of Nasa's program management skills by the Emperor's hand is now complete. Not even JPL can deliver a reliable vehicle on time within budget.

And what should be done next is not complex at all. It's very simple, really.

It's time to open a new gap...on the 9th floor on E Street.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Out of the Basement.

One of the good things about the basement on E Street is the peace and solitude it affords those who seek escape from the vibration and blinking red lights on their hips that harasses them throughout the day. Everyone that is, except the Emperor.

The Emperor has a new problem as of Jan 17. Now, during the Monday morning telecon with the center directors (of which we believe there will be few following Jan 20), he will not be able to just pull his glasses low, type a message on the small keyboard, and turn to his side to Queen Shana. No more will she have to leave the meeting with his little black device to jog upstairs, out of the insulated cavern, where Maxwell's equations provide it with a conduit to the rest of the minions, only to return the device to his side after it has pumped its bits into the ether.

With but three days to spare, before she would look into the fine wicker herself, she will take leave of the Emperor's derogatory bidding. We look forward to reading her aftermarket blog, and the stories which no doubt she has been saving for her re-entry into the real world.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 12 days of ESAS.

Drama, such is being afforded us by the Emperor and the minions, can touch not only our taxpayers pocketbooks, but can reach into our souls. Indeed, some day in the not too distant future this tragedy could be turned into a musical for the masses. Perhaps not for Broadway, but maybe for the Renaissance Theatre in Hunstville.

And since the Yuletide season is at hand, we envision a bittersweet ending revolving about an approaching wintry backdrop. Rehearsals are already taking place at the theater on E Street. Let’s drop in for a look.

The Italian Waiter, dressed as Santa, is on stage with his Chief Engineer, the lead elf. A table stands before them and drawings are visible on the table. Some rolled up, some laying flat. The Chief Engineer grabs his clipboard. A checklist is visible on it. Could it be Santa’s good and bad list? The orchestra begins to play and the Italian Waiter sings:

On the 1st day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
I will build a brand new rocket for thee
On the 2nd day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
We’ll build it from a shuttle SRB
On the 3rd day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
But adding a fifth segment will be key
On the 4th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
And a new grain pattern will make it thrusty
On the 5th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
We’ll need new roll control to keep it pointed straight up like a bee
On the 6th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
Plus a new vibration attenuation system so that the astronauts can still go pee
On the 7th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
Add a new upper stage on top without giving contractor’s fee
On the 8th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
A new launch abort system of which to be wary
On the 9th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
We’ll use unqualified off-the-shelf electronics to send the first one free
On the 10th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
Let’s build a new launch pad configuration by the sea
On the 11th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
Made of band-aids, bailing wire, and duct tape it will be

By now the Waiter is grimacing at the result. But then the lights go out and the music stops. Instantly, the lights come back on and a tree is now standing center on the stage. One last verse to be sung…

On the 12th day of ESAS, my Chief Engineer said to me:
There’s a new rocket under the tree.
And its an EELV!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Grinch is Alive and Well!

Inside a snowflake like the one on your sleeve, there's happening a story you must read to believe.

Like clockwork, as the decorations are hung by our chimneys with care, the Emperor and his minions demonstrate not only their lack of holiday wardrobe, but also their lack of any holiday spirit. Once again, the "NASA family" talk takes a back seat as precious holiday time is stolen away from the contractor community and their own families to work proposals while the minions are all snug in their beds.

Oh, the Who-manity!

"The avarice never ends!" said the Grinchy Emperor. "I want golf clubs. I want ARES. I want Altair. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue." The next phase in the ARES V and Altair sagas are hitting the presses and hanging, and we don't mean like mistletoe, over the contractors' holiday plans. We are sure that an extra two to four weeks of delay to let Thanksgiving and Christmas pass without additional distractions would have been too much to ask of the green man without soul.

And, Kris Kringle forbid, that the Snow Princess and her Changelings get a look at the planned procurements before they go out the door.

"Those Whos are hard to frazzle, Jeff. But, we did our worst, and that's all that matters."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Celebrating the Real Gap

It's been 50 years now since a group of 20- and 30-somethings decided to leave the nest and plant a flag on previously inaccessible turf. Almost forty years since the excitement from that accomplishment started to wane. We'd say that's the real definition of the word "gap."

If you saw us grimacing Saturday night at the "Gap Party" a.k.a. 50th Anniversary Celebration in Galveston, it probably didn't take you long to figure out why. Only the minions who gave us a bloated Orion and a bladder busting ARES could possibly engineer a dysfunctional bash of this caliber.

Granted, Hurricane Ike foiled the original soiree and left the island worse for wear. In a show of unity, the minions waited until a party could again be accommodated there. While the infusion of cash from the overnight guests fearful of crossing back over the causeway in an inebriated state was a nice gift, the celebration didn't exactly help get one into the intended state(s) of mind.

Let's first take the inebriated part: it was almost impossible to end up that way. With a single bartender working a 40 minute line, one is not inclined to go back for seconds. And then there was the little problem of needing a ticket for that drink when Isaac finally was ready to pour one for you. Unfortunately, no warnings directing the required intermediate transaction were posted.

So after working one's way through the drink line twice, now with tickets in hand, appetite builds up. But, if you had a taste for some sweets, you were SOL Saturday night after the little hand pointed at nine. Not quite right for a bash that is running until midnight.

And so on...

We'll overlook the lack of any messaging beyond the posters with 50 year old pictorials. We'll even overlook having to pay more to shake a couple of astronauts hands before they climb into their coffins.

But the first (and last) rule of parties, is never, ever, run out of food and drink before the BroomHilda hour. It's no wonder the "other" gap continues to get wider with each passing day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Curtain Call

As the days grow shorter, and night approaches earlier each day heading into the winter solstice, so to does the misbegotten reign of the Emperor come to evening twilight.

But the acting is not yet over at the E Street Theater.

Despite direction from the White House to assist and ease the transition for the Changelings, so that some outgoing positive legacy might be left behind, the Emperor continues on his own selfish path. The Playbill has been handed out to all of the minions, instructing them to turn away from the light and not cooperate with those who might bring an end to the chaos. All of the supporting cast of contractors have likewise been warned to keep data and opinions to themselves. It is a classless finish to a empty script. Such agression may perhaps be borderline illegal, like steroids, but fortunately, none who matter are paying heed to such malapropisms.

And, not that anyone's asking, but even now the man without cloth can not pass up a good opportunity to exit the stage with class. To stay in the press, the Emperor is starting to fabricate nonexistent issues, such as being forced to accept politically appointed staff, as if he might be asked to stay on (he won't) under unacceptable circumstances. Not that he hasn't already had to do that anyway.

It is time to find the hook. Bring down the curtain. Turn out the lights. Enough of our wages have been wasted going down this blind alley to watch this play without redemption. Time is up for this talentless cast of future waiters, waitresses, and bookworms. They have performed badly and the reviews are in.

This show must not go on.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gen Y At It Again

Gen Y'ers presented their latest "slide show" at Texas A&M this weekend for the SEDS folks.

We've seen this kind of thing before...in the turd museum. They have a lot of nice S*** there.

But who would pay to see such crap?

Taking Chances

Who would have thought that the cloth-less genius with so many degrees, who promised us a safer than shuttle CEV by 2011, would a.) miss the date by five or six years, and b.) miss the safer than shuttle part, too?

Next week, Viceroy Guyer's team will report out that CEVs flying to the space station will have a 1 in 30 chance of not coming home...at least not with anyone alive inside. And rather than figuring out what is wrong with the design that makes it that way, that is to say, besides BroomHilda's vacuous directives, the Emperor's minions will ask for a change in the requirement to reduce the probability of the loss of crew to...take a guess...yep...1 in 30.

We hope the Snow Princess and her elfish Changelings are paying attention to this latest criminal act. The IG should have a look, too.

And maybe an American taxpayer or three.

PAO Pooh

If you watched the launch of the space shuttle Friday night on the minion channel, and happened to have the sound turned up, you would have been treated to a pretty good sample of why the shuttle should be retired ASAP.

The PAO blabbering on about the pad close-out team being professional and dedicated to quality and safety was almost incessant. That is, until, the soon to be pink-slipped crack team failed to secure the accordion-like extender that connects the white room to the shuttle. With but 15 minutes to go before launch, controllers finally noticed what the rest of us saw plainly in the video feed. Too late to send a crew to the pad, though, somehow, ignorantly, the question was asked. Eventually, the gang plank retracted, leaving the extender and the adherence to checklists dangling in the breeze.

Now, of course, we have to wonder if that same disciplined team worked the close out of the Ku antenna?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Desperation

In the now waning days of the Emperor's misbegotten reign, dirty laundry is spilling out everywhere. The IG is looking behind every door and coat rack, and those who have shrank in fear of speaking up are now easing up, seeing the dawn of a new day approaching. Guantanamo on E Street is about to end.

And those who have been forced to bite their tongues knowing the technical solutions being offered are a sham, with risks piling up daily instead of being retired as they should, are also pointing at the man living a cloth free life. Consequently, pathetic phone calls are going out across the land, chastising those who seek the truth and accusing them of undermining the Emperor's pipe dreams in discussions with the Changelings. Having failed to have delivered Florida's space voters to the O'nauts, and his traitorous letter of praise for help with IKSNA gaining little notice, the Emperor has come full circle back to ground without a friend in sight.

Desperate is as desperate does. And soon, we hope, that will all be in past tense.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mandatory IQ Tests For Senators?

We have a suggestion. Actually, it should have been part of the Constitution we think.

All Senators should have to pass a minimum grade on an IQ Test.

We are pretty sure Sen. Nelson would lose his job.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This Bumble Won't Bounce!

As the Empire burns, a cold front is coming in from the west. The snow will clear away the soot and make the air again smell fresh and clean like evergreens on a hopeful Christmas day. Winter is upon us.

We know winter always comes before the spring. Rebirth may be around the corner, but first the Snow Princess Garver will survey what has been put asunder and draw on the elfish Changelings to compose a plan of redemption. The Emperor will be handed pink swaddling to cloak himself in as he departs the debacle and the Viceroys will likewise take leave, each carrying his head out the door in a basket of fine wicker.

The Bumble's weakness has been recognized and it is sinking. It will not bounce this time. The chief elves, Hefferen, Ladwig, Whitesides, and Monje will attempt to put Santa's workshop back together and new reindeer tryouts will immediately commence. ARES and Orion will be banished to the land of misfit toys, to be forgotten as footnotes on a misbegotten path. Not even Yukon Cornelius will rescue them from their imminent demise.

We collectively hold our breath and look forward to a favorable touch from the Snow Princess's wand. It won't be long now.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Eve of Change

Until the time machine is invented, it will not be possible to go back and start over, but we will start tomorrow to work towards a new ending.

No matter if you intend to pocket your coins, or offer back a "keep the change," in the voting booth tomorrow, one thing is for certain. Those who have egomanically taken us down in flames will not inhabit the castle when the torch is passed to light a different path.

The subdued tenor of the Viceroy's minions meeting today, as Hanley asked everyone to keep their noses down working to the stillborn plan, was bittersweet. Sad that so much leadership was misleading. Sad that so many resources have been wasted on a path that is barren of fruit. Sad that reputations of many honest, hardworking individuals have been tarnished in pursuit of a misguided and undisciplined program. But, Hanley will be relieved when the yoke of failure is removed from his neck.

And whole cloth will return to fashion on E Street.

Tomorrow we change course. Toward the second star on the right, and then straight on 'till morning.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

Waking out of their stupor, the IG's office folk finally had a look at the process the minions said they would follow in spending the taxpayers money to get us a new space vehicle in the Emperor's image. As you may have suspected, the minions have been shortcutting the process, to our mutual detriment.

So an older, immature design of the Orion capsule is brought up for review and passes muster, when it fact it lacks many of the features a flight worthy capsule would have (e.g., a weight that would be liftable, a means of landing that won't kill the occupants) along with several that a real vehicle wouldn't have (e.g., extra amounts of hot water for BroomHilda's cauldron).

That's not the way the process is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, the IG's office, not known for their brilliance or their ethics, took the ESMD Viceroy's non-concurrence with their findings and said, "ok, so sorry to have bothered you," and moved on.

So much for checks and balances.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. Since the IG and the Viceroy are, after all, part of the Empire, they both come down on the side of blaming the contractor for all ills and recommend a modification (i.e., reduction) of fee payments for the next period. But when you point a finger, there's always four pointing back at you and it's too bad that the minions responsible for changing their minds, and their requirements, on a daily basis will never see similar punishment and have their salaries docked.

Then again, it's only a matter of time until the door hits them where the good Lord split them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Very Scary!

It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark.
Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart.
You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it.
You start to freeze, as red headed horror looks you right between the eyes,
You're paralyzed.

'Cause it's BroomHilda.
And no one's gonna save you from the beast about to strike.
'Cause it's BroomHilda.
And you're fighting for your life against all that is not right.

Darkness falls across the land, the election hour's close at hand.
She crawls in search of blood to terrorize your neighborhood.
And whoever shall be found without the soul for getting down,
Must stand and face the bitch from hell, and rot inside the Emperor's shell.

'Cause it's BroomHilda.
She will possess you unless you change the numbers on your dial.
'Cause it's BroomHilda.
And the grizzly ghoul is moving in to steal your soul and throw it on her pile.

(with apologies to the white gloved one...)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What If?

Now that the Hubble control unit ground spare has failed qualification testing, and the repair mission is headed for the fate of Apollo 18, one has to ask if maybe the last guy to wear clothes on the 9th floor on E Street maybe wasn't so dumb after all?

What if the $1B+ spent to prepare this mission and the rescue back-up had instead been spent on:

A brand new Hubble II?

Acceleration of the James Webb telescope to shorten the "other gap."

Man-rating EELVs (with change back on the $)?

Or maybe just a new wardrobe and a lifetime gift certificate at the Olive Garden for the Emperor and his minions?

Stop Signs

Viceroy Hanley and his Italian Waiter in waiting Steve Cook decided it was time to help sell more newspapers yesterday. Along with Doug "the puppet" Cooke and flyboy gone Kool-Aid drinker Jett, they all sat in front of the klieg lights once again to tell their fanciful tales. The only thing missing was BroomHilda and her caldron for seasonal color.

"We have kicked off an acceleration study," said the Viceroy.

Whoa! Time to play that sound of a needle sliding across the record. Did he really say "an acceleration study?"

That announcement should serve as a stop sign for anyone still supportive of Hanley and his tribe. If the Constellation, Orion, and Ares program managers do not have as job one, that is to say if they are not focused with every waking moment of every hour of every day on how to get that vehicle to the pad as safely and quickly as possible then just what in the heck are they doing? To say they need yet another special study to do what rightly should be their highest priority regular jobs is nothing but an admission of failure.

"I think you have to stick to the facts of engineering and project management," said the tubby one.

And we finally have something to agree upon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paper Boy

Viceroy Hanley, expert in all things rockets, capsules, and cows jumping over the moon, now appears to be a journalism major. Or at least he thinks he knows what sells papers.

In his weekly meeting with the minions today he began by lamenting a particular article in a particular Florida newspaper in the particular city of Orlando. "The attacks," he said defending his beloved Stick, "are just the result of the floundering financial conditions of the paper."

Ahhh yes, blame your problems on the current economic conditions in the country. A common thing to do these days.

Of course, the correlation is hard to fathom. This blog started on 9/11/07 when the Dow was at 13,308.39 and climbing. Not a penny has fallen into our pockets since it's inception. Financial conditions are hardly a motivation for truth seekers.

The Viceroy had better hope that paper keeps selling well. He's going to need a new job in the very near future.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Getting Specific

The Santa Ana winds are blowing harder now, reaching all the way to E Street. The flames are rising all around the fiddler as he furiously packs his bags in sight of those with torches and spears. The back door is open. Time to make way out of the city.

So you want specifics? Why ARES-1 will not work as designed? We have several problems to choose from, but let us remind you of one root problem, already mentioned here previously, that goes straight to the heart of your failures. Failure to lead, failure to gain credibility, failure to gain our trust.

The flight dynamics control problem for ARES-1 is complex. The rocket hammers its way into space plagued by a thrust oscillation problem brought on by vehicle scale (longer organ tubes make deeper tones). Yet another reason why steroids are bad for you. To keep our astronauts bladders intact, a counterpunch will be provided by oscillation cancelling thrusters at the base of the rocket.

But this multi-segmented, sort of, but not quite, leftover from the shuttle, solid rocket booster is also not very stiff when it is not attached to an external tank. So it will twist and bend like a piece of spaghetti being pushed from behind. To compensate for that another control system will fire rockets at the top of the first stage to keep it pointed uphill.

The Emperor claims these are all just problems to be encountered in the normal course of design. Thrust oscillation plagued the F1 rocket engine during its gestation period, he says. All true. But the von Braun team did not put their heads in the sand like the minions and forego physical testing to resolve the problem and verify the solution. Instead, they placed small bombs in the engine to induce instabilities and show that their eventual design solution would work under extreme conditions. Do we see any kind of in depth testing like that in the future on the ARES program? Of course not. It has all been removed from present day plans because of lack of budget to do what is needed and what is right.

But we digress. Back to the specific example of why ARES is presently doomed and why most of the smiling minions do not grasp the seriousness of the situation (The ones that are not smiling have only two more weeks to hunker down and hope for better days ahead). No integrated simulation has yet been performed in the digital domain of the ARES-1 configuration instantiating the real control loops with the capabilities of the selected 1553 bus. With a bandwidth of less than 50 Hz, phase margins in the mid to high 30 degrees, and only about 50 words of control data available to keep the rocket pointed skyward, this bladder busting, twisting and turning bronco will not be tamed. Imagine Flicka being reined in with a piece of twine. Good luck keeping it from colliding with the launch tower after ignition as it drifts with the lightest of winds. Come back to us with the detailed simulation results and show how this will work! The Kettle is now calling out the Pot.

There’s some specifics for you. Mr. Emperor, please have your discussion with Mr. Nyquist and leave us out of your finger pointing next time you feel a need to whine. Silence Dogood and her brothers and sisters in the blogosphere will continue to such raise issues for public awareness and discussion. Morale is not bad because you are on a righteous path, the problems are hard, and the naysayers are ignorant. No, morale is bad because the core competency knows the problems are pathological and they seek to shine the light of understanding on the plague that is staining the core values and integrity of the last 50 years.

While you are able to quote Lord Acton, and ramble on in detailed analysis of why others are responsible for your failures, you yourself fail to grasp why the world is burning down around you. If the charts were more green than red we would know that risks were being managed. You take pride in saving $5B in a $160B program when the alternative wasn’t even technically feasible? Pshaw! You still fight the ghosts of a previous time castigating EELVs instead of looking inside to find the error of your ways? You wonder what Seamans would have thought? He already told us, “I knew James Webb, and the Emperor is no James Webb.” Did you forget that already?

Trust, credibility, and leadership are the pieces missing from the whole cloth. Time to step aside and let someone who understands this lead us out of the dark alley you have left us in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Last Hurrah

Add this event to your travel plans this week and see history in the undoing.

Event: The Wernher "I'm spinning in my grave so fast I will dig my own hole to China" von Braun Memorial Symposium.
Time: October 21, 08:30 CDT
Where: Von Braun Center, South Hall, 700 Monroe St., Huntsville, AL
Presentation: "Cooking Ares-1...Designs, Books, Tests"
Who: Viceroy King, Chef Cook, Clumsy Assistant Davis

Special swan song appearance by the Emperor.

Be there or be square.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rat Pack

It could have been Joey, Dean, Peter, and Sammy fawning over Frank. But, this time it was Jack, Abe, Ken, and Co. tap dancing together slightly off the beat. And Kool-Aid on the rocks replaced the scotch. And senility replaced authenticity.

"Sometimes when things are done well you want to put a star on the fridge," Abe said. The hand-picked NAC, heaped high praise on the Emperor and Constellation in their last meeting of the year. Reminicent of testimony promising all was well in the financial markets just six months ago, you can hear the whispering quietly becoming audible in the background, "we need a bailout."

Serving on such a board used to be considered patriotic. Now, it's just another form of prostitution.

Uplifting Gifts

On the way out the door yesterday, NASA Advisory Council chairman Harrison "Jack" H. Schmitt gave a nice parting gift to Orbital Sciences. Jack's advisory group told the Emperor that he should start buying Orbital's Virginia-based Minotaur rockets instead of the Florida-based Boeing Delta 2's. Maybe Jack didn't get the note about how the Emperor is trying to keep his job by handing the space vote in Florida to the Blue team?

We're also not sure when it became appropriate for an advisory council to get involved in procurements? Perhaps the IG would like to comment and help us out here?

Oh, just one other minor detail. Our friend Jack, of course, sits on Orbital's board of directors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pick a Square

The small pieces of paper are commonplace during football season. A grid with 0-9 on each axis denotes the playing field. Pick a square, hand over your dollar, and you may win the pot if you pick the square selecting the home and visitor scores' last digits.

The grid's being passed around in Huntsville are a little different this month. The left axis run 0-9, but the top axis runs 1-12. Dates and hours are in play here. In the football version, few watch the game, favoring the commercials, beer drinking, and conversation instead. In this version, its all about the game.

Pick the date and hour, Olive Garden hires its newest employee. But you better hurry. The Friday squares are filling up fast.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Red Gold

Mars ain't the place to send big spacecraft. In fact, it's expensive as hell.

While E Street burns, another debacle is unfolding on the left coast. The superstars of yore, the young kids who gave us Pathfinder and Spirit/Opportunity let success get to their heads and forgot some basic principles that had earlier served them well. That and Tony Spear retired, taking the last rolly polly piece of common sense out the door with him. With a thrice demonstrated air bag landing system for small packages, and a thrice demonstrated propulsive based system for larger items, they went off the reservation and decided to create yet another option...and a jobs program for JPL.

So how did the bank robbing Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) make it to the headlines before it even made it off the launch pad?

Three times as heavy as its earlier cousins, MSL was designed to be too big to fit inside an air bag delivery system. (Where have we heard this before? CEV...EELV?) A number of technical excuses were manufactured by JPL's entry, descent, and landing gurus against using a separate attached propulsive landing system (like Viking or Phoenix). Integrating a propulsion system directly into the rover itself was considered and tossed. No, the JPL minions didn't want to use something tried and true this time around. They wanted to set a new challenge for themselves.

And save their jobs.

You see, every four to six years or so, right around the end of every major spacecraft development that the lab is responsible for, famine sets in. In the past, the lab has been forced to go out looking for extra work from the undeniably "terrible" military establishment. That "distasteful" work carried it through the lean years waiting for the next big planetary mission.

This time around, however, the timing was a little better. Mars missions have the eye of the public and are seeing unprecedented funding levels allowing a new opportunity every two years or so. Coming off the rover high, MSL's timing couldn't have been better for a smooth transition of personnel. No need to go out with sunglasses and tin cups. Or so they thought.

Enter Sky Crane.

Take eight rocket engines, pointed down, connected by a truss under which the MSL is suspended. When you get close to the ground, reel out the MSL on a tether until it just touches the ground. Then, cut the cord and let the rocket helicopter fly away for a crash landing, its job done, and payload resting on the surface. A brand new, complex, expensive, single purpose means of landing on Mars providing hundreds of jobs for those living in Pasadena, La Canada and beyond.

But that's not the worst of it. MSL's untested landing system could turn the rover into JPL's own Genesis Project if it craters on the Martian surface. Its little nuclear power plant would almost certainly melt any subsurface water ice, creating a little oasis of its own for any microbes hibernating nearby. Any remaining hitchhikers from our little blue orb also might find that an attractive place to homestead.

After the sojourning successes of the spirited and opportunistic rovers, now deep into their fourth years of operation, JPL had to go bigger and better. And that, dear friends, is neither faster or cheaper. And since the mission is so expensive, only one can be built. And now it must be rushed to make a 2009 launch date. Seems like we've been to this picture show many times before.

Imagine what could have been accomplished instead with several more Spirits and Opportunities running around the red planet. Each new rover could have been configured with new sets of instruments to explore new destinations and make new discoveries. We already know the vehicles are good for at least four years and we could easily upgrade what is failing now (motors and mechanisms) to incrementally improve their lifetime.

And parts are a lot cheaper when they are bought in lots of 10 than they are when bought individually. And so are rockets.

Need more power? Land a separate smaller power pack trailer to be towed by the rovers. Want to demonstrate precision landing? It could just as easily be done by a smaller rover as well.

But, those little rovers are so old school, you say? What's to keep JPL from becoming the stale workplace many of the other centers have become, lacking technology development programs and an advanced spacecraft program pulling on that development? The answer...you can still do all of those things in small packages and fly more frequently. We do not need to put everything in one big basket every time we go to Mars. If we have duplicates, we can afford to take a few loses if something should go awry now and again. Not too mention the fact, that risk of plutonium escaping a bad launch, or a bad landing, is eliminated.

But a once promising future on Mars, like our future in LEO, and on the Moon, has been dashed once again by steroids. This, too, shall become part of the Emperor's legacy. Certainly, there must be a Cook involved in this somewhere as well. That last name just lends itself to technical and fiscal disaster wherever it turns up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

Recipe for Florida Red, White, and Blue Cake

Measure out 2 cups of Bush/McCain brand job losses.
Add 1 cup rhetoric and reduce the job losses over hot flames.
Grease pan with Obama brand oil.
Stir vigorously with Emperor brand food coloring, until true color is obscured.
Kiss bottom of pan and place in oven.
Cook for approximately 30 days.

Remove from oven and claim prize for delivering best recipe in the shape of Florida?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sack of Ilium

The flames are rising now all around the seat of the Empire on E Street. The Emperor, sings along to the music of the night, albeit without costume, while swinging his trusty lyre at invisible white globules. With the walls closing in, he grabs quill in one hand and steadies parchment with the other. With a number of strokes he further prostrates himself in front of the anointed one. Knowing nothing of the concept of loyalty or ethics, he draws a knife across his thumb and signs his plea. Like Judas before him, he betrays his supreme leader and begs for dispensation and a role in the new administration.

How pitiful. How futile.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

Are you sitting down? Comfortable? Take a deep breath. In. Out. If you have any sort of heart trouble, look away now. Do not read any further.

The Emperor, with all of his certificates of demonstrated intelligence, who claims to have saved Hubble from the clutches of his predecessor, who approved a risky shuttle mission putting lives on the line for something more expensive than a replacement telescope ever could be, with all of his claims of manifest destiny to implement his personal ESAS findings, who has found himself surrounded by supporting minions chanting, "yes, yes, yes" for the past three years...that same Emperor will finally be illuminated by the light of day tomorrow, to be standing naked outside the E Street Theater, covering up a decision that will surely lay bare his faulty sense of judgement.

Hubble is broke. But the hardware is not really believed to be broken. Really? That's not what we're being told, is it? How can this be?

If Hubble is not broke, why then would the repair mission be postponed? Why are extraordinary efforts being undertaken to ready a replacement computer by next February? Why will untold millions of dollars be spent to "save the telescope?"

Seriously, you better be sitting down for this.

None of this effort may be necessary. If what we are hearing is true, the only thing sitting between now and an operational telescope is John Grunsfeld's EVA glove. And a reset button on the computer.

The Hubble telescope may just be the victim of an amateur error. New software code was uploaded to the computer on Hubble before the SOS was received on the ground this past weekend. That software tells the telescope how to format data for transmission to the ground. The update was planned to accommodate the new instrumentation planned for installation by the STS-125 crew.

But the software is apparently flawed. It caused the computer to go off-line. The only way to get the computer to accept corrected software is to reset it, much like we do when our PCs display the ignominious blue screen of death. Of course, if you wanted to cover up your mistake, you would claim a new computer is needed to fix the problem. Of course, that always works.

It is the Emperor who allowed this to happen. And it was his team's hasty response to postpone the mission when it is just one astronaut's finger away from rescue. That response now puts the telescope at much higher risk of a real failure by adding months to this month's scheduled launch to get vital hardware on board to extend Hubble's life.

The same team's judgement is being utilized to fly this mission.

The same team is giving us ARES/ORION.

Bewitched

BroomHilda recently cast a spell in an attempt to feather her nest and do an Elizabeth Montgomery impersonation as host of her own reality TV show. Our favorite nose twitcher went to great lengths to illegally promote a sole source handout to PBS and got caught with her hand in the eye of newt jar. Fortunately, our youngsters won't have to be subjected to such a macabre after school show after all, as the legal folks called foul before our picture tubes became filled with such obscenity.

On the other hand, Halloween is right around the corner. Be afaid, be very afraid.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rats!

The furry little creatures are really more intelligent than they are usually given credit for. They can find their way through mazes, they learn to push the right buttons to avoid shocks, and evolution has led them to jump from sinking ships.

Two months ago, Viceroy Parsons walked the maze, pushed the button, and found himself rewarded with a job in Colorado Springs. But with the approaching Hubble mission, the Emperor declined his request to be relieved of duty and promptly threw him back in the cage.

Now, one would think with two months advance notice, that the Emperor would have been thinking about a replacement. You would think that...and you'd be wrong. No, it wasn't until last Friday that the call was made to the Stennis Cabana boy to pack his bags and move to the right coast. Barely a year in the job, in perhaps the least stable position in the empire (or so we would be led to believe...more on that shortly), Viceroy C. starts handing out towels in the shadow of the VAB on October 15. And Stennis is once again left with an acting director who will not ultimately end up in the driver's seat.

And why is Stennis the least stable place to take up a lead role in the Emperor's domain? Well, it has now been through seven directors in eight years. If a new director is named soon, that will be eight in eight. Maybe its time to pick someone who actually likes pork rinds and po-boys?

As we say good-bye to our whiskered friend, we suspect we know why he and the "clothless one" got along so well. But now, the guy who rocked the Katrina trailers at Stennis, who prowled the Florida Coast, and who has more notches on his scratching post than Wilt, will take his game to the mountains. We hope he has learned something from the time in the cage and avoids the rat poison which could be waiting for him there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Empty Wind

Clinical manifestations: slight tremor and twitching of limbs especially if occurring after delivery of pasta. Dizziness, palpitations, sweating, pale face. This condition is characterized by lack of intelligence, and severe design Yin deficiency.

Treatment principle: Nourish Yin, extinguish Wind.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

4th Time's a Charm

Give credit where credit is due. Falcon 1 chocked up its first success today. Of course, 1-3 does not a track record make, but it beats 0-4, and we'll see where things go from there.

One can certainly say that Falcon has flown at least one more time than ARES ever will.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Let The Door Hit Ya...

"Hi, is Dave there?"

"Just one moment, I'll get him for you."

"Hello?"

"Dave, Emperor here. I'm still pissed about the call from Marburger, and I'm tired of hearing about your guys' dirty laundry leaking out of there. That, and we need to make some changes now so I can save myself after the election and say yet another change after the new team just gets going would lengthen the gap...You know, I keep my job, you keep yours. Capiche?"

"OK, what do you want me to do?"

"Call up Olive Garden and call in a favor."

"Can't we just wait until November, give him a tenth chance?"

"No. Time's up. You guys just can't seem to control the minions. I specifically said, 'no RIDS.' What do i get? RIDS. The Chief Engineer of the Universe shouldn't have to say things twice. Takes time away from my golf game."

"Well, if I'm going to do that, I have to call Shelby first. He'll want to know."

"No, just do it. I don't need him anymore either. I got my Soyuz's already."

"Alright. I guess I'll have to take care of it. I assume you're going to offer him the usual hero's send-off and awards? But, can it at least wait until Friday? He's bringing the pasta for the pot-luck luncheon and I'd sure hate to miss out on that."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Firing Line

The only things missing were the blindfolds. There they were, teeth gritting Viceroy Hanley, Mr. Personality D. Cook, teacher's pet Yoder, and our favorite Italian waiter, Mr. Vu-graph, S. Cook in their last opportunity to make their confessions before being sent into obscurity.

(As in the real world, justice is sometimes hard to come by. Putting an honest green guy like Clinton Dorris on the stage with that bunch of criminals only made the contrast more poignant.)

S. Cook showed how al dente that the ESAS gospel really was. With his chart showing the evolution of the ARES-V from his 2005 Scott Hubbard moment ("We have the ANSWER!"), he only proved the onlooker's point that ESAS was undercooked and requirements are something to write after the design is in place. Ready, Fire, Aim!

The takeaway: ORION/ARES-1 is running so late and are so broke that ALTAIR/ARES-V are slipping two years to the right. Sure there will be some crumbs thrown to industry to keep the mumbling down, but none of the real hard work will now happen before 2013, assuming the program survives November's results.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

R.I.P.

There is really no purpose in beating around the bush and trying to sugar coat it. Today, fifty years on, we celebrate successes then at the limits of our imagination. Today, we parade those heroes of a bygone era once more in front of the admiring choir, many deserving of recognition that eluded them back then for the risks they took on our behalf. But that list of heroes is now growing shorter and is not being replenished.

Nor have our imaginations.

Tonight we attended a funeral disguised as a celebration. For some 30-40 years the "old fogey" has been on life support. Provided with resources, but showing no signs of life. It is now time to just let go.

The attendees at the wake, most on leave from the old folks home, told the same ancient stories to the same wrinkled ears that have been handed down through the decades. Background music from the 60's set them scrambling to reset their hearing aids. Just as the agency today is a stiff replica of its former self, Frank Sinatra, Jr. imitated his vastly more talented father singing among the stars.

Young people, who once led the agency to triumph and are desperately needed to reinvigorate it today, were not on the invitation list tonight. The have grown tired of the recurring dinosaur stories and seek more interesting stimulation in their daily lives.

The Emperor, intimidated by the real heroes who spoke before him, claimed that his domain is "doing well" despite lack of whole cloth. Yet he only discussed the more youthful robotic missions and their accomplishments in making that claim. And once again, the capstone of his speech was the description of his woe at having to buy Soyuz's to fill the capability gap of his sole making. It was too bad the "hook in his bosom" wasn't the one dragging him off-stage before further embarrassment.

Perhaps the saddest part of this vigil was that none of the honored risk takers of yore could reach back to the spirit that they possessed in their prime. None could pose the challenge to dispense with yet another celebration looking backwards and to call out the Emperor for lacking the vision to turn his $16B a year gift from the taxpayers into something beyond the uninspiring ancient capsules and rockets we developed 50 years ago.

After paying our respects, the time always comes to bury our dead. We make room on the surface for the young to come into their own and make progress past their forefathers'.

Time to move on. Time to move forward.

NASA 1958-2008.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

8 Ball in the Corner Pocket

Another attempt to run the table is at hand. As the bank accounts run dry, and employees nervously consider where to look for their next job, our friends with the ill-named rocket (after all, real falcons fly pretty well) have put their money down and hope that their cue stick does the job this time.

This past weekend they fired up the Merlin rocket and verified that their quality control is, if nothing else, consistent. This time the faulty component prevented de-tanking for a bit. We are somewhat surprised we didn't wake up Sunday morning to read about someone shooting a hole in the side of the second stage to depressurize it. Maybe someone did try, but found the gun empty from shooting defective Tesla transmissions out of their misery. Such is life in the wild west.

Like those of you who pick the pocket in eight ball, we are going with the unexplained roll oscillation as the source of the next scratch. All boats in the water near Kwaj this weekend, take heed.

Remember kids, salary over stock options next time!

Goodie Bags

To all of you attending the 50th anniversary soire at Udvar-Hazy tomorrow night, no need to bring your own protection from BroomHilda. The goodie bags are sized to fit directly over your head.

See you there! (Or maybe not).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Unsafe at Any Long Duration

The venerable Soyuz has, until recently, been the picture you found in the dictionary when you looked up "reliable." The Emperor, a few Congress folk, the Orlando Sentinel and others want to continue to make it our "ride" to the space station until next year's model is ready to pick up from the show room.

Of course, the Corvair was also a great car until Ralph Nader got to it.

The last two Soyuz re-entries have been close calls. The propulsion module has failed to separate cleanly from the crew capsule and hangs by a "thread" until a burn-through releases its precious cargo to an uncertain orientation, a grueling ballistic trajectory, and fortunately, so far, a landing far from the desired target zone.

The vehicle currently on orbit is likely to suffer the same fate. And so will each and every Soyuz we put American crew on during the gap that stays aloft for more than four to six months. That is until one of those vehicles finds an orientation that shadows the "thread." You can surmise what happens after that.

But, the Soyuz used to fly long duration missions to the space station flawlessly for years. So what changed in the last two flights? Some bad parts out of the same lot?

A unique confluence of circumstances being investigated appears to be at fault. The space station has grown in size considerably since those first early long duration flights that the Soyuz so flawlessly serviced. It is a bit larger now with all the new modules the Emperor has sent aloft for our friends. As such it makes quite a target for training gangly military officers on ground based radars around the world. It has also become quite a source of electromagnetic energy itself, with all the radios and such from all the international partners blasting their messages back to the homelands. And it collects plasma from the space environment.

Did you hear the recent news about cell phones in your pocket causing your little reproductive agents to slow down or become ineffective? The same thing may be at work when plasma and/or the cacophony of EMI on the space station envelops the Soyuz separation pyros and causes them to become inert.

Soyuz is unsafe and we are subjecting our astronauts to an unnecessary risk by putting them in vehicles that have been on orbit for more than a couple of weeks.

So, today's prize question goes out to those who are asking for the keys to this borrowed ride. The same guy who promised a spaceship in 2011, who is now telling you he'll have it ready to pick up in 2015, is the same guy who wants to continue to buy seats on the Soyuz...or fly the space shuttle another couple of years instead.

Who in their right mind would trust this used car salesman?

Friday, September 19, 2008

As the World Turns

Old Ron Dittemore just can't seem to get a break. Now USA is stopping work on ARES-1 and ARES-1X when their letter contract expires. You just know they will be extracting blood to get a real contract signed before they punch a time card again. The new chief at ATK, Mr. Marchetto, knows how to build motors and cameras but probably didn't know what he was getting himself into when he left Orbital. Now he finds himself directly in the critical path between the Emperor and his ill-fated rocket-that-will-never-be-built.

It will be an interesting three+ more months indeed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera

So the former ATV integration manager has become the lunar lander program manager. A zero impact job overseeing the real European program managers with real hardware development experience putting a real vehicle together to fly to the real space station. Add to that resume the job of Human Research program manager. And let's not forget the three kids.

Lipstick? Check. Diversity? Check. Hardware Development (capital D) experience? Ooops.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Perspectives on Leadership

"One chance is all you need." - Jesse Owens

"You're never beaten until you admit it." - George S. Patton

"Little minds attain and are subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them." - Washington Irving

"Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny." - Frank Mckinney Hubbard

"NASA's Star is Fading." - The Emperor

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Passing with a Bad Report Card

"It's a big day," said the Emperor's puppet, Viceroy Cooke. "We poked and prodded ourselves pretty good today," said our favorite soon to be Italian waiter S. Cook. We have nothing to say and don't want to think too long about that comment.

But at the end of the day they all patted themselves on the back and declared victory for the ARES-1 PDR.

Paaleazzzzz.

Despite the following not so minor issues, everything is hunky dory in the la-la land the minions live in:

• Design challenges remain in areas of environments and staging events.
• Processes for control of analysis and models, and IRD’s/ICD’s need to be clearly
established and practiced.
• Maturation of integrated test planning and resources required.
• Identification of technical risks and formulation of approved mitigation plans.
• Process and tools to enhance incorporation of operability into the design activities.

A lot of yellow/reds there, eh, fellas? Even school kids don't get passed along to the next grade with that many F's on their report cards.

But rather than holding their stillborn child back, they press on with the impending disaster. Thank goodness they will all be flushed, and ARES-1 right along with them, shortly after the elections. Like so many interns leaving their jobs in DC at the end of summer, we look forward to seeing the halls on E Street empty out in November.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Travel Budget Jihad?

Those of you who spent your hard earned company dollars to travel to San Diego this week for Space 2008 to get some face time with the Emperor (remember to keep your gaze above his neck!), well, you just wasted a lot of money. He has cancelled his trip.

Glad to see OMB is watching those travel budgets more closely now.

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Most people run from the eye of the storm. The minions are like that, too. Take Squire Hardcastle, for instance. He sees Hurricane (M)Ike, the 'm' is silent, coming and packed his bags for KSC. Having made his mess on the SE&I carpet, he's now sticking his tail between his legs and heading away from the predicted path of destruction.

Squiress Hansen also sees her overweight, overwraught lunar lander headed for the crater and accepts the opportunity to try and clean up Hardcastle's poo. If she succeeds, she dodged the lander program manager's bullet that was inevitably headed her way. If she fails, well it was too far gone to begin with.

Her candidate replacement ran home to board up the windows, hoping to avoid the inevitable storm damage. We suspect this is still a disaster coming in the not too distant future. Thank goodness hurricane season is over in November.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

"If he's crazy, what does that make you?"

In the opening scenes way back in 2005, the proud NASA stood behind the Emperor. Even as he assumed the self-appointed title of "Chief Engineer of the Universe," the minions, locked in a tight orbit for so many years, yearned for a way out to the stars. Despite mandating solutions, instead of following the trade studies where they might have led, ARES and ORION was born. The minions stood firm behind their leader much like Patty Hearst stood firm with her captors so many years ago. They wanted to believe.

Well, those days are gone. Even the minions have come to recognize that the Emperor is really playing R.P. McMurphy now. Once again he is in jail for rape, raping the country of its space faring aspirations. Rather than spend time in his cell on E Street, he is now trying to convince us that he is crazy enough to require additional time to finish his mission. His different point of view has improved some of the inmates' conditions after all. The minions are developing a competent capability, but they are awakening to find that they have been sleepwalking. They also no longer taking the meds and can see with clear vision again.

Around the halls at JSC, MSFC, and KSC you hear the words "crazy," "insane," and "scary" fairly frequently these days.

And this week a new word was mentioned: "jihad." And it was used to reference the only sane people in the house. Those in OMB and the administration that have wisely held the line on retiring the throw the dice when you step onboard, 1-in-8, shuttle in 2010 before it kills any other astronauts. It was said by the same man who five years ago would have immediately stopped flying the shuttle and who would have ditched the ISS in the Pacific. The same guy who gave us Bush 41's Space Exploration Initiative in 1989 that was DOA within a matter of months shortly thereafter. The same guy who got a blue voter registration card recently (no, it was not a Men's Warehouse frequent buyer card).

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

When he gets the call from Mr. Marburger to quench it, he might also take the time to explain the SARJ contractor scandal (did you really test it on the ground properly?) and how the gap-filling COTS contractor had half their fail grade changed to pass to avoid bad publicity (the vehicle passed, the program didn't, right Antonio?).

It is now time for this White House to pull the plug. Let Shana take the reigns until the next team picks a leader with ethics, gumption, intelligence, self-awareness, and a sense of pride. And maybe only three degrees.

And maybe Nurse Ratched, played by BroomHilda, can finally retire to her farm with a nice bottle of hooch.

Roll credits.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Strike Two

Being a member of the Senior Executive Service has its privileges. While you can be exiled out of your favorite job, its hard to find anyone who has ever been fired from those cushy government benefits and retirement plans.

Viceroy Wayne Hale is trying to be one of the few and proud.

The number one shuttle hugger has challenged the concept of flying the white elephant past the mandated 2010 date. Ironically, he was removed from his last job for trying to do that very thing. Now, in a self-destructive trend, he is openly challenging (on his blog, imagine that) the Emperor's move to "study" what it would take to send more launches off pad 34.

The first instance, noted here previously, might have been a matter of really bad timing, coming as it did just in front of the announcement of the Emperor's study. The second in your face instance can only be interpreted in one way. But, the third instance can only be described as a definite attempt at self-immolation. In the JSC senior staff meeting this week, the Viceroy openly and vigorously challenged the intelligence of maintaining the proud bird into the next decade.

We suggest the Viceroy may want to tone it down a bit, least he find himself collecting those SES benefits at a TAL abort site. November isn't that far away. As such, we will now update an old saying, "There is nothing worse than a shuttle hugger scorned."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whither Michoud?

The President, in no uncertain terms, set 2010 in stone. However, since that day in January 2004, its finality has been challenged.

Viceroy Hale tried to keep it afloat and it cost him his job. Sam Ting's self-interest continues to pressure several in Congress, and one presidential candidate, to suggest rejuvenation. The Russians and their tanks did their best to provide the rationale for us to do the same. Even the Emperor turned away from the direction he had followed most of his life to breath new life into it.

Now, come Monday morning, Mother Nature will have her say.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Horsin' Around

Former Viceroy Hale, self-admitted shuttle hugger, who lost his job over trying to keep the program's continuation options open, now says "that horse has left the barn."

Meanwhile, the Emperor is changing horses in the middle of the stream. Or maybe we should say jumping on a donkey (and, no, we are not talking about BroomHilda this time) in a desparate effort to hold onto his job. Having flip-flopped on STS and ISS now as much as his new candidate has on supporting the space program, he's looking to fill the gap with our un-trusty winged stallion.

And now you, too, know what you get when you put the former Viceroy's horse with the Emperor's donkey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Did We Mention, Not Soon?

The ORION PDR slipped to April-June next year this morning, as Viceroy Guyer threw in the towel, conceding that the design has not matured yet to the desired point. BroomHilda still wants to cook more of her witches' brew and maybe change the interior colors and wallpaper one more time.

GFE is also years behind the need dates. Chutes, LIDS, etc are not being resourced to meet qualification needs.

You know where this is headed. The head rolling is just around the corner.

The beat goes on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Soon, Not Simple, Not Safe

What hath the Emperor wrought?

January 14, 2004 arrived with so much promise. For 23 years, our space program had been going in circles just outside our atmosphere. The President spoke with purpose, to give purpose again to our nation's space program. A conservative time table nonetheless challenged the talented group to fly out of the circle to more distant destinations.

The first steps would be back to familiar territory. A reconnaissance orbiter at the moon by 2008. Competing prototypes of the crew exploration vehicle would have flown this year demonstrably pointing the way. An unmanned lander scouting for resources would embark on its journey shortly thereafter. A means of transporting humans to and fro with a large step up in reliability and safety was mandated for 2014. Ten years seemed more than sufficient to recreate a capability we had almost 50 years prior.

The mantra. Soon, Simple, Safe.

Now that is all but a memory.

Now we are told that 10 years to design, develop, test, and fly the CEV, ostensibly drawing on 50 years of heritage, is not long enough. The prototypes were thrown overboard long ago. As if to preface the coming storm, the lunar orbiter grew in size and complexity and has been delayed right out of 2008. Plans for the robotic lander were discarded as resources became scarce chasing other problems. Despite ditching the precursors, the reinvigoration of exploration is still somewhere over the rainbow.

Not Soon.

The launch vehicle, touted as a "no moving parts" replacement for the space shuttle, now resembles something more like a mummy with bling, wrapped in band aids bought with fool's gold. Tens of steering rockets keep it pointed in the right direction as it lifts off its pad. Springs, masses, dampers, batteries, and museum pieces for computers will, we are told, make it possible for our astronauts to endure the rigors of riding a wild bull. And this ride has to go for more than eight seconds.

Not Simple.

The capsule resembles its Apollo brethern in shape only. Apollo was statically stable on re-entry. Only the batteries unleashing the top hat and parachutes needed to work to get the crew safely to the ground. The "improved" vehicle is unstable, suffering from an immature and misguided set of requirements, which places trust in the electrons, valves, switches, and software required to fire thrusters to keep the capsule upright as it enters the atmosphere.

Not Safe.

We have lost the sense of urgency. We have lost our ability to design. We will lose crews if this system makes it to the pad. That only leaves us with Hope.

Hope is not a strategy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Helping Hands

Who would have thought just a couple of weeks ago, that we'd now be talking about a new "gap?" Ahhhh, you think we are just being funny and pointing to the space race with the Chinese to put footprints on the moon, don't you?

You would, of course, be wrong.

No, the new space race is to see who can get a new rocket with a man on top into orbit first. No, we're not talking about COTS either. Nope. The next space race appears to be setting up between ARES/ORION and .... the Iranian Safir.

Iran has announced that the goal of its nascent space program will be to put a man in space within 10 years. And we here at RandS have a suggestion on how to "help" them.

We propose that we trade their nuclear aspirations for some help from our rocket scientists. Make the planet a better place to live. Let's give The Emperor, Steve C, Jeff H, Doc H, and BroomHilda to the Iranians in a gesture of peace. All that and a bag of chips.

If that doesn't set back their program 10 more years, nothing will.

(p.s. We know the Iranians don't usually think of women as technically adept. So giving them BroomHilda shouldn't be cause for alarm, and she already knows how to wear a bag on her head anyway.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tumblin' Dice

Always in a hurry, the Emperor never stops to worry,
Don't you see the time flashin' by.

Honey, got no money,
We're all sixes and sevens and nines.

Oh, my, my, my, we're rocking statically unstable,
Don't think that we'll be able,
To keep our ride upright to the ground.

But baby, baby, there's fever in the funk house now,
Got to fire RCS all the way to the ground,
Don't want to let my precious cargo down.

You got to roll me and call me the tumblin dice, (call me the tumblin')
Got to roll me, got to fire those jets, got to roll me
Call me the tumblin' dice.

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1425923369/bctid1741212557

Convergence

The Petri dish is one of those simple little inventions in which amazing things take place. Shallow glass in the shape of a dish and filled with growth media. Add a dab of bacteria and the colony will grow if the food is to its liking. Now put two different types of biological specimens in the dish and sometimes convergent evolution causes the two organisms, not closely related at the start, to independently acquire similar characteristics while evolving in separate and varying ecosystems.

Such has happened in the Petri dish that is the Space Coast in Florida. The candidates vying for votes in this critical state have now converged to effectively the same plan for its future. What started, for an instant, to look like an issue that might roll forward into the campaigns has now been resolved.

And so Sam Ting wins his ignominious battle and will finally see his payload fail on orbit. That cracks open the door to flying the space shuttle past 2010. Like Pringles, we won't be able to have just one, but thanks to the Russians, we will have another, and then another, and then...

ARES-1 will get to go forward for another year until it shakes itself out of our future for good on its first flight. Our tried and not always true back-up will be ready on the pad, the "gap" will be closed, and a new one will be formed by the Chinese soon thereafter.

With twice a year shuttle flights, COTS will become a ill-conceived reminder to all who ever attempt to bring commercial fruits to the government. The Space 2.0 crowd will start to have their reunion parties and reminisce like the Space 1.0 crowd did with the Emperor in Alamogordo last week ("We share scar tissue.").

The Emperor will live on with his six degrees and promises to protect the aging assets. Like Skywalker, his intentions found the dark side and set the wheels in motion. He mortgaged our spacefaring dreams and all that remains are the aging hulks from the 70s, flying with band-aids, aiming for the 2020s.

Yes, the campaigns have converged, and our futures may now be foretold.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

COTS? Maybe Not?

Right on the heels of the Falcon 1 splash, comes a major milestone for the pinch hitters, and potential holders of the COTS flame, Orbital.

Anyone care to bet how that came out?

You guessed it! They didn't pass the milestone.

Maybe its time to paint the horses red, white, and blue again for good luck?

Out on the left coast, our other friends are getting ready to splash another one. QA is all but in hiding. Pinhole hydraulic leaks are patched with silicon instead of getting a more productive repair. Can't make any money sitting on the ground. Get the thing in the air!

Anyone care to bet on that little roll motion that set up during the last launch will eat the next launch's lunch?

The Russians still haven't figured out what's going wrong with their separation bolts either. As they dance through Georgia, we can see that they may be distracted from worrying about such mundane things.

Hard to believe that the most reliable way of getting to the space station is something called a space shuttle. All the folks scrambling to grab an orbiter for their museums when the system is retired probably might want to get some rest. Instead, they may want to start looking around for the couple of $B it's going to take to refurb them, not as museum pieces, but for extended flight well into the next decade.

Covering Tracks (con't)

Back on June 14 we told you how "new blood" seemed to be the watch words for winning new contracts from the Emperor. And on July 10, we told you how the minions were covering tracks in their procurement activities, hiding source selection material for source board selections being overturned on E Street.

Now it appears one of those selections is getting ready to draw blood. To see how, solve this equation:

GAO + spacesuits = Time to get the FOIAs out.

Too bad the other contract losers of late didn't protest their selections as well. We might have had some more experienced contractors working on getting us back to the moon.

ARES-1? Maybe Not?

We’ve all heard the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Unfortunately, the minions have been directed to do a lot of things they don’t have a grasp on. And then they are told how smart they are by people that don’t know any better. Experienced mentors are hard to find. Just ask Steve Cook. Maybe not?

Take the issue of controllability of Doc’s (remember him? must be doing time somewhere by now?) spaghetti string? Five segments of looseness, being pushed from the bottom, and making organ tones around just above 10 Hz as it lurches upward. You’d think someone designing rockets would have been familiar with the problem. Maybe someone did but thought it would be a fun problem to solve. Maybe not?

So our soon, simple, safe rocket, now has more moving parts than an Atlas 5. We dare you to run the reliability numbers on the two. That SRB now looks about as stock as the Cheerios car at Richmond looks like a real Dodge. Maybe not?

So out come the pencils and the computers and the power point charts. Numbers churn. S squareds and omega squareds are scribbled down. Simple control problem spews out on the paper. Given enough bandwidth and a bunch of little rockets up top, and some spring, mass, dampers down below, we can get the Emperor’s limp rod in the air. Maybe not?

“Not so fast!” yells Mr. Nyquist. “Looks good on paper,” he says, “but don’t forget about transforming those s’s into z’s!” Ahhh, yes, the real-world implementation of a control problem . Pick a computer and a bus to move sensor data and take controlling actions back and forth to those vibration dampers. Moving a continuous reality to the chunked-up digital world should be easy these days. Maybe not?

Time for another number: 1553.

Mr. Nyquist is about half-satisfied. He’s sending the spaghetti into the sauce.

And here’s another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul. Maybe not?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

High Stakes Tit for Tat

Life often follows art, or so it often seems.

In the movie 2010, tensions mount between the US and the Soviets (yes, they are still around in the future as seen from 1984 when the movie was produced), over Central American issues. As a result, the crews from a joint Russian-American space mission are forced to go to their respective corners (spacecraft) until it is clear that both are dependent on each others' survival and that they need to work together to get home.

Funny how a relic from that era named Vladimir is creating similar tensions today, albeit in a different part of the world, and raising similar issues for those flying far over our heads.

While the blogs debate the ultimate impact of the Emperor's failure to protect our interests in this matter by creating a gap in our ability to autonomously access the ISS, the minions are finding themselves squarely on the front line, quietly playing a role with international policy overtones. For with every pass over the troubled region, the Russian crew members are vigorously capturing reconnaissance data with hand-held cameras from their advantaged post on ISS.

The problem, for our partner adversaries, is that the only channel available for downlinking those jpegs comes from you know who. Consequently, the minions have been practicing bandwidth diplomacy, filtering the downlinks over the last couple of days, inhibiting the transmission of any bird's-eye view of the battlespace to their intended recipients, much to the annoyance of our station-mates.

So when the shoe gets on the other foot, it will be hard to complain when we, too, are ignored for putting the thumb out for a ride to and from the outpost in the sky. The precedent we are setting today will come back and bite us in 2010. And we only have the Emperor to thank for being in this very precarious position.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

Today ends the dog days of summer, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Many families, including the media's, use this time to work in last minute vacations before school starts. The halls of Congress are dark. True American heroes distract us with reports of gold in the Far East. And somewhere in an alley off E Street a fiddle is beginning to play a mournful tune.

Out front, behind a cut out cardboard box, two puppets appear. In a confusing celebration of double speak, Charlie McCarthy (played by Viceroy Cooke) and Lamb Chop (played by Viceroy Hanley) start their performance. Anita Sinclair once wrote, "Through puppetry we accept the outrageous, the absurd or even the impossible, and will permit puppets to say and do things no human could. We allow a puppet to talk to us when no one else can get us to speak. We allow a puppet to smile at us even when we have not been introduced. We also allow a puppet to touch us when a person would lose an arm for the same offence."

And so the show begins. Charlie and Lamb Chop tell the assembled few of their trials and tribulations. For them, clocks only run backwards, adding hours, minutes, and seconds to already long days, months, and years. Calendars grow thicker, pages seemingly added without reprieve by Father Time. Leaves whither and fall, yet spring never reappears.

Poor Lamb Chop also draws attention to her disabilities. Being stuck in a sock handicaps the soul, preventing it from sensing life's offerings to the fullest extent. Without fingers to click a mouse, or pick up a telephone, it is easy to lose track of the world around her.

And so Lamb Chop resorts to irony for her biggest laugh. The audience watching the puppet suspend belief, if just for an instant. They ignore the Emperor's own hand moving inside the sock as she announces that she is "not privy" to the Emperor's very public testimonies. Here we have a sock, just asking to be thrown in the dirty clothes bin. Very funny stuff. Guffaws all around.

Such are the dog days of summer.