Monday, March 31, 2008

Childhood Lost

It's a nice spring day in Thousand Oaks, CA. Sounds of Moon River waft out of Iris's kitchen. Many times, Mom had tried to convince young Scott to use the training wheels, but there he was scraping his knees after falling off his bike once again.

Too bad he didn't pay heed to Mom's advice then. Of course, the only tears shed at the time were his own and he picked himself up and walked the bike back home. But now, some 45 years later, the taxpayers are paying the price for Scott's failure to accept sound advice yet again.

Unlike Scott, ARES 1 will not be able to lift itself off the ground. The latest attempts to dampen its inherent oscillatory modes are falling far short of the goal. Additional weight is required just to strengthen the basic structure of the rocket to withstand the rigors of the rocking and rolling being generated by the solid rocket motor. That weight is being added even before the dampers are added to keep the crew within the Orion capsule (itself drastically overweight) from suffering unrecoverable damage to their chest cavities and bladders caused by the rocket's natural frequencies aligning with those of the vital organs.

More and more engineers are coming to realize that ARES 1 has become unviable as the crew launch system. And their morale has more scabs than young Scott's knees.

You will soon start to see the results of this calamity become more evident as apparently disconnected scapegoats are constructed to cover for ARES/Orion misfortunes. Late external tanks for the shuttle will delay the Hubble repair mission deep into the fall. Until that mission is completed, and the need for a back-up rescue launch is put to bed, the launch facilities at KSC can not be modified to accommodate ARES test flights. An unnecessary swap to a new launch abort system, the ill-contrived MLAS, will cause a one-year redesign cycle to collect wind tunnel data and to buy time for ARES 1. Already in hand for ALAS, this data needs to be regenerated to determine the loads on the integrated launch vehicle.

The alternatives are already being dusted off. ARES 4 is making the rounds again. An ET, some RS-68s, and two four segment solids could be configured to carry the too heavy Orion. But the brand new engine that is the J2x is just starting to experience the inevitable set of development problems, and ARES 5 analysis indicates it is too small to carry the minimal Lunar Lander.

Such is the return on investment for 30 days of pony-tailed engineering.

ESAS could have used another 180 days or so of cooking, and a lot less of the Chief Engineer of the Universe's heavy hand. Remember Space Station Freedom? Remember the last redesign to make it workable. The back-room redesign of Orion is at now hand. The Queen's galley and restroom needs to be removed and the crew must be able to swim. Time for the EELV contractor's to play their hands with the man-rating plans they've kept in their back pockets for this very day. Its time to stop the waste and expose this fraud.

It's time for the Emperor to be handed his coat and hat.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tick Tock

The little hand is on the twelve, the big hand is nearby.

The third is sweeping up quickly.Indeed, The Time is close at hand.

The Queen is packing.

Next stop, permanent duty station, Moron Air Base, Spain.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Burning Down the House

It seems the Emperor has a namesake after all, and it is Nero.

"Being a friend of Mike,
Is a burning thing.
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire,
We fell into a burning ring of fire.
Alan Stern went down, down, down,
And the flames went higher.
In comes old Ed Weiler.
Out goes John Mather,
And the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns.
Its a ring of fire.
Its a ring of fire."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't Show-Me

The Emperor's Has-been Society (a.k.a. NASA's 50th anniversary) Chair, Shana Dale, waltzed into Missouri this week to tell the taxpayers how much NASA should mean to them. Maintaining its official state animal as the Missouri mule, it was only fitting that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told Missourians how much more competitive their economy is and how much better their quality of life is because of the Emperor and his programs.

"I am honored to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA," said Kinder. "Missouri has played a fundamental role in the continued efforts of space exploration. Fifty years ago, the Mercury space capsules were developed and built here in St. Louis, helping put the first American into space."

Indeed, 50 years ago Missouri was on the forefront of the space program. McDonnell Aircraft Co. was employing thousands in the St. Louis area, drawing on talent from universities on both sides of the Mississippi. And the government paid $5.5M (in then year dollars!) each for 20 copies of the Mercury capsule. Later, twelve Gemini capsules at $13M each (then year dollars again!) were also produced by McDonnell.

You could almost imagine a backdrop of patriotic music, as Kinder continued in his display of appreciation. "Today, NASA invests over $12 million in contracts here in the Show-Me State thanks to innovative product development and research by Missouri businesses and universities. "

$12 million! Cue sound effect of needle scratching across the album. Missouri receives far less today from NASA in a year than a single Gemini capsule built there brought in back in the day.

To put that in perspective, $12 million is what Wal Mart contracted for in improvements last week for its St. Peter, Missouri store.

Last week, NASA's planetary science director Jim Green ordered a $12 million cut to the Mars rovers, threatening to kill Spirit as a result. Green rescinded the cut on Tuesday. Now NASA will have to look elsewhere to find $12 million in savings. Maybe Missouri can kick in their share to save the rover?

At this point we're not sure who to pin the tail on here. The politicians of Missouri for letting the space program business base get away, Lt. Gov. Kinder for bringing attention to it, or Shana Dale for wasting the taxpayers money to take a trip to the Show-Me state to brag about it. So while Wal Mart's minimum wage employees get a grocery sales addition and a reconstructed parking lot with a new garden center, NASA invests a whole $12M today in the remnants of the former hotbed of space vehicle design and development.

We think its time that we take a page from the Russians who are again contemplating the burial of Lenin. Dead things just shouldn't be on display.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blue Mars

NASA officials have directed the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program to cut $4 million dollars from its approximately $20 million dollar budget this year, and principal investigator Steve Squyres tells CNN that will likely mean science operations will have to be suspended for Spirit. The rover would be put in hibernation mode, and if all goes well it could be reactivated in the future in the event funding is restored.

Too bad we can't do that with the Emperor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Half Empty Cup

The Emperor called attention to it in his NASA Update segment the other day, as if to point out that the minions are mindless and unable of comprehending his ministrations. The numbers are telling. Let's have a look at the 2007 NASA Culture Survey results....drum roll please!

Across all of the centers, 95% or more of the minions felt that communications was very important to do their jobs. Yet when asked if the Emperor was providing useful answers in his "Ask the Administrator" mechanism, fewer than 35% (and more often in the low 20s) responded affirmatively. So much for getting the message straight from the horse's mouth.

When asked about relying on honesty in management, the average score across the centers hovered on 50%. Put another way, almost half of the civil servants in NASA do not believe their own management. More than 50% feared reprisals if they raised a dissenting opinion. The Theater on E Street registered a particularly low score for that item as did the current ESMD AA's former center. Imagine that? Just about the same for trying to bring innovation into the work place. Just about the same for management making timely/clear cut decisions. When asked about how smoothly administrative processes were operating last year, the numbers were mostly in the 30s and 40s. Not very smooth at all.

Yet the good minions still believe they can do good things if given the opportunity. Too bad the Chief Engineer of the Universe doesn't trust his own people, nor they him. Imagine what might have been possible starting three years ago if old school and ego had not gotten in the way of imagination and selflessness.

You can almost hear the Emperor's response to all of this "culture nonsense." "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A che ora finisce lo spettacolo?

Might these be words Steve Cook is familar with?

If not, he will be soon.

Alms for the Poor

With the curtain about to come down on the theater on E Street, some say a ghost can be seen near its entrance when the lighting is just right. Some say its the ghost of a former actor they called John K. He stands there, his legs bound in shackles, sunglasses covering his sunken eyes, and he's holding a tin cup seeking donations from passers by to help get him out of the poor house of eternity.

Coincidentally, the ORION contractors are starting to walk around their tin cup as well. Having left pieces and parts required to actually design, build, and test the Emperor's folly out of their original proposal, the Emperor's minions are beginning to understand the bait and switch they fell for when they picked their current partner.

We've all been there, to that new car lot, with our dream machine displaying an inexpensive MSRP. Then when it comes time to drive away, you notice that the car lacks carpets and a radio. In anger, you charge the dealer, whose only response is, "Oh, you wanted mud flaps with that, too? Well, that will cost ya!"

Indeed, the contractors are today explaining to the minions that the facilities, tools, and original software code they "suggested" would be used in their proposal is inadequate for the job that the minions now say they want accomplished. Woefully inadequate, in fact. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the minions have caved and have asked for the "new price tag" to get the machine they thought they had already paid for. They've already figured out that they could have bought that bright shiny new capsule down the street with everything on it for less than they are paying for it now. Buyers remorse. And with every dollar the ghost of John K. collects, the other Vision drifts further and further away.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Trailer Park = Storm Magnet

Not so long ago, we commented on the difficulties encountered with the start up of the Columbus module. Commands that weren't being listened to, telemetry that toggled, stuff that should have been sorted out on the ground before launch if the current ISS configuration was well understood. We also pointed out the risk that was building as a result of this situation.

Now a friendly multi-handed robot, Dextre, has been delivered to the space station and he won't wake up. Once again software interfaces seem to be at fault. Why, you ask, should it be so hard to test on the ground before sending a $210M piece of equipment to a $56B outpost? Why indeed?

The answer, of course, is that when you skimp on testing, fail to build even a cheap interface simulator with which to test, and fail to accurately track the configuration of software on the station, you get a limp Dextre. Next up, Kibo.

Dark clouds are forming and the sky is starting to turn green. We fear for our trailer park in the sky.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Strutting About

It usually brings out thousands of screaming fans. The drumbeat starts, the bass fills in, and then it appears...The Strut. Mick Jagger walks on stage and all is well for the fans of our aging icon.

Unfortunately, that's not the case with ARES. MSFC and contractor engineers are looking at all sorts of band aids for the vibration problem that ARES is most prone to. The leading candidate this week is a "D" strut system between the first and second stage to reduce the vibration that will literally shake the crew to pieces. The Emperor is putting all of his chips on the table betting on the strut. But the contractors are forlorn. They know the strut has issues...and they know ARES will go away with the Emperor in short order. Its hard to work on something you know is headed for the trash heap of history.

Orion is also having problems with its thermal protection systems. The original material contemplated for the exterior of the capsule is not performing as desired. The answer: keep a piece of the Shuttle tile infrastructure and experts as a contingency.

The minions are also finding out how Orion probably should have been named Aquarius. Water landings are in its future to get rid of the weight associated with landing on land. The problem is that there isn't sufficient structural integrity for re-conditioning and reuse of the external capsule structure with all of the other weight reductions that have been accepted. Life cycle costs will be someone else's problem, as the plan now is to trash the vehicle structure and attempt re-use of its contents if at all possible.

We hope Mick Jagger will continue his Strut for years to come...but we think the curtain is about to come down on the Emperor and his poor excuse for a show. Watch for 3500 layoffs in the near future as the gap developing in his entertainment venue is realized.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Still Asking The Wrong Questions

The Washington Post is running another story about outsourcing overseas. A cool $2.6 billion will be headed to our dear Russian friends, the same folks opposing our policies for Iraq and Iran, for transportation to the space station between fiscal 2009 and 2013. The Emperor calls the situation his "greatest regret and greatest concern." For most of the five-year gap, he said, "we will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is terrible place for the United States to be. I'm worried, and many others are worried."

He should be concerned. He put us in that position. Single handedly. The gap continues to be blamed on lack of resources and not on the real root cause. One clear indication is that the wrong questions continue to be asked by Congress as well. Sen. Nelson is one of the big offenders. For instance, "How much more budget do you need?" No wonder Florida's delegates aren't being counted!

In reality, we should be asking, "What can you do for what you have?" Asking that one simple question would force the Emperor and his minions to re-visit the ill-conceived Constellation architecture and extract the cost effective and timely solution that was identified long ago. Favor frequency over scale, use existing, FLYING now, EELVs for crew and cargo launch, downsize the CEV to fit.

And get in the air well before 2014. It can be done. You only have to go to Las Vegas to see that plan coming together. Mr. Emperor, Congressfolk, google 'Bigelow Aerospace' if you want to see how to close the gap.

And above all else, live within our means.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No Man is An Island

SpaceX has delayed by nine months the first launch of a Falcon 9 rocket under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Service program. "SpaceX has notified NASA of a nine-month delay," NASA spokesperson Beth Dickey said.

Let us recall that the Emperor has created a growing gap in accessing Low Earth Orbit by prescribing steroids instead of exercising existing assets, is determined to use his shovel to throw dirt on the grave of our last indigenous means of getting to the space station, has not been been allowed yet to send several billion dollars overseas to the Russians to provide a taxi service for our astronauts, and has paid lip service, but little in the way of real resources, to developing a truly commercial crew and cargo service.

And, now, behind all the PR, SpaceX's plans are also starting to unravel.

The bell tolls for thee, Emperor.

Hey, Bartender!

"Another round of mimosas! On the house!"

Perhaps Steve Cook was practicing his soon to be new job as bartender and that is why Dave King is a little loopy in Space News this week?

Or perhaps, Dave was in a chilly room, needed some liquid courage, and decided to step in front of the naked Emperor at the STA breakfast last week, urging "aerospace contractors to get on with the program and stop second guessing the decision to use space shuttle hardware."

The reason for the second guessing should be well-known to a rocket guy like King though. "Where there's smoke, there's fire," goes the old saying. But, having dug the hole, King also decided to go ahead and step into it. "If we change the approach in architecture of Constellation...we simply won't ever get off the ground," King said. So instead of using either the Atlas V or Delta IV rockets, both of which are flying and building statistics, one of which is being man-rated commercially, King claims ARES involves less development risk (ahhhh, we think Atlas and Delta are already developed, Dave), would be about a fifth cheaper (ahhhh, buy Atlas and Delta in quantity and see what happens to the price, Dave), and twice as safe for the astronauts on board (ahhhh, paper is always safer than the real thing, Dave, you know that).

No, the reason for the dissension is not coming from the contractors who lost as the Emperor theorized and King echoed. The reason for the debate is that ARES is no longer heritage hardware being employed as designed and King's own folks can't see how to make it work. From the casings, to the fuel mix, to the addition of segments, to the control systems, ARES is brand new from the inside out. The upcoming ARES 1-x test flight is a hoax designed to generate momentum, not to test as-designed hardware. King's premonition scare tactics ("If we continue to argue over how to accomplish this mission, we run the risk of losing the opportunity to do the work.") will come to pass, not because of the arguments, but because no one stopped long enough to have the arguments in the first place.

Pour us another round, Bartender. It's going to be a long night.