Saturday, January 26, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Now please sign your "Relationship Agreements."
That's how the minions are trying to get along these days. No kidding. So, grab a cup of joe, sit back, and let us tell you a story that could only be told about our favorite dysfunctional government agency.
Back when the Emperor ascended to the throne, his "build CEV from the inside out" approach resulted first in the creation of the CEV Project Office. Then Project Manager Skip Hatfield and his folks didn't waste any time moving out. They defined requirements, processes, and tools to be employed in the course of their work. In fact, they sprinted far ahead of the so-called "Level 2" or Constellation Program folks who were just finding their seats in building 1 at JSC.
After Queen Marsha convinced the Emperor to appoint Viceroy Hanley to take command of the Constellation bridge, he set about to take back control of the individual project offices (ORION, ARES, etc.). Soon his blooming organization found resistance in trying to guide the very projects they were/are responsible for. Its hard to turn a job over to someone less competent than yourself, and the project folks were by now so far behind in their ill-conceived schedules that they had no time to train their superiors anyway.
Level 2 calls went unanswered. Meeting notices were ignored. Name calling ensued. Tensions flared. What to do? What to do?
Enter Viceroy Hanley's "Program Excellence Team (PET)." The PET was constituted by the level 2 and 3 deputy managers to deal with Constellation's "social issues." Their charter was to look at the program/project organization chart and define how the various boxes on the chart should communicate with each other. Six hundred and forty, that's right, 640, rules of engagement were created to provide a framework for establishing cordial arrangements between the minions. These rules are now being turned into something akin to prenuptial agreements between the involved parties. The "Relationship Agreements" codify the the expected social behaviors with which civil servants will work together.
Our society is partially responsible for this situation. Just ask any veteran of the early space program. It was expected, in fact, respectable, for the minions to argue technical issues at length. The work was important, the projects were the right ones, and the country depended on them. Those discussions were often heated, but always focused on the technical issues. No one got carted off by HR for a reprimand for making a point in the strongest terms, or dismissed for some innocent name calling in the heat of the battle. Everyone knew the limits and they were established by the leaders, by example. The Krafts, Kranzs, Fagets, and Von Brauns set the tone. At the end of the day, the hotheads cooled off with six or five beers at the Outpost. And they showed up the next day to do it again. And again. Until finally, we planted the stars and strips on the moon.
Those days are long gone.
Today, the Emperor walks around his 9th floor throne room looking for someone to talk to. When they see him coming they scatter. His Viceroys hand out out teddy bears. The minions closest to the technical work are demoralized by the knowledge that the very things they are working on will never fly. They are pressured from above to extract maximum effort and hours out of their contractors working no-win scenarios. And sometimes they go over the line and press too hard. Eventually someone snaps. Witness the murder-suicide at JSC last year.
Despite a reasonable approach to dealing with the aftermath of the incident, its not getting any better. Ask JSC Center Director Mike Coats how many OTHER incidents involving firearms being pointed in the heat of an argument have occurred SINCE the incident in Building 44. He will tell you that eight times since then, guns have been pulled to settle arguments at the manned spaceflight center. Eight times in the last year! We wonder if the tourists going through the center know that its more dangerous there than riding in a space shuttle?
Prenups have never stopped a divorce. Relationship Agreements and metal detectors are not going to stop another shooting. It is time to redress the root cause of these incidents. A change in leadership, superior technical projects, and non-violent escape valves that allow for the passionate to have his/her say without being carted away for nonconformist behavior. We hope someone in Congress takes notice of this open sore and demands answers before the American taxpayers, and another innocent victim, falls prey to this unfortunate situation.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Can you blame them? The self appointed group of renegades, seeing the error in the Emperor's ways, wants to right the course and steer on towards daylight. The only problem with any group storming the castle is that they tend to plunder the very thing they are trying to save. And this group, mostly victims of the Emperor's sword, are putting their own interests in front of the country's.
This group wants to spread our germs to Mars. The last, let's say lost, 40 years have made everyone impatient. Despite the fact that the space station, just 180 miles away, is hanging by a thread at the end of the logistics support chain, they think we can instantly build the competency to extend that chain tens of millions of miles out into space. 180,000 miles is just too close for this bunch.
The Vision was formulated to develop, in step-by-step fashion, the systems and experience required to venture deeper into space. The Vision got corrupted by the Emperor along the way. He started building "cathedrals" when we really needed a confessional. We needed to build on existing assets, develop the operational experience to support deep space operations, and learn to live off the land in hazardous environments. The Emperor gave up that Vision to build a monument to himself. Now that monument is being toppled over. But instead of righting the wrongs, the Stanford folks, Noel "Wheel Chair" Hinners, Wes "Comet Head" Huntress, Scott "Smoking Gun" Hubbard, and K.T. "I can throw" Thorton, are pursuing their own agenda born out of the chaos.
Despite the Emperor's missteps, the one thing that has kept support for the Vision high, motivating Congress, is that the message from the faithful has been spoken with one voice for the last four years. Retire the shuttle by 2010, finish the space station, develop the CEV, head out to the moon, Mars, and beyond. When noise hits this channel, Congress will get confused. Didn't you just say we needed to build the CRV, or was it OSP? No, wait, it was X-33, X-34. Nope, got that wrong too. CEV/LSAM. Might as well throw that out to. Start over.
The Stanford group is ill-advised. Like Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane said in their 1977 album, "Rough Mix," they are walking in backwards, like they are walking out.
We smell blood in the air.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
And we suspect Hanley won't be on the invitation list to see that first flight either.
But wait, there's more. To address ORION's weight problem, the program paved a "parking lot" with every system in the vehicle and made each system prove its worth, "buying its way back" into the vehicle. We've already discussed how the system is, for now, staying under its weight limit by putting almost 2000 lbs of stuff onto a risk list that someday must get back into the vehicle before it is worthy of flight. Now, we find out, a similar game is being played with the ARES test program.
ARES has become the poster child for bad design and Steve Cook powerpoint presentations gone awry. As those technical issues continue to pile up, the minions have no choice but to slip the development schedule to accommodate the additional band-aid design cycles. So, naturally, the only place left to attempt recovery is...wait for it...the test program. Indeed, ARES is now going to implement a "parking lot" for every test contemplated between now and IOC. Each test will have to buy its way back into the program. You know where this is going.
When confronted with the obvious, the minions quote the "all-up testing" bible according to Von Braun. They say ARES is just like Saturn in that regard. What they leave out is the fact that our favorite german rocket scientist implemented a thorough system ground test program in advance of each full-up flight test. As a result, he KNEW each Saturn would fly successfully with a high degree of confidence. He didn't have to hope it would. In Vegas, the house hardly ever loses. In Huntsville, the tables may be turning.
But wait, there's more. Other program elements are also suffering under this "green light" schedule philosophy. CEV flight parts will be unavailable, on the current schedule, when it comes time to qualify CEV systems. Non-flight stand-ins will be qualified. Last time we checked, that was akin to cheating. Except this time, people's lives will be on the line. Astronaut lives.
And suppose one of those qual boxes experience a failure. Was it a design problem? Or the result of using a substandard part? The CEV schedule does not contain any contingency time for answering those questions and/or reworking the failed box. More schedule slips are inevitable.
But wait, there's more. How about that LSAM/Altair? The Apollo Lunar Module development program employed a propulsion system test element to weed out design and implementation defects before any flight units were built. This approach was necessary because the LM was being built at the edges of acceptable margins. Altair will be no different. The "minimal functionality" lander that the program just shared with industry is unflyable in its present form. No redundancy is evident and safety is not considered. And its already overweight.
So what is the first thing the program throws out? There will be no propulsion system test element built for Altair. Reason given: a test article costs 80% of a flight unit. That answer, however, is shortsighted. If the flight article doesn't work, the troubleshooting and redesign effort will exceed the 20% savings by far. Saving a penny to risk a dollar. The risk/reward equation is out of whack here. Its just common sense. Something the Emperor and his selected few seem to lack.
But wait, there's more. No, we can't do that to you anymore today. We've run out of anti-depressants.
Apparently his letter opener broke after he found the three letters in his desk when he took office. The Emperor just won't take responsibility and is still blaming everyone but himself for his misery.
But that's not what is really bothering us today. In the same speech, the Emperor said that he views COTS as the gap closer to ISS once the shuttle is retired. He said we "need to minimize this period of dependency, and that we need to get back into the game as soon as possible. If we cannot do that, we will have failed to lead. I find that an intolerable position for this nation.”
What is wrong with this picture?
By selecting an architecture which favored scale over just about every other metric, which favored building new rockets over using existing assets, and which is consuming enormous resources and schedule, the Emperor caused the "gap" to come into being in the first place. And all of that holds true for the first iteration of the architecture which will just fly to the same space station that COTS is expected to fly to. Do you see the Catch-22?
If the Emperor's minions with all their resources can not build a vehicle suitable to support ISS by 2010, how is possible that some Space 2.0 company is going to be successful? And if they are successful, then why do we need that first iteration of ORION/ARES in the first place? Why do we need the Emperor and the minions at that point? That is the conundrum.
We, no, the Emperor has failed to lead. And we do find that an intolerable position for this nation.
We can only hope the current Emperor takes leave early so that he, too, might help in sustaining this new tradition.
Atlantis will not be retired after the Hubble repair mission. Gerst says there is no reason the shuttle couldn't fly an extra couple of years and he quietly oks relooking at the "unmanned orbiter" studies. Metal procured under the radar for additional ETs. Weldon and Hutchinson holding bake sales to keep shuttle flying. Nelson extracting the real story: 2010 is a goal, not a requirement.
Yet the Emperor loudly repeats for all to hear, "Shuttle retires in 2010." Except, now, no one is listening.
Shuttle hugs all around.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
But why? Britain would deliver a load of logistics equipment and pay for the running costs and supplies. Say again? $1B for a single load of logistics? That would be the most expensive, useless pounds to orbit ever. And how would the power, environment, and crew be supplied and supported by the already strained facility?
Its good to see that the world still has stars in its eyes, that participating in running in circles 200 miles up gets people moving, and the white elephant may get new neighbors.
But couldn't those scientists and engineers get a much cheaper thrill by just driving a jaguar at Silverstone for several laps?
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The National Science Board measures public attitudes about science and technology and they released their report today. You're probably betting that all of the excitement generated by the Emperor's plans for returning to the moon would make for some pretty strong numbers for space exploration.
And you'd be wrong.
According to the report, support for increased spending in scientific research is about as exciting as mass transit (38%). But how is space exploration doing? Just 14% are supportive.
Is that crickets we hear?
Monday, January 14, 2008
You see the lander program office has decided to not develop a risk reducing propulsion system development test article for Altair. The Apollo LM test article saved untold millions of dollars of rework and patching by flushing out issues before the flight articles were constructed. In a program where weight is at such a premium, and margins are correspondingly thin, engineering analysis is prone to failure. But since the Altair test article is estimated to cost about 80% of a full-up flight article, the program office has decided to forgo the expense.
Here we sit on top of the mountain. We see the two trains, but they can not see each other.
Our contemporary actor, poor Steve, felt a little precursor quake in the Force the other day as well. The power point master heard that his precious video animations, for which there is little technical underpinning but for which he spends a lot of money through his support contractor to have made, are not appreciated anymore by the new boss. "No more movies!?" he asked in Viceroy Hanley's staff meeting. "The boss said no more movies to be shown in the reviews." Apparently, Gilbrech has begun to question the value of the visuals when the underlying program elements are in such a world of hurt.
La Dolce Vita is also one of our favorite restaurants in need of a new waiter. You can almost hear Steve Cook's name being called out for poor service...a little louder now that Rich Gilbrech is running ESMD.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Last year, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency said the IG created a hostile workplace for his minions. At the same time he was in tight with with top NASA officials. That conclusion appeared to be supported when the Emperor said the PCIE report "does not contain evidence of a lack of integrity." He must have stopped reading the report early, as the PCIE really said disciplinary action, including removal from official, could be appropriate.
And now we find out that after filing 508 cases of wrongdoing in 2002, the IG filed just 68 last year. Either the IG is lazy, protecting the boss and his minions, or the minions themselves are finally treading the line (highly unlikely when compared to other government agencies of similar size).
Most likely, the IG if just following the example set by the Emperor himself. Isn't it about time the example gets improved?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
With 6000 pounds of weight risk already identified, the program continues to look for ways of avoiding additional weight. Some hard choices had to be made to even get to that number. Orion was originally required to land on the dry lake bed in California. That hard floor, approaching at 16 feet per sec during the landing sequence, would require Orion to carry an attenuation system designed to cushion the Queen and her court upon contact. Airbags or retro-rockets, seats with shock absorbers, cushions, all weigh something. A handy way of avoiding that weight, at the expense of hiring a navy on occasion, is to let the more forgiving waters of the Pacific absorb the blow of contact. Exit airbags.
But there are still a couple of gotchas that caught the Queen's attention. What happens if Orion has to abort off the top of an Ares-1 somewhere in the vicinity of the launch pad? What happens if the wind is high enough to blow Orion back on land? What happens if a reentry trajectory doesn't work out as expected (e.g., de-orbit burn goes awry) and the capsule and its crew ends up landing long on top of Los Angeles? Doesn't Orion need a land landing contingency option anyway?
Skip Hatfield didn't think so. The Queen did. But was Skip wrong? It didn't matter. The Queen said, "Off with his head."
Such issues really should come down to good engineering ... and probabilities. Something that Skip was exercising and that the Queen is unfamiliar with. How does one minimize the probability of landing on land? Don't launch on really windy days! One can set a wind limit based on the amount of thrust the launch abort system can deliver as it pulls Orion off a failing stick (albeit, a more likely occurrence than, say, an abort off a Saturn V). Now, just don't launch if the winds are going to pull you back to shore.
But what about landing long after a nominal on-orbit mission? Just how does one attenuate a 16 fps landing with only the stroke available in a set of seat shock absorbers? Not easily. In fact, it is much easier to engineer the de-orbit system with appropriate redundancy to lower the probability of such an event occurring. Target the landing elipse far off off-shore to preclude the problem. Good engineering leading to a low probability of bad things occurring. That's what aerospace designers are paid to do. Unfortunately, that's not good enough for the Queen. She wants he precious rear end protected no matter what....no matter what the weight penalty that is.
This issue really points out one of the Queen's personality traits. Its all about her. One could argue that the issue shouldn't be about protecting the crew at this point, but more about how will Orion be engineered to miss the boys and girls in their classroom at Redondo Beach Elementary? What's your answer to that one, Queen Marsha?
Orion is overweight. And not by a little. But before we get into the details, let's understand how the program tracks weight and manages risks. Some of the discussion may enlighten you as to why the weight problem exists in the first place.
On most aerospace vehicle programs, capability requirements are specified by the "customer" which lead to the definition of sizing trade studies. These studies will answer questions like: How fast? How far? How long? How much work needs to get done? With that information, designers can explore options for meeting the requirements with various subsystems configured in a variety of ways. Optimization occurs, some give and take on the requirements happens, and a design results.
Not so for our chubby friend. The Emperor cut to the chase and asked for a 5m diameter capsule, carrying six large people (four to the moon), and a capability to land on land. Is such a beast really needed to ensure our strategic access to space in a timely fashion? Who knows? Real operational concept and life cycle analysis has never been done for any part of Constellation. Why, then, were these hard-wired specs handed down from on high?
Let's start with the 5m spec. We've talked about this before, but to refresh, a 5m capsule won't fit on existing EELVs. That means the Emperor had to build his own new rocket, ARES-1. The revolving door spinning, stick promoting, maybe jail-bound if there is justice in this world, 'Doc' sold his former and probably future employer's solid rocket booster as the alternative answer to DoD's shiny, available, paid for rockets. With a rocket in hand, and some sleight of hand analysis, available payload weight was computed and allocated to Orion.
Other specifications similarly came along without justification. Take the three pilots' displays in the current Orion baseline configuration. No operational concept was worked to determine the workload for the pilots and, in bottoms-up fashion, determining the kinds and format of information to be displayed to the pilots. Such analysis was not performed to yield the number of displays that would be needed to present the information required to fly the vehicle. No, a tried and usually flawed method was used to specify the number of displays: a number was pulled out of some one's rear-end. And that number was three. The program still couldn't tell you what will be on those displays, or justify a response if they guessed, because they haven't done the studies yet. But there are three displays in Orion and each one weighs something.
And when you add up all the weight required to support a 5m capsule, with four 99 percentile-sized crew a trip to the moon, with safety and redundancy concerns accounted for, you quickly find yourself with what the program is calling "6000 pounds of risk." The risk, of course, is to Orion being able to be lifted off the pad by the ARES-1.
This terminology, however, represents more sleight-of-hand. For you see, by pushing some of that weight off the books into the "risk" category, the minions are able to tell the Emperor that everything is A-OK. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, fully 2000 pounds of that risk today is deemed to be "category 5," must have, to meet minimal mission requirements. Orion simply won't be able to safely carry astronauts without it. But right now, it sits in the risk category, and the Emperor can tell Congress with a crooked face that he is on his weight targets.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Recall the era of Sputnik . The original "space race" served as motivation and incentivized school kids in this country to study math and science. The junior senator from Illinois has said he would delay Constellation by five years to push his education objectives with the resulting savings. If he makes it to the Oval Office, other issues will also compete for his attention and resources. Who could argue with the need to invest more to obtain energy independence?
Of course, we here at RandS feel such a position is counterproductive. The $15B saved, give or take, could be spent to enhance the educational experience, but to what end? What will be pulling those enriched classrooms towards a higher calling? Where will the motivation come from to aspire students to think beyond our small sphere of influence, to create great technical accomplishments like those we achieved in landing the first men on the moon?
Unfortunately, the sad state of the broken Constellation architecture plays into this scenario. As the technical and performance failures come to light in the next few weeks and months, it will be easy for politicians to recant their support for the Vision for Space Exploration. Failing programs, started and supported by incumbents, are ready targets for candidates with "Change" as the central theme of their campaigns. While the American public is generally supportive of the space program, voters do not tend to hang their chads on this single issue.
We encourage all of our readers to participate in the process. Write your congressfolk. Write your candidates. Write the Emperor. Let them know what you think about your space program. The process works, but only if you play your part.