Tuesday, September 30, 2008


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."


"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


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.


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."