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....


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


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.




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


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.