Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The End

Cue Jim Morrison...and Kenny Rogers.

A little over two years ago we watched new management at the Theater on E Street walk down the avenue in parade, sans cover, and proceed to dismantle what little was left of the heritage from the first steps. We pointed out the lack of wardrobe and the untoward shams being propagated for the audience. Many followed our allegory and contributed to our unveilings.

This morning, a final act of desperation may or may not evolve. If not today, soon. Even in the 21st century, weather still controls us and not the other way around. Should molten debris settle over our national assets, nothing will have been proved by this rag-tag collection of parts, for this is not the machine that is being contemplated for future employment. Likewise, if the corndog is lowered to the serene waters of the Atlantic, it proves only that electricity flows from the red button to the igniter. For that realization, dear taxpayer, you have sacrificed much.

Likewise, corruption has been revealed and will eat its way forward over the coming months. The fact that we have made it to this point at all is the disappointment. A cast of characters led by an ego-maniacal emperor prospered for a time, naked of engineering excellence, innovation, and charm. They have departed the scene, for the most part, but their fingerprints remain.

Viceroys, waiters, broomhandlers, and pony-tails have been replaced by a tearful lot, ironically lacking passion or belly for the job at hand. Perhaps they will lead us (somehow that's not the right word) to some small rock in the sky, long after the last student has lost interest in the art or the accomplishment.

And so, dear reader, with these realizations, we are fast becoming redundant and parody has lost its charm. We did it our way and now we have picked our time. We'll leave the details and clean-up to the rest of the masturbatory scribes as we contemplate a new way forward. It is time for our Tony Soprano moment.

Don't stop believing!

Silence Dogood and the Brothers and Sisters of the Truth

p.s. the Walrus was Paul

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dynamite Always Blows Down

It seems the government has a different way of dealing with risks when it's racing to save one of its own. For example, remember when the poor Falcon at VAFB had to pick up stakes and move to Kwaj? Heaven forbid, the poor little "commercial" fellow might have sprinkled debris on ascent over the rest of the base.

The distance from pad 39-A to 39-B is 8715 ft. We think you know what our next question would be.

Can't Beat the Spread

The minions met Monday and decided to adjust Atlantis' target launch date to Nov 16 to "optimize" the agency's ability to launch both Ares I-X and Atlantis before the end of the year. The same launch team is supporting both the shuttle and the flight test of the Ares I-X rocket, which is targeted to lift off on Oct. 27.

Hmmmm. The shuttle workforce is still largely intact. Yet we can't process two vehicles ten days apart? How would we ever launch Ares I and Ares V, or even a pair of V's, at the same time?

All The Emperor's Men

Sort of reminds one of how Nixon went down, doesn't it?

Tick Tock.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Snickers Bar

As the water is being drained from the pool, one of the first big fishes (at least in his own mind) has floated to the surface and is ready to walk on land away from E Street. The little bee who shanked so many, has himself found a new well to get his honey from.

Make sure you bring your can of Off if you have to business with thems that rescued him.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Squiggly Lines and Such

We all know "science" takes time. Time to look through the data, take out the noise, correlate various sensors, and report the findings.

But the announcement of the meaning of one of those squiggly lines leaked out yesterday anyway, making the whole process now somewhat suspect. Sodium was seen in the spectra (ah hah, there is a spectra!) and reported dully to the press afterwards. Yet somehow, a "longer look at the data" was required to see, or not see, that other squiggly line everyone was hoping to see. While the minions had every one's attention, some flash science results that were available could have been shared. "Good" or "bad." We paid for the moon bombing and we deserve to see what those computers churned out in the first minutes after the data was available. And data was available. And the computers did churn.

And maybe the public would have learned something about the scientific method.

This is not the first occasion that the minions have built something up, only to send the children home crying. Remember Mars Polar Lander, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Buzz Aldrin sending us home from Pasadena tearing up like LoriAndI?

But please, Mr. & Ms. Congress, can we have some more? Another $3B and we'll do something wonderful. We promise.

The 475nm Panel skipped over the part explaining why we need humans in space and now their options have fallen on deaf ears. A simple statement of need, from which a policy can be derived, would have been nice vision (pun intended) to start from. The academics on the panel were certainly more qualified to do that than the ESAS'ed review of rockets and safety and costs they screwed up on. Followed by a period of reasoned trade studies and architectural formulation...while holding the ego-maniacal clothless wonder at bay...would have given us a reaffirmation, or fork in the road, to progress on with some confidence of satisfying those grounded needs we started with.

Instead, we are back wandering in the desert, without water, so to speak.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Was that the sound of LCROSS bombing the moon?

Or perhaps the divining rod braking in two?

You get what you pay for.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thoroughly Unthorough

The pony-tailed "engineer" who led NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study that chose the Ares launchers, "said...the rapid pace of the (475 nm Panel) review did not allow for a thorough analysis of cost, risk and schedule implications associated with those options."

Oh yeah, and we guess the rapid pace of ESAS somehow did allow for a thorough analysis?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Here's one for the sleuths in the crowd. Go find the list of waivers that is stacking up taller than the Ares 1X corndog itself. Then ask why the environmental qualification exceedances for the roll control are being waivered? How about those avionics boxes? And why are waivers doing away with the re-test of boxes that required late work being written as well?

Yes, they are just that desperate to stay in the game by rolling the dice. What if it was your $300M depending on that roll?

Oh wait, it is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SES Pool

It seems like only yesterday, but in fact LoriAndI have been in office for almost 120 days now. You know what that means. The smell of the SES pool is becoming noticeable. It's time for the fall pool cleaning.

And wouldn't you know it, the band leader is calling a 100% mandatory meeting of all SES minions on Oct 14-15 in the E Street Theater. The Snow Princess has her 90 day letters ready to go. The meeting will be to give fair warning that the pool will be drained and scoured within days thereafter and it may be wise to find another pool to swim in after that. With the approaching winter, after the pool is cleaned, it will be covered and not likely refilled to the old level for some time to come.

With the demise of the Market Inn, we can only wonder where the fallen leaves will land after being dropped from the adjacent tree.

Tracks of My Tears

"I would be telling you a lie if I told you we're on board, we're really excited about this," LoriAndI said.

We guess that means he and the old guard he represents aren't too excited about "commercial space," whatever that is?

"We think we can find the most innovative solutions to some of our most difficult and challenging, problems through competition and innovation. This is pretty exciting stuff," the band leader said, tears forming in his eyes. "Let me say that again: this is exciting stuff."

Now we're confused. He'd be telling lies if he/they were excited. But he finds it to be really exciting stuff.

Cue Smokey.

"People say I'm the band leader of E Street
Because I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I'm blue
So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears..."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Something Else to Fail At

Give the indefatigable minions in Shelbyville credit. They never fail to take on a new project to fail at. NLS, SLI, OSP, X-33, X-34, Fastrac engine, Ares. Even now they are jumping in with both feet on territory normally reserved for the Schwarzeneggerians and Mikulsians.

"We are designing a flight mission to go to the lunar surface. We are looking at different scenarios that would develop a lander to be small but would have a large power need because of a variety of instruments it would contain," said the robotic lunar lander project manager.

Small with large power needs. Yep, sounds like they are off to a good start already!

Midnight Oil

On the heels of the GAO report questioning the grand scheme of things, the poor minions are going through a lot of #2 pencils this weekend looking for, but not finding, extra nines in the corndog risk analysis. The not so prideful new owners on Pennsylvania Avenue are still hoping to renovate the E Street Theater and are pushing back against the historical (some would say hysterical) preservationists questioning their intent to proceed with the Fourth of July spectacular on October 27.

Amidst all of the pencil grinding, the playbill is being drawn up. Come October 9, LoriAndI will share the scrimmage plans with the rest of the senior minions (and the Barons of Industry).

Soon after, the final battle will be engaged.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stick in the Mud

The corndog has ED issues. And that Oct 27 date may have been a bit "premature," to use a word in the same context.

The technology demonstrator, known as Ares 1-X, as we all know, is a bit of a limp stick. When sitting on the old Saturn crawler with a fundamental frequency below 0.1HZ, it wiggles like a petunia on the patio. Should the crawler have to stop suddenly... ooops.

We think you get the picture.

Dampening Spirits, Take 2

Ares 1 needs a damper. Yet, in an attempt to keep an unsustainable program going, our friends in Utah tied a rocket to the ground at multiple points (need we point out the stiffening advantage of that?) and declared victory when the system failed to chirp like an organ. Now, even Viceroy Gerst is trying to damp down the enthusiasm for overstating the facts.

Remember, the bladder busting is somewhat probabilistic in nature. It sometimes even appears in shuttle flights, albeit at much reduced magnitude, but not on every motor. Drawing good news conclusions from one test, pinned to the ground, is folly. Proposing Ares 1 as a tech development program for Ares V is also folly. And taking a crap shoot like Ares 1X is desperate folly. But, these are the kind of fool's games that will be played from here to cancellation.

Dampening Spirits, Take 1

The moon is a damp mistress. And she will now wail louder for those who can hear her siren song as the waypoint refueling station to Mars. Poor Norm. He should have listened to Jeff. Instead, you can find his final report next to "Dumb and Dumber" on the same half-off shelf.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Funny Papers

With Peggy in the accompanying picture, the headline reads: "Hard Hats Give Way to Test Tube Shots."

Ooops, sorry, maybe we misread that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jetting to the Rescue

The pact with the Barons had been made with the Viceroy by the muddy lake. Now the Viceroy and his minions were told to be inspired by collapsing bridges. Having been built all at once, the developers were later let go and a generation gap in bridge building ensued. With the passage of time, the bridges began to collapse, but no developers were left to design new ones. The Viceroy said E Street has followed the same path, and is relearning the tricks of the trade that had been lost with a previous generation.

Oh, and the commercial guys would have the same problems. Zing!

But the Viceroy, drawing in fresh air, told the minions to stay the course, 1X is almost on the pad. The five segment stick, anchored firmly to the desert floor, rumbled to life. And Rube's double ended solution would keep it from shaking their friend's bladders to pieces when it finally points upright. Problem solved! Just another day on a hard development program.

Behind the Viceroy, other forces went to work. One of the favorite Flyboys jetted to E Street to help formulate an accounting of the termination costs for the star-crossed program. Other theaters were asked to assess the cost of zeroing out the current program. The powder would be kept dry until needed in the final hours of the conflict. Up the street, complaints could already be heard, inflexibly staying on the path, and wasted sunk costs and time recounted. New voices were ambushed before they could be heard. Large termination costs would fan those flames soon.

The Snow Princess tried to sleep through the commotion, but the sugar plum fairy was replaced by the former Emperor in her dreams, and the new night chamber filled with shadows. This was not the future she had dreamed of before, but rather, a nightmare that haunts all seeking a more enlightened path.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Immanuel Kant would have had an explanation for it. "Each, according to his own inclination follows his own purpose, often in opposition to others; yet each individual and people, as if following some guiding thread, go towards a natural but to each of them unknown goal; all work toward furthering it, even if they would set little store by it if they did know it."

So go the Barons of Industry. Each having their own compass, they all found their way by separate paths and gathered with the judas Viceroy of the muddy lake to lay out the battle plan. "Stay the course! We are the Chosen Ones. We shall not give up our just spoils."

And so the plan is coming together to lay waste to the E Street playbill. Whatever it turns out to be.

X 1

How impressive is it to fire off a tube of propellant sitting on its side?

Ask Charlie P!

He was "very impressed."

We'll pay for the cab to take him home after the next Fourth of July fireworks.

We wouldn't want him driving in that condition.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The One After 9/09

What a mess!

Maybe now we can call time on any more 60 day studies seeking higher truths? Maybe Santa Claus really doesn't exist? Maybe Sybil snuck a draft in when Norm wasn't looking? Maybe Jack Weinberg was right? Maybe Paul is dead?

Our first clue that something was amiss came in the form of the Panel make-up. Did you notice anyone in the group with more than academic or outdated credentials? Neither did we. Anyone who has constructed anything more tangible than view-graph presentations in the last 20 years? Ah, no. Anyone exhibiting any form of enlightenment whatsoever in understanding the real crux of the problem at hand and the organizational skills to dissect it? Anyone with new and innovative ideas?

Anybody besides Jeff, that is?

If the former, and we might now add, irrelevant, Emperor hadn't left us at the Italian Waiter's table holding the bill would there have been any need for a 475nm Ribbon Panel in the first place? Of course, not. This administration's need to socially intervene in anything and everything (as if our very health care depended on it) thus required some assessment of the depth of the ditch we currently find ourselves in. Having resolved that, does anybody really think this is about a measly $3B a year? Are we really saving that just to buy more clunkers next year?

No, the problem is the same as its always been. Alluded to but missing from the executive summary was a starting point. Just what is it that is so important to accomplish in space that only humans can do it? Without that starting premise (and we don't think its "field geology"), which the Panel clearly states as an axiom upon which all else must be derived, the presented options are set afloat, once again, without context. No need for Buck Rogers, no bucks.

Here Mr. Band Leader, a.k.a. LoriAndI. Have a kleenex.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who Needs Ethics Anyway?

An ethics waiver has been granted to the new Band Leader allowing him to serve despite his previous work with two of E Street's big contractors, SAIC and GenCorp.

The waiver remains silent on Alliant Techsystems. Perhaps that's just not going to be an issue in the near future? Or could it be that everyone just knows that it never stopped one RocketDoc anyway, so why should it inhibit the new Band Leader?

Rule. Apply as needed and ignore when inconvenient.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blame Game

Viceroy Hanley, standing on one leg with his fingers crossed behind his back, came as close as he's going to admit the real status of Orion at it's PDR. He's at least two years behind schedule. How do we know that?

"It'll take up to two years to fit a new rocket to the capsule," he said. Design changes to accommodate weight and size differences are required he says.

But at least one EELV provides more mass margin than the corndog does.

Oh well. What's another two years on a 14 year schedule anyway?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Getaway

"I've had many wonderful experiences in developing advanced space transportation technologies, but nothing compares to this project," he said in 2006. "This is fundamentally why I came to NASA."

The revisionists, now leaderless, nevertheless have begun to paint a much different portrait of someone who, as early as 2003, began contemplating leaving the lair. So why, fundamentally, did he decide to leave now? Packing up and moving out on a Saturday? Taking the last two weeks of his incomparable time as leave?

Oh, never mind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2012 II

The end of the Mayan calendar also foretells of cataclysm and millenarianism. It appears that such prognostications were not that far off. Indeed, the dinosaurs, seeing the incoming asteroid, are now beginning to look up from their watering holes in wonder. The large apparition in the sky is unlike any they've seen before.

Many stumble, not knowing which direction to take to escape the glowing orb's path of destruction.

Only the fleet of foot dragons and flying horses run from the light and take flight.

We can't wait for the next sequel to find out how this movie ends.


While the Mayans had trouble counting past the number, the President's men and women will no doubt be busy counting votes on a cold night in November a few years hence. How those votes stack up, and where the dollars will fly in from beforehand, is the subject of much debate for those reviewing the 475nm Ribbon Panel options.

Really there are only two paths when faced with a fixed budget. Think small or go big and long. And its not clear cut that either option will help push the home team over the top next time at bat.

If you take the first path, some pain must be endured. Infrastructure and people pain. However, while memories are conjured when placing items on the table in the driveway for sale, our garages are emptied making room for new stuff that makes us happy again.

The second path requires patience. Only by adding years to the schedule can we accrue enough dollars from future budgets to build a rocket worthy of Shelbyville. But assuming that rocket will grace a launch pad some 10-12 years after the next election (and that's a big if considering the track record of the Shelbyvillians), do we care?

How best to get the Shelbyvillians to help staff the garage sale then? They won't believe its needed until they see it for themselves, that's for sure. So why not give them a couple of dollars, tell them to go pick out a rocket of their choice, and when they come back saying two dollars isn't enough, shrug our shoulders and say, "sorry."

We gave you a chance (several actually). Now its time to make room.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Launch Scrubbed, One Send-off Not

Like a horse in the stall before the race, the shuttle, a potential forefather to the next generation of heavy lift rockets (cough cough), is working through a temperamental moment before it comes to life.

Its forlorn cousin, the five segment piece of spaghetti rigidly attached sideways to the ground waited prayerfully for its cue to send fire down the valley. It never came. Instead, the career ending exclamation point came not from what it did do, but from what it didn't.

A fitting silence punctuating the going away party.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gettysburg Address

With one cook's failed recipes almost behind us, another will soon be leaving the E Street kitchen as well. He will exchange his limited wardrobe for everyday gray flannels and spend his days up north, telling war stories about a time that never came to pass.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cadillac Ranch

"Curiosity, the Cadillac of Mars rovers, will carry a plethora of instruments to the Red Planet," reads the headline.

Provocatively , the puff piece from Pasadena passes on presenting a precise picture of its ponderous pricetag.

As the 475nm Ribbon Panel nears the end of it's chartered time, and our human spaceflight heritage is relegated to history, it will soon be time to rotate our gaze to the Cadillac Ranch on the left coast with our green shades on. There we can examine the debacle enveloping the remains of our robotic program as well. How our exploration timeline jumped from using Honda Civics to Cadillacs is worth reviewing...at least by Nunn-McCurdy.

Just image the scientific take that a dozen Spirits and Opportunities, loaded with different instruments, could have returned if they were distributed over our Red neighbor. But, no, bigger is better, right?

Better ask the new Waiter over at Dynetics how that worked out for him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Toxic Assets

Q: When is an option a recommendation?

A: When its the only thing that fits within budget guidance.

The 475nm Ribbon Panel has been given very limited authority to violate its charter (by asking for a little more budget) and will eventually bring forward options for our space faring future. Only one of them is financially feasible, but perhaps politically intractable, and it will be an uphill battle swaying the Purveyors. Then again, these are the same folks that remade GM, the banking industry, and are now working on health care. Why wouldn't they take on E Street too (the irony here, of course, is the handing over of E Street to the private marketeers, instead of embarking on a more socialistic course of action)?

Any of the other options suffer from temporal and logical breaks. What's the point of keeping a space station with nothing to do but float on it? Why bother building a large rocket when you can't afford to put anything on top of it? And who, living today, really cares about a trip to the moon TWENTY years from now?

So how best to find bucks for Buck Rogers? Sally gave us a hint. Real Estate. E Street's toxic assets. Get rid of them. Only rent a hotel room when you are in town. No need to own it for one night's stay. And put your maintenance cost savings on layaway for some new toys.

And least you thought we'd pick up Norm's betting guide and make heads or tails about where to place our bets, you'd be getting way in front of the horses. No, Norm will just hint at what we should be doing with humans in space, but he will not be prescribing an architecture for doing that. Cue tears.


No More Foaming at the Mouth (of the Mississippi)

The Band Leader continued his tour through the underbelly of the land and told the minions under the large roof where tanks are made that their services will no longer be required after the last one currently on their books is completed.

A musky smell filled the air.

Gasp! No more foam to spray? No more shuttles after the last one flies next year? No more foam for even a follow-on heavy lift machine?

No more MAF. It was a great run.

Time to turn over the reigns.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


After a short visit by the Band Leader and the Snow Princess this afternoon, the minions in Cajun land were left with the same dazed look they had after Katrina devastated their homes and workplaces. Words never before heard echoed through the auditorium. Were they listening to a bad dream that would go away when Congress woke up? Or a premonition of a bold new future that returned Von Braun's testing refuge to a more natural state?

An honest question from the audience set the tone. "We've got a rocket assembled in the VAB ready for launch. Are we going to launch it?" came the inquiry from a veteran space worker.

"Well, that's a good question," said the Band Leader. "Since the program of record will not be recommended by the Augustine commission, I don't see any point in continuing with the launch."

And in that pin-dropping moment, only the sound of the nails being hammered in the former Emperor's ego-laden, budget-busting, achy-shakey-breaky, corn-dog monument to himself could be heard. That, and some noise coming from Tuscaloosa.

Government health care started to look better as the afternoon sun headed for the ground. "And you folks should look around and think about what you are going to do with all this infrastructure when NASA gets out of the business of flying to low earth orbit," the Band Leader continued as coughing sounds broke the silence. Or was that "BRAC" we heard moving down the aisles. Portending a very different future where Dragons and Dreamlaunchers fly to a government-owned contractor-operated port in the sky, the Band Leader painted a picture absent of Meatballs and blue suits. "My former colleagues in Houston will need to think about a coming time where they will no longer be needed to train the way they do for things they currently do." Cue the tears. New suits with flashy trademark brands may soon be plying the skies 340 km up.

The stage is being set. The battle begins September 14. Harrumph.

What Can Brown Do For You?

If you're the Marshall Space Flight Center, Brown won't take one Italian Waiter off your hands in the next bunch of days. But Dynetics will.

While the former E Street Tyrannosaurus Rex wasn't too happy about doing a business deal in exchange for a table server, the other guys now have the incentive for the placement of a weekly pasta special on the cafeteria menu.

See you at the going away party!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chowing Down at the Trough

The Executive Vice President for Technical Operations of Excalibur Almaz Limited seems to have been taking lessons at Doc's School of Interesting Conflicts. Just as the 475nm Ribbon Presidential Panel that he sits on comes out promoting commercial space transportation in a BIG way, the commercial space transportation company that he works for announces their intent to step up their effort to get into the commercial space transportation business.

Coincidence? We think not.

Conflict of Interest? Don't worry about it. Those astronaut "operators" never do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spending Spree

Remember the $150M that was promised by a certain American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the E Street Theater? A musky donation to a certain candidate's campaign was geared towards getting those funds aimed at accelerating the ability of a certain 2-3 rocket company (and maybe one or two others) to get into the crew transportation business. All was on track until a certain Senator from the Yellowhammer State put his paws on the funnel and diverted two thirds of the funds into an uncertain sinkhole in the upper middle of his state.

With the 475nm Ribbon Panel promoting further significant funding for commercial transportation above the wild blue (or shall we say wild 475nm), we, the taxpayers, have to wonder if the remaining $100M might now be better directed back towards its original targets?

Oooppps. Too late.

For as soon as the minions came to a similar realization, they embarked on a spending spree to commit the remaining funds as fast as possible to their doomed pet projects. Never mind that most of the remaining funds will likely soon be directed towards termination costs, instead of adding value to whatever outcome comes out.

We suggest that the headlines denouncing the $3B that will be thrown away on Ares 1 when it meets its just ends should now be updated to more accurately reflect a spending spree augmented figure of $3.1B.

Pep Talking

With the chubby one's publicity machine working overtime, we've been privileged to see just about every nut and bolt on a daily basis being assembled into the shaky corn dog. Simultaneously, we've heard about how $3B will be thrown away in the trash can if that sham stick isn't rolled out to shake the self-destruct system into submission.

And so it was told by the Viceroy to the minions today. "We are doing quality work." "We have shown and are being recognized for what's been done so far." "We have real hardware and it's stacked in the VAB." "Whatever comes next, we've got a rock solid foundation for whatever comes next."

Or something like that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The greatest thing since sliced bread, or so it would seem to the 475nm Ribbon Panel, is COTS. While there is nothing "off-the-shelf" about a commercial cargo and crew delivery service today, even the new Band Leader and Snow Princess have high hopes for a miracle on E Street.

Unfortunately, not much about the program announced last week makes sense or cents.

Who has ever heard of a government agency trying to put together a workable program that effectively puts the same government agency out of business? Bureaucracies are constructed to do just the opposite, to perpetuate their existence well past the their time of need. COTS seeks to take away just about the only remaining job the minions have left in their soon to be empty jar, that of safely transporting 475nm suiters to low earth orbit.

Can you imagine Danica Patrick being asked to sit in the back seat while she takes a ride around Indy? Maybe a tank rolling off a Fed-Ex C-5A in the middle east? How about a Blue Angel being moved aside by a Southwest Airline pilot? Can you visualize an F-18 pulling up to a Chevron decaled KC-tanker? Or Neil Armstrong in the back of a yellow taxi headed for Tranquility Base?

Having a hard time with those aren't you? As well do the minions.

And consider, how will those same bureaucrats more known for buying $475 toilet seats and $1200 hammers figure out how to buy rocket seats cheaper than the price they currently pay driving themselves? (oh wait, they did figure that out didn't they, Mr. Putin?) The odds of that happening in non-ITAR fashion are vanishingly small as well. Its not because the private sector couldn't do the job more cost effectively, in theory, than the government. The problem is that the government isn't going very far away when it comes time to mil-specify the leather on the seats in the Dragonbuster 3000 XL. And it will also wait until its too late to make that specification. And then they'll change it. Three times.

The new program, announced Thursday, suffers from all of the above. Failure to exemplify knowledgeable, inspiring, confidence-building leadership. Check. Failure to identify market, expected price points, and overall business case. Check. Failure to specify exact human rating requirements. Check. Failure to pin down destination interfaces. Check.

So what will be the result of all this wishy-washy-ness, this gap-non-filler?

We suspect a musky down payment on a launch abort system to be argued over in bankruptcy court next year. Anyone else interested in making a buck on this job will stay far far away from this program.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Leadership is hard to describe. You can feel it when you are in its presence. When you put yourself on the line without that feeling, the initial void only expands to engulf one's own being in the end. The minions are starting to experience a gap of their own now.

A true leader would be out on the front line in these trying times. Visible. Taking the hard questions in town hall meetings. Hanging tough with the troops. Fire in the belly. Take no prisoners. We're going to make this happen, people! LET'S GO!!

Instead we watch for smoke signal emails in a dark room.

But its hard when you don't have a workable plan, when the engineering is suspect, and when the house of cards is tumbling down all around. Even the Italian Waiter has been seen out interviewing. Truly, the end of days.

"If the outcome is that the Constellation plan as we have formulated it these last four years remains largely intact, we will have benefited from pressing ahead," read the hastily crafted email from the Viceroy to the troops.

"If." That word says it all. Great title for a Bread song. Not so good for soldiers in battle. Leaders do not carry "if" in their vocabulary.

"Keep moving forward" was the sign-off from the darkened room in which direction could not truly be discerned.

We would, if we could only find the door.

An August Carol

Yesterday Norm finished up his public meetings and seemed ready to put pen to paper with our (non)spacefaring future.

But is that really the end of the story? Perhaps not.

Tomorrow, Norm will share his findings with the greenshade wearing folks throwing out the big mega-billion dollar checks for GM subsidies, bank bailouts, and health care. The same folks will don their crumpled hats, torn mittens, dragging chains and Scrooge mentalities for this special occasion. And Norm will say the line he has been practicing for some time now, "Please Mister, can we have some more?"

And if the answer is "no," then Norm is ready to revisit and discuss the options his team has formulated, minus the plus-up they feel is needed to keep the E Street theater open. That contingency and the opportunity for one more public discourse was opened when another Federal Advisory Committee Act meeting notice was filed for a week from Monday, if needed.

And how does this play end? The same way it started, of course.

The remaining withering options will be tossed up to Congress. And they will stay the course keeping the jobs protected in their districts. And that, dear friends, should be enough of a clue to discern the ending. Except, this time, there will no chickens in every pot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

"Changing To Delta IV Rocket Could Cost NASA Billions," reads the headline. The rockets would be cheaper, but Orion would be more expensive, according to an "independent assessment" done by the Aerospace Corp and released on E Street Tuesday.

Not that Orion is getting any cheaper on its own after the most recent $1.5B increase given to its builder.

Aerospace says they "focused specifically on the implications of replacing the Ares I rocket" and "failed to address a key issue raised by Columbia accident investigators: crew survivability." That's ok, we know the Air Force already looked at that.

But here's the clunker paid for by your tax dollar cash. The Aerospace Corp. "said it had not independently verified NASA's estimates for Orion cost increases or the underlying assumptions."

Now, about that headline?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday the 14th

One day past Broomhilda's favorite kind of Friday, our fate will be more or less sealed.

If you are handicapping the seven or eight remaining options, there's one that sort of fits the budget and one that is sort of close but does not. One lives within our means, is exciting, and leads to the future. The other costs our Dear Leader a few more pennies, "saves" a program adrift, but anchors us to a path of mediocrity and perhaps, ultimately, the end of the program for years to come.

If you are still unable to see behind the green curtain, remember it has always been and always will be...about the jobs.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spin Doctoring

Inverted logic. Once the domain of the Emperor, the minions have now taken to continuing the tradition of making confounding arguments intended for the uninitiated audience. As far as the public is concerned, if someone with a meatball on their shirt says it, it must be true. Unfortunately, the uneducated press propagates the confusion without challenge.

Take, for instance, one of the architectural concepts being considered by the 475nm Ribbon Panel. Instead of redeveloping an existing capability, it has been suggested that multiple EELVs be used to mount a mission to the moon. More successful flights (as opposed to paper excursions) also raises the confidence level in any given rocket's reliability. Even Bow Tie Joe would have to agree with that.

Enter the Spin Doctors, pointing to the downsides of the plan. "Rocket malfunctions are not uncommon, and the more launches are needed for each moon mission, the more likely it is that something will go wrong," says a former senior minion to New Scientist.


Of course, this convolution fails to take into account the impact of any single failure that might occur. In reality (ours not theirs), should any single EELV fail, all is not lost as it might be if all eggs were placed in one ARES V basket. Launch teams are kept busy doing what they are supposed to do, launching, instead of sitting on their thumbs for the majority of a fiscal year, growing rusty.

Rest assured, this won't be the last oxymoron promoted by the mouthpieces being contracted for by the Italian Waiter to revise engineering textbooks. There are still 27 shopping days left in this crazy season.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The Viceroy decided to take some vacation after a hard week of testimony to the 475 nm Ribbon Panel, so the task of reality distortion fell to poor Mr. Davis this morning. Recently removed from his job running the upper stage program, he was relegated to pouring the Kool-Aid in the Viceroy's week starting staff meeting.

"We showed 'em we got a viable program." "Staying the course is an option on the table."

Cue the frosty pitcher guy filled with cherry Kool-Aid, "Oh Yeah!"

Pasta Puttanesca

It's a good thing that the Olive Garden serves a never ending bowl of Pasta e Fragola. Our favorite Italian Waiter will never run out of bowls to fill when he takes his new job there.

However, his new employer better keep a close eye on what is being served. Who would want the health department getting involved because of the serving of bad pasta? Still, our Waiter seems intent on ignoring the observations of Dr. Ride, saying that the fact that he has Ares hardware already at the right coast is "proof enough to many at the ... agency that the schedule is on track." Of course, the operative words are "many at the ... agency," as nobody outside the agency believes that to be true. He must have been in the lobby when smart Sally revealed her report, because he still claims Ares is "well under way" and "on target" for Ares I to begin operating in 2015.

And we won't even bring up the sham nature of the Ares 1X test that the Air Force believes is incapable of safely flying.

Sorry, we said we wouldn't bring that up. More soup, please!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


The anti-emperor, Jeff Greason gets it.

Let's hope his counterparts are listening to this singular voice arising out of the darkness.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bow Tie Statistics

There are a lot of things you can say about the tall tales being told to Norm's 475 nm Ribbon Panel this week, but one presentation stood out among all the rest today. Despite all of the fancy vu-graphs put together by the Italian Waiter's support team, despite all of the videos running on just about every page (the award for most obscure video used in a vu-graph presentation goes to Jabba the Hutt for a Saturn V lifting off the pad when discussing Ares 1's propensity to fly back into the launch tower), and despite the EVM award going to the Ares team for "hitting all the milestones" (hmmmm, did we miss an Ares 1X launch in April?), the biggest truth stretching came from Bow Tie Joe.

You'll get it right away. Just like the panel did.

Statistics are a wonderful thing. You can prove just about anything with them. For those of us who took the course in school, statistics depend on taking many samples of a thing or process and drawing conclusions from the many performances to predict what the next sample will do. But for Bow Tie Joe it is a gift when the sample size is small...or nonexistent. Because with such limited data, you can "prove" just about anything you want to.

Even that a paper rocket is safer than one that has flown several times already.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Other Problems

It’s been said that if you use the same people and the same processes, you'll get the same result. The acronym trail which brought us NLS, SLI, X-33, X-34, OSP, and Ares is long and winding, but the ditch at the end is not in danger of being emptied any time soon if change in the way of doing business on E Street is not forthcoming.

For instance, take the Theater’s “Governance Model.” Please. The model describes how leftover authority and responsibility is rolled down hill from the Band Leader to the Viceroys to the minions. We say leftover, because we all know Sen. Stickman really holds the baton these days. But we digress. Roll in the fact that program work is distributed across ten Field Center locations (and even more locales when contractors are counted in) spanning the country and you quickly see the need for a wiring diagram for how the root of all power, that is to say, money, flows.

Housed on E Street, the Viceroys in charge hold the execution authority for all of the programs operating in their Directorate. Center Directors, operating much closer to the action, are perceived to be responsible for the people, places, and things required to successfully execute programs and projects. The reality couldn't be further from the truth, as they hold little sway over the resources being applied to execute a program. Instead, they really worry about toilets and toilet paper.

From this point forward, it gets very confusing. Almost spaghetti-like. No wonder an Italian Waiter is at the forefront of the confabulation. Program Managers in reality (but not on paper) report to both the Viceroys and the Center Directors. Functional Managers, such as the Engineering and Center Operations managers, theoretically report to Center Directors as well, but in reality talk to other “mystical” E Street organizations (like the Chief Engineer’s office) when verifying compliance.

As you might imagine, pulling a Program Manager’s ability to execute a program in more than one direction limits his or her degrees of freedom when dealing with the inevitable risk and value trades that surface over the life of a program. And if your Program Manager lacks the experience to build a complex system in the first place, get familiar with the ditch.

Core competencies are diluted as well. Program Managers today are saddled with distributing their resources over “ten healthy centers,” whether the real competencies exist at each Center or not. Center Directors don't have any real incentives to inject themselves into the resulting quicksand. Since there is no Institutional Czar doling out resources for facilities and equipment, program and project budgets are inflated to cover those needs, sometimes replicated, at each Center. More time and effort is spent on artificial constructs than efficiently solving problems.

Of course, this could be fixed by installing small program offices on E Street, farming out work packages to the centers with Center Directors back in the line of fire for program and project execution. It’s hard to argue with success, as Apollo, STS, and ISS were managed more in this fashion than not. Core competencies are managed better and funding is better matched up with need. The hard part is getting the local Congressfolk to agree to any governance model that results in one less dollar being spent in their district, no matter that the greater good is served.

Next, take the “ Independent Technical Authority.” Please. A band-aid of the worst kind, applied directly over a wound that was never cleaned. Independent technical authority has never been clearly articulated and the implementation has many confused. A theoretical outlet for whistle blowing, or disgruntled, or bored minions, independent technical authority allows for sidestepping the Program Manager, and any safety and mission assurance organization, to work issues of real or imagined consequence.

Sounds good on paper, but any issue that is not on a Program Manager’s risk list and should be, should be grounds for firing the Program Manager if he is deliberately ignoring it. Program reviews should surface such issues. Viceroys or Center Directors or Functional Managers should be able to raise their hand at the reviews and ask for the Program Manager’s rationale for dealing, or not, with a specific issue.

Concerned engineers should be able to go to their Functional Managers if they feel they are not getting a fair hearing for their issue de jour. And that problem should be worked in the program reviews. If funding is the reason for not addressing any particular issue, the Program Manager should elevate his engineer’s concerns, with rationale, to his Viceroy, or his Band Leader. If funding is not forthcoming, then all are in agreement to take the risk. Or the Program Manager with stronger feelings can throw his badge on the table.

What is not needed is yet another independent technical authority competing for the right to manage programs. There are three, count ‘em three, independent technical authorities for human spaceflight today. Engineering, Safety and Mission Assurance, and Crew Health. Imagine a football game where everyone in the stands can throw a flag whenever they feel like it. Ever wonder why such organizations don’t exist out in the real world where real things get built successfully? A strong engineering directorate model works. It’s time to bring back the healthy tension between programs and engineering. Feelings are back, why not good technical management as well?

Finally, take the aforementioned Program vs. Institution debate and settle it. Please. On paper, our Theater is organized around four Mission Program Directorates with other supporting infrastructure Directorates. The Center Directors are theoretically on the same level as the Mission Directorate Viceroys, but that’s not how it really works. Program funding to Centers for capital expenditures flows through the applicable Mission Directorates. The supporting Directorates provide mostly guidance for how to spend, but do not actually provide significant funding to the field centers.

Center Directors thus must leverage programs to get the necessary funding for the people, places, toilets, and toilet paper he or she is responsible for. But programs rightfully focus on their mission objectives and the hardware to achieve them and resent spending money on the infrastructure underlying every design, development, and test. No one wants to pay to keep a leftover facility ready for the next program. That’s how base maintenance and repair budgets have blossomed into an almost $10 billion (with a B!) off-the-books problem.

These Other Problems have not been addressed in the two previous Theater seasons. It’s also probably wishful thinking to expect them to be addressed this season. But, unless and until they are dealt with, we will all soon understand that we have been to this picture show before.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crying Shame

"I didn't really want this job," said the new Band Leader. Get choked up, add marine tears, and tug hard.

"Feelings are back in the E Street Theater," declared the Snow Princess. Hugs all around.

Not exactly how we envisioned the coming out party. At least there was an acknowledgment that the Theater cannot survive on its current path. Look for bright spots, right?

Now what will us knuckleheads do?

Alternate Universe

One of the observations we might make on this posthumous anniversary is how the world might have been different if the Germans had stayed with the Russians and not immigrated to Alabama some 60 years ago. Oh, how much better things might be today if they had.

If the Germans had not descended on Madison County, no hand-carried Soviet flag would likely have descended on our nearest orbiting neighbor either. The shortcomings in technology and resources that plagued Korolev would still have inhibited any augmented Soviet team from taking their goal. Indeed, the political infighting between the resulting two or three way competition for those resources would have only amplified the failings evident in history today.

As for our side of the coin, the moon would still bear our flag. The approach would have been different though. If Von Braun's budget busters had never been designed, the United States would have used its own indigenous means to mount a mission on multiple smaller boosters. And, if we had done so, we would have been left with an extensible, sustainable architecture to further our pursuits beyond the white orb and on to planet Red.

Apollo's single point design, with or without steroids, locked us firmly back on this planet when the first set of missions was completed. Standing armies are expensive when they fight only once or twice a year. The sooner we lose our fascination with gambling on giant leaps, instead of taking smaller assured steps, the sooner we will reach our destiny as a space-faring nation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years On

No flying cars. No Clavius Base. No flags in Valles Maineris.

Here we are 40 years on.

What has happened in the intervening time since we boldly went? We do not lack for great thinkers. Buzz Aldrin, goofy as he sometimes may be, consistently reviews the state of affairs and modifies his proposals accordingly. History will show he has been far out in front of all of us ever since his first steps were taken on our neighboring orb. Yet, for all his good ideas, we lack the Von Brauns, the Fagets, and the Krafts to make them real. Buzz is still ahead of his time today. But we desperately lack some critical element that carried him and Neil far away from home and safely back all those years ago.

How could we possibly mount an expedition to Mars today when we can not even build a launch vehicle for humans in less than 14 years? It is not about the money. Answer that one, Norm, and we just might possibly get on our way again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Fork in the Road

Monday there will be a new band leader taking over at the E Street Theater. Talk so far has centered on what he will wear, if anything, in the days and weeks ahead. It has been almost two years now since we first illuminated the cloth-free zone surrounding the former emperor.

We truly hope a tailor is part of the incoming entourage. If so, change may be near.

The new guy is not like the old. The new guy so far has been told where to be, what baton to carry, and how to carry it. Likewise, on Monday he will be handed a stack of house cleaning orders to sign. It may get very crowded in Morocco soon as many of E Street's local and remote cast of characters will finally get their just due. No more will Col. Carlos have to tell the walking dead Viceroy that the two biggest safety issues, now surfacing, will hold up PDR, only to be dismissed for some future recourse. One can only hope "the broom" also finds another corner to stand in as well, perhaps serenaded by tunes from the Olive Garden nearby. You know the place, where two many Cook(e)s spoil the broth.

Fear will be replaced by hope. Change is coming.

Unfortunately, a lot of damage has already been done. And it runs deep and it runs wide. Whether Norm can find the needle in the haystack (and, yes, we believe there actually is a needle) from which whole cloth can be sewn is still an open question. As is whether the new tailor can afford the cloth. In the end, all will be looking to see how the band leader carries himself in his new suit.

Hope is a free commodity, but the budget requires change.

Art Fern was familiar with this territory. Now if he were only around to help us find that Slauson cut-off. We are eternally hopeful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cry Me a River

It was certainly not a surprise to the minions listening on the line this morning. The inability of the short timer Viceroy to anticipate what should have been an obvious request only reflected further on his general disability to stay ahead of and manage any type of development program beyond making breakfast in the morning. While everyone else saw it coming, prepared for, and in some cases, already presented quality analysis and engineering study results, the Viceroy could only complain of the lack of time being offered to ready alternate solutions requested by the 475 nm panel.

Of course, one should ask, what about the steroids used to produce ESAS so many moons ago? Shouldn't that all encompassing analysis put to rest any questions raised by the panel and dismiss all alternate solutions as handsomely as it did four years ago? Or is there some flaw that is keeping the Viceroy up at night, such that he now has to burn the midnight oil to shore up his defenseless program.

Where's the pony-tailed engineers when you need them?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Re-runs

We guess we're just going to put up with up with this for the next 18 months or so until he leaves, as he surely will, or is run out of town. The headline reads, "Former Emperor says fear of risk hurting space program." We're sure this won't be the last headline attempting to deflect attention from the fact that rigorous analysis (which takes time) beats ego driven mandates (which only requires 60-120 days, depending how you count it, to fool the less technically inclined, like say, a couple of senators we know).

While the Eminent Scholar and Professor should be developing course outlines, pop quizzes, and final exams, he is instead complaining about the ongoing review of the debacle he left behind. What he fails to comprehend is that he didn't do what he said he claimed he would do within the established boundaries of dollars and time. Incremental progress would have been recognized and treated fairly. Spending profusely and having nothing to show for it is another matter altogether.

If the sham test of Ares 1-X had flown when the movie posters originally said it would, we would have a couple extra column inches in the Times for Michael Jackson this morning. If the Air Force found the rocket to actually having a shot at finding its way down range, the hardware stores wouldn't be sold out of metal buckets for our heads today. If 2018 was the date of the first lunar lander test flight, instead of the first Orion test flight, we would be eating our waffles without indigestion. If vugraph generators had been replaced with honest rocket scientists, Norm would still be in retirement.

And if the self-proclaimed Chief Engineer of the Universe had directed appropriate risk mitigations into his program, his wife might not be talking about enjoying all the culture little Huntsville has to offer this summer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


A chill is in the air. But it's July, you say, how can that be? And how can global warming be causing the cooling? And just as new E Street leadership gets a warm greeting from the theater's major benefactors?

Sometimes humans are slow to sense subtle clues resulting in major shifts of policy happening right under their noses. When the leaves change color in the fall, we barely notice until the bright reds and oranges are in full display. Occassionally, we sit a little longer after the light turns green until it grabs our attention. Even now we are not picking up on the language being used to describe our space faring future by those who intend to lead it.

"Build. Enhance. Inspire."

Extend ISS. Study our climate. More R&D.

The clues are all there.

Human space flight is headed for the meat locker.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears?

The minions are falling all over themselves these days, unleashing a zoo of alternative architectures on the 475nm ribbon panel. Shuttle derivatives, Direct, and depots.

As is the case for most of the minions' plans, they are a couple of animals short of a full ark.

First and foremost on the panel's mind is how the group that can't possibly launch the "soon, simple and safe" corn dog with humans before 2018 wants to tackle more complicated fare now. That's almost 14 years since the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in the E Street Theater. Some of the same bunch of Shelbyvillians that brought you NLS, SLI, X-33, X-34, Fastrac engine, and OSP (ooops, actually, they didn't bring you anything in these cases) now have a "better" plan to get the job done.



The billions of taxpayer dollars that have been sunk in the Alabama rocket quicksand are long gone. So are the dollars that have kept the Italian Waiter amply fed of late. And, so too, are the promised future dollars for the development of the current set of projects-soon-to-be-joining-the-aforementioned-list-of-incompleted-acronyms. All this leaves the panel also wondering how to pay for any of the less steroidally enhanced proposed menagerie?

Of course, there is one option that is slowly gaining favor...no new promises required to get it flying...and its already paid for...you know the one...the four letter one being screamed out loud in the halls of Huntsville.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Virtual Reality

It's the summer movie season and the computer graphic artists have been working overtime to entertain us. After seeing one of the top ticket sellers, you were probably a little bit more apprehensive about your blender transforming into something a little bit more aggressive this weekend. Good luck with the toaster tomorrow morning. And. heaven forbid you are driving a yellow Camaro to work.

Even more scary though, is the damn-near-real-looking computer animations we've been seeing coming out of the Constellation Program Office. Ares 1-X, Ares 1, Ares 5, Orion, Shuttle Sidemount, moon missions, and Mars missions. You can almost hear the Viceroys, "if we make it look real, it will become real." If the money being expended on these movies was instead being applied to some of the problems being encountered, we might actually have been closing the gap.

No need to be afraid of that happening though. Just keep telling yourself, "it's only a movie."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

все одетых кукол с не куда пойти

NASA has selected nine men and women for the 2009 astronaut candidate class.

We hope they can read this posting's title.

Monday, June 29, 2009

On A Clear Day, You Can See to Decatur

Or so they say. And the best time to look over in that direction is just as the sun is rising. The dawn of a new day, so to speak. Perhaps, may we be so bold, the dawn of a new (space) age.

Yes, Decatur, Alabama is taking on a whole new light these days. As Norm begins to avert his attention away from the crash site (figuratively speaking, of course) in Huntsville, he appears to be directing his gaze at change you can believe in. The early birds are also beginning to turn west in their quest for worms. Not even Sen. Shelby will be able to stop tomorrow's sun from breaching this new found horizon.

Of course, the former Emperor, may very well want to check out the men's warehouse in Montgomery, Alabama soon. We hear they have some nice striped suits that might fit him very well there. It's only a matter of time until Norm sees through the fog and discovers a scene rigged more carefully than an Iranian election. Such is the nature of illusion. Such was the nature of the bygone Emperor's mirage.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Ballad of Bill Arceneaux, Reprise

Come and listen to a story about a NASA engineer named Bill,
A poor JSC guy, pushed off to the side until,
One day he was mindin' his own operations business,
And up through the phone came a bubblin mess.

Ares 1-X broken that is, screwed up, MSFC style.

Well the first thing you know ol' Bill's in the air,
Kinfolk said "Bill, the loads are too high to bear"
Said "LaRC is the place you ought to be"
So he loaded up the truck and moved to Lang-el-ly.

Rocket, breaking up. all over Brevard country.

Well now its time to wish luck to Bill and all his kin.
He's hoping the whole thing is really delayed again.
So Norm or the Air Force can cancel this reality,
And he can go back to being the king of operability.

Job's done here that is. Set a spell, Take your shoes off.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And That's the Way it Isn't

It's good to see Jay Barbree putting that rocket science degree to use. The "only reporter who has broadcast every mission flown by American astronauts for the same network" is now seeing a Democratic conspiracy at work to keep the Ares 1 from flying. In an underwhelming display of benightedness, Jay writes, "The problem seems to be that Project Constellation was formed with a Republican in the White House — and because of this, some want a redo. But they have a problem: how to get around the fact that Constellation is sound. It’s the safest human spaceflight project ever put to paper. Opponents are groping for anything to tear it down."

Wow. Let's repeat that. "The safest human spaceflight project ever put to paper."

And let's hope it stays that way, right there, safe on the paper.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Daily Blotter, Take 2

Speaking of missing appendices...

Last week, Michael Gass, the CEO of United Launch Alliance, told Norm's 475 nm ribbon panel that the company could use the existing Delta IV rocket to launch the Orion capsule into orbit sooner and at a lower cost than the former Emperor's planned Ares 1 rocket.

Gass was backed up by Gary Pulliam from the Aerospace Corp. He agreed with ULA's assessment and said that a modified Delta IV Heavy rocket could save between $3 billion and $6 billion compared with the Ares 1.

We think back on the clothless wonder's proclamations, when he perhaps "perjured" himself by saying that building the brand new Ares system was the ONLY way to replace the shuttle in soon, simple, and safe fashion. Ditto for the Italian Waiter and the tour guide for the Welsh. Those, like Gass and Pulliam, who were selling an alternative were foolhardy and/or bitter about not winning related contracts, or so we were told.

Where's an IG when you need him/her?

The Daily Blotter, Take 1

Just about every small town newspaper publishes an official summary, usually covering a short duration, of the crimes committed in their surrounding service areas. Similarly, the minions get to read about questionable behaviors in their weekly newsletters and in the executive summaries from published studies (especially after the supporting appendices vanish).

The seemingly endless story of one former spacey traveler managing to avoid influence peddling laws surfaced again last week. You'll recall him leaving E Street one day as the government lead of an architecture advisory group only to return the following day selling a rocket to meet the very requirements he helped to formulate. Months later, he came back to lead the development of these same exploration systems only to leave again to indirectly promote the products of companies building or evaluating those same systems.

Now, despite or in spite of ITAR, representatives from International Business Wales (IBW) are going to get an up close look at various NASA technologies during a visit tomorrow at the Langley Research Center. They will get a series of briefings about partnerships, procurement, and current research and development opportunities. Wind tunnels, structural test facilities and exploration hardware are also on the tour agenda.

We wonder how many of those soon-to-be-collector-item Ares 1 models of will be sitting on shelves in Wales next month?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dress Rehearsals

The Italian Waiter is pacing now. A bead of sweat on his brow. Some of the finest E Street Theater auditions ever are transpiring before him. Competing theater troupes are also showing off their talents. Karaoke at the Olive Garden was never this stressful.

He watches ULA's Michael Gass effectively poke holes in the oft-stated claim that EELVs can't do the job of launching Orion sooner, simpler, and safer. He sees fellow minion John Shannon show an alternative shuttle-based evolution that could do the job for not much more than half the cost of his precious Ares. And he spies the Direct folks, and only a couple of the Direct folks, just before they pull off a very professional presentation. The rest remain in hiding, fearful of retribution for trying to do the right thing.

Next week the Augustine roadshow goes off Broadway to Huntsville, AL. And it's clear that the usual stay-the-course, all-is-well, just-send-MORE-money production will look timeworn against a backdrop of new talent. If there is something the rotund one is good at, its spending money on fancy graphics, movies so real they must be, and beloved power point charts. He knows that he'll wow the crowd with the make believe stuff. He's revised the story, errr, we mean told the story a thousand times now. But he is very worried about the deeper questions that might arise from the panel conducting the auditions.

"We need to practice in front of a mock panel! We need to learn to defuse every issue they might raise! We need to be crisp with our answers! Assemble the list of questions they might ask! Get me a Sally Ride look-alike and have her ask questions that Sally would ask!"

And, no, long time readers, this time we are not writing allegorically.

You Make the Call!

"In September 2005, NASA authorized the Ares I project to proceed with the development of a new human-rated crew launch vehicle with a 24.5-metric ton lift capability and a total budget of $14.4 billion for design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E), and production." (GAO-08-51)

Ares Project manager Steve Cook "said that the cost estimate for developing the Ares I and seeing it through its first manned flight was $35 billion. Contrary to the claims of critics, he said, costs have not spiraled out of control." (NY Times 6/18/09)

Nunn-McCurdy? Anyone?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Barn Door Opening

Q: How do let the horses run away?
A: Open the barn door.

Q: How you do you last long enough to become talking point on Barrack's and Newt's platforms in 2011?
A: Gas leaks and such?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stacking the Deck

As soon as a good defense attorney decides to take a challenging case, he or she will almost immediately move to manipulate the media with messages casting doubt on the credibility of potential witnesses. If the evidence is stacked against their client, they will plant false assumptions in the public mind and let resulting defective conclusions work their way back to the courtroom.

It was not surprising today, then, that Av Week would be handed a still unreleased report on the viability of EELVs to replace the mis-begotten Stick. Sure an EELV can do the job. And it can do the job less expensively. But guess what? It would take seven years to remake the rocket in human-rated form. Come again?

An already 8 for 9 rocket that carries multi-billion dollar satellites to orbit, has no problem getting insurance today. The design, development, and test phase has been paid for. Walk into your favorite EELV store and offer to buy several dozen and watch the prices fall.

But where to set the bar for human rating? If you are trying to get a new rocket built, and you're paying for the study, you set the bar obnoxiously high. Only then can a real rocket fall behind in the race with a paper rocket. Without getting into the tit-for-tat arguments that the Italian Waiter's minions are well studied for, there is only one more thing that our "risk is our middle name" astronauts would like to see over their heads at lift-off.

A reliable launch abort system.

And if a new one of those is going to take seven years to develop, shouldn't we get someone else to take over the job from the current contractors?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hatfields vs. McCoys (The Sequel)

One of the first American family feuds inflamed after an 1878 dispute over the ownership of a pig. Floyd Hatfield found it on Hatfield property. Randolph McCoy had a different opinion citing the marks on the pig's ears as his brand. As per the recourse of the day, the local Justice of the Peace was consulted. In a twist of irony, the JP was none other than Anderson "Preacher Anse" Hatfield and the testimony of a relative of both families carried the day. Guess who won? With resulting enraged tempers, on a hot summer day in June 1880, Staton Hatfield was killed by two McCoy brothers, Sam and Paris.

And the feud was on.

Fast forward to the hot summer of June 2009. The pig in question is a launch system to replace the ill-begotten Ares. This time, the families in Huntsville have been hauled up in front of JP Hawes to plead their case. And just as eventually transpired with the Hatfields and McCoys, today's hearings are just a precursor for the supreme court of Norm.

The Hatfield/McCoy feud escalated after Roseanna McCoy began an affair with Johnse Hatfield, leaving her family to live with the Hatfields in West Virginia. Similarly, the fellas and gals in Huntsville quietly started an affair with the Direct/Jupiter launch system. Working under cover of darkness, using the Italian Waiter's own tools, the adulterous clan fell in love with an alternative for the defect ridden Ares.

Back in 1888, feudal escalation reached its peak during the infamous New Years Night Massacre. Several of the Hatfields surrounded a McCoy cabin and opened fire on the sleeping family. Here in the 21st century, the Direct folks are being indiscriminately shot at by their neighbors as well. The neighbors say that their sweet Ares has worked out its problems. All other solutions could not be as far along and would set back the clock. Just keep the money coming and all will be well. A branch of the family in Houston thought they saw their shuttle-C brand on the pig's ears and entered the fray. They, too, had to duck for cover when the shooting started.

As the years went by and the killing continued, the governors of both Kentucky and West Virginia eventually sent their state militias to make peace. Wall Hatfield and eight others were arrested in 1888 and brought to Kentucky to stand trial for the murder of Alifair McCoy. The Supreme Court became involved because of the extradition and punishments were meted out.

It wasn't about the pig anymore.

Between 1880 and 1891, the infamous battle claimed more than a dozen members of both families. While the fighting mostly stopped in 1891, it took until June 14, 2003 for a peace treaty to be signed by later day representatives of the two families. The family minions in Huntsville and Houston should make note of this recent turn of history least their Vision be buried in vain as well.

And they, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, should look for ways of remediating the gap between them.

It isn't about the pig anymore.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bigelow Bellows

The modern day Howard Hughes, Bob Bigelow, found his voice in the desert and fired back at the Senator from Alabama this week for taking an unsubstantiated position on commercial space.

In a well articulated piece, Bigelow points out the inconsistencies in the Senator's logic which has led him to hold up stimulus package money being detoured out of his constituents hands. He also comes to the defense of a fellow out-of-pocket space cadet, making the case that more progress has been made by non-minions in the last four years than E Street can take credit for.

He may have built a shining destination in the sky with no way to get to it, but we suspect the method in the madness will become evident in the near term. Give him credit for now putting his mouth where his money is.

Dollars and Sense

Ten of the nation's largest banks are starting to repay a total of $68B they received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) fund. Without getting into the vagaries or a debate over the appropriateness of the bail-out, it appears that good old capitalism may be responsible for the pay-back: Management wants to be able to go back to their old ways, sitting at the top of the fiscal pyramid and collecting their large bonuses.

Nevertheless, as Treasury Department handed out the taxpayer's investments, it received warrants from the banks giving it the right to purchase stock at a fixed price down the road. One hopes that Treasury knew what it was doing and will get some return on that investment.

But seriously, the odds of the banks negotiating a fair market return for taxpayers is in the ball-park of Ares 1X getting down-range.

Along those lines, the Treasury Secretary is now starting to make deals with the banks in the rescue program. First up, Old National Bancorp which gave the Treasury Department $1.2M for warrants that may have been worth $5.81M. If this trend holds with the ten repaying banks, and those that will follow later, the banks could pocket 80% of the profits we taxpayers should have received.

Now contrast that with the generally accepted return of $7 for each $1 spent in the space program. Sounds like good old capitalism to us.

Now tell us again why the administration can't come up with a measly $3B?

Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Recent research indicates that positive moods can influence what we see. The time worn phrase about looking through rose colored glasses turns out to be more true than not. Unfortunately, wishful thinking may blind us to what is really going on around us.

Think back to the time of the seating of the Emperor. All hailed and praised the rocket scientist with more degrees than fingers on our right hands. As the Kool-Aid flowed, we reveled in the plans to renew the minions' skills for building cathedrals to the sky. We marveled at the safety numbers that flew out of the supercomputers. And we ignored the mounting number of little things that were "normal for a development program." The steroids flowed, the oscillations increased, and the dollars disappeared.

Fast forward five years with nothing to show for the investments made so far. "Wait a little longer," they say. "We're getting our arms around this." And the congressfolk from Florida push for more money to shower over the falls. And the Senator from Alabama holds up any investments in commercial opportunities so that his precious voters will hold on to their jobs.

But it is already too late. Indeed, the seal on the codex has been broken. All the President's men do not carry rose colored glasses around with them. They see the forest for the trees. They know that American astronauts will continue to fly to the ISS for the next four years, without a shuttle, and without a single new system coming on line. They know that the only place additional monies can be found will be from international and commercial origins. And with diplomacy goals and economic expansion high on their list of objectives, who can blame them?

So when Sen. Shelby holds up NASA's stimulus package resources because some of it is directed away from his broken rockets and towards commercial opportunities, its like the proverbial tree falling in the forest to the President's men. They know that there are too many minions standing in the way of an efficient program. Jobs are an issue only for the choir, not for the band leader. And they know, that voters in Brevard County, in Madison County, and in Harris County only see red through their colored glasses, not blue. The door to 1600 Pennsylvania was opened without the help of those districts in 2008, and so, too, will the doors be opened without them in 2012.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monte Hall's Revenge

The Italian Waiter should have been in his element at the three day spaghetti fest at the Ames Research Center last week. He had hoped to back fill his previously unfulfilled claim of multiple paths to thrust oscillation resolution. You'll recall that the Emperor, in turn, proclaimed the all clear loudly to the New York Times back in February 2008.

It seems the pasta in this recipe is not yet al dente. No chef worth his salt would stand behind any of the solutions presented. And like Gordon Ramsey, our soon-to-be Olive Garden intern would hear none of it and stormed out on the second day of the fest without his blue ribbon.

First up for review was the preferred solution of a single plane attenuation system. It was believed to be the lightest weight band-aid available for the already overweight and underperforming stick. Architectural changes made to the segmented spaghetti-like stack have made it stiffer. That had the unfortunate side-effect of sending increased loads up to the crew compartment. Those loads are even higher than the seat-of-the-pants requirements loosened by fiat (and loosey-goosey analysis) from the accepted Gemini era 0.25 g peak to almost three times that value (0.7 g).

Scratch the goateed one's favorite solution.

Next up in the course of two day's worth of testy discussions was the dual plane attenuation solution. Substitute titanium for aluminum to make it lighter, but as goes the single plane solution, so maybe goes the dual plane, but with more weight nonetheless. And, oh by the way, its still way too early in the analysis cycle to know anything for sure, since a certain program manager was more or less putting all his chips on the first horse.

What's behind door number three?

How about a TRL 3 upper stage LOX tank baffle? Just imagine the poor engineers who will have to try and balance propellant depletion against stick oscillation as the tone changes going uphill. Repeatability? Just a nuisance the supercomputers can make go away. Varying mission profiles (remember the rolly one trying to sell Ares-1 as a multi-purpose launch vehicle)? Good luck.

Its enough to make even a faux program manager pas.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

No Way Out

Air Force safety experts now say the Ares-1 launch abort system probably won't save a crew from an exploding rocket. Shrapnel from the inferno below would likely rain over the Orion capsule before it had a chance to get away.

Of course, Viceroy Hanley says NASA's supercomputers tell a different story and says it ain't so.

And who would argue with that?

Locked in the Old House

The Human Spaceflight Committee, a.k.a. Norm and company, have been handed their piece of real estate and are now fanning out across the country talking to builders. As they start to draw a blueprint for human spaceflight, they will soon find that credit is tight and most of the designs are prefabricated.

And the double-wide is out of the question.

Picking out a front door comes first. The inspector's checklist has already been taped up on it. Norm has been assigned to carry out an evaluation of the status and capabilities of E Street's subdivision. While OMB's budget has set the low ceiling in place, Norm's list of evaluation parameters represents the walls. A single sentence describes the initial effort. However, the real thrust of the checklist is laid out in the other six tasks that follow.

Those next six sentences speak volumes about what lots the transition team have been scouting since the Emperor was sent to the tailor. They have seen the weeds that the pony-tailed engineer planted and that Viceroy Hanley has been unable to cut down. One thing they knew from the start, OMB's mower has been working on the budget cut, right down to the quick, and not even Norm will be able to save his namesake grass from the searing summer sun.

So our new landscape offers little to work with. A quick jog to the toolshed finds some small tools. They could be used to set a foundation, but the going would be slow. In the shed are two handcarts for moving stuff, but certainly not heavy loads. One of them has wheels built in Russia which could fall off at any time.

Norm is also stuck with an old property with little utility value. Six people are living in it, all looking for work, and they have limited transportation. Their lease says they can't be evicted before 2016, and the courts will probably keep them housed until 2020 or later. If Norm can't sell, he will have a hard time coming up with the down payment on the next domicile.

Complicating factors is the front yard junk taking up space on the new lot. A rickety vehicle, an Ares-1, is parked out front. Unless it, too, is cleaned off the property, no new building will be possible.

So, its looking like Norm will be locked in the old house, lacking a down payment, unable to get credit, and facing a costly clean-up of an existing mess on his new property. He, and we, will have to wait for quite some time before we sit on the patio looking out at the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Survival Instincts

The days of Constellation staff meeting discussions centered on how many models of the stick are available for the minions' desktops are not far behind us. However, the tone of recent meetings has been a bit more, shall we say, "mature" of late.

Its all part of a time-tested last gasp survival strategy.

In the background, we have an Ares 1X test that is receding to the right on the calendar. Beset by the holy trinity of issues: cost, schedule, and technical problems, many of the senior minions, and not a few Viceroys, are now almost hoping for program cancellation before the test proceeds and embarrasses all concerned.

Like everything about Constellation, cognitive dissonance abounds. Recent discussions over the similarly receding schedule of Ares 1Y have led management down the trail to cancellation of the test, least it get in the way of that mythical 2015 date. And if you don't launch, you don't fail, goes the rationale.

But this week, SMA minion Noriega decided enough was enough and pressed back on the program. In the tightly choreographed exchange, Noriega recognized that the program was starting from a bad place, test-wise speaking, and was moving to a worse place to save cost and schedule. He suggested that the good Viceroy Hanley bite the bullet, slip the Ares 1Y schedule, and fully fund it.

We said tightly choreographed, because such exchanges would never have occurred with the former Chief Engineer of the Universe. Even now, unless the outcome was predetermined, the conversation could be quite embarrassing for the initiator if he/she is sent packing.

Not this time, though. Cue drum roll.

"We are going to do the right thing!" championed the Viceroy. Put the test back in the budget and take the schedule slip. Say what?

What we have observed is the laying of the groundwork for the baking of the program briefing to Norm's panel of unexperts. The recipe is one part blame the newly endowed chair at the University of Alabama for the problems at hand, one part appear to take control of the situation now that he is gone, and one part hope. Hope, that is, that the panel doesn't dig too deep and find out that those responsible for the management nightmare that got us to this point are in fact clinging onto their jobs by proposing solutions to fix the problems they walked into in the first place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who's In Charge?

While Norm see's his job as picking out the five pounds of potatoes that will actually fit in the sack, Florida's Democratic Senator StickMan, sees otherwise. The senator who bills himself as one of the astronaut boys (eyes rolling) met with Augustine and told him to ignore the budget objectives given to him by none other than the President himself.

Now we know who has been reading all those interviews coming out of Huntsville with the former man of no cloth. Perhaps it is time StickMan takes a trip to the Men's Warehouse himself?

Paul Haney

They don't make rocket scientists like they used to, and they don't make rocket launch announcers like they used to either. If you've ever heard an Apollo countdown, you've heard Paul. RIP.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not Much Left To Do

The names of the Democratic Party donors on the 475nm Ribbon Panel are now starting to leak out, weeks after the review was first put in motion. And almost a week after one of E Street's former finest was coerced into taking a job he does not really want, with a deputy not of his own choosing (that he does not really want), we can start to see where the road is taking us. Not that anyone connected to the White House really cares about any of this much ado about nothing anyway.

So what are the real objectives of the Panel, you may ask? Well, Norm said he wants to see that the stated program goals are achievable within the now decapitated budget. He will also want to see if the gap can be closed, either by a.) flying the shuttle longer or b.) speeding up the replacement.

We can help with that one. Take b.) and replace some Viceroys. Watch 2016 (65% confidence) become 2013 (99.999% confidence).

But let's look at the Panel closer before we go too much further. We have the first female astronaut, another former astronaut, an Air Force general, a commercial space dreamer, a couple of academics, a certified shuttle hugger, and a think tank CEO, among a couple others, led by a former aerospace CEO.

What? How come there are no real "architects" are on the prestigious list? Perhaps architecture is not on the table? More likely, there won't really be any budget for an architecture to be developed anyway.

Then there is the time element. With the late start and a fixed end point (driven by budget input requirements), just how much "deep thought" can go into such a study? Not much, we surmise.

And where is the data going to come from anyway? Why the nation's premier space agency, of course (think four segment SRB/SSME). And maybe a little side show from some Alabamians who work underground at night (think Direct) undermining the work they are doing for their day jobs (think Constellation). Talk about schizophrenia! Which side of the their mouths should we listen to?

The contractors will do nothing to jeopardize their existing relationships and contracts. When the Panel starts its hearings, start counting how many times the air is filled with, "Stay the course!"

EELVs? Fugetaboutit.

COTS-D? Ha! Ask Sen. StickMan about that!

To summarize, no architects, no time, no budget, no credible options. Time to place your bets.

Our chips are on Viceroy Gerst.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's Official

The 30 second pregnant pause from the flight deck of Atlantis following the announcement of the nominees was all-telling. So, too, is the fact that the names were pushed out the door just after 8am EDT on a holiday weekend Saturday.

Now back to your regularly scheduled yawn.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Making Up the Rules As He Goes Along

Despite several months of delay, and the passing over of several exceptional, unfettered, and vetted candidates for the job, white smoke is finally coming out of the chimney on E Street.

Unfortunately, the smoke has a high tar content.

In 2005, the candidate likely to be sent up the Hill in the next day or two, lobbied for ATK. And we all know what we hope they won't be building after Norm has a look. Until March 2008, the candidate also served on the board of directors for the parent company of Aerojet who provides propulsion systems and maneuvering engines for the shuttle and Orion.

But brother astronaut, Sen. StickMan, who ramrodded the nominee down the President's throat, said he was unaware of these connections. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said in a brief interview.

Of course, not.

And he apparently doesn't know that it has been mandated that presidential appointees shall not for a period of two years from the date of appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to former employers or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

We guess ethics in this case is just a detail? Nothing a waiver can't fix?

Humble Pie

If you still harbor doubts that Constellation was the product of ego and not technical excellence, read on.

The former Emperor is now considered an eminent scholar at the University of Alabama-Huntsville and will begin teaching classes in August. One of the classes he won't be teaching is humility.

The dethroned Emperor says he turned down several better-paying university president positions to take the UAH professorship because he wasn't interested in fund raising. Neverthless, money certainly has been the hot topic for his hiring in a time when educators around the country are bracing for further cuts.

In his usual inimitable manner, the Clothless Wonder has an answer for those would question why Sen. Shelby leaned so hard on the Board of Trustees, "I think given my background and experience and my years in this business and the overall space community, that I'm easily worth what I cost."

We suspect that about a year and a half from now his wife will petition somebody, anybody to rescue her and her husband out of Huntsville. $1 buys you a square. Proceeds will be donated to the UAH Aerospace Engineering Rehabilitation Fund.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hubble Humbug

The accolades are accelerating. The bromides are blooming. The cliches are clicking.

The Hubble Space Telescope is repaired, once again focusing press conference speeches on the importance and utility of putting humans in spacesuits on top of high explosives. It is hard not to get caught up in the celebration of the restoration of "Mr. Hubble's" very real capabilities to explore time and space. But take a deep breath and step back for a minute, apply rational thought and evaluation to the means, and you'll begin to see why the former Emperor made the wrong decision, like he did on so many other things, in going forward to the ends.

Let's examine the premise of how we got here. Hubble has provided exceptional observations and given scientists the tools required to answer some of the most basic questions about the universe we live in. Hubble was also designed in the days of naivete, when space shuttles were going to fly 50 times a year and service everything in orbit, so that we would save from never having to build new spacecraft again.

While the flight rates and economics never came to pass, Hubble was serviced four times previously, the first turning into a diving catch making the telescope usable after it was improperly constructed, leaving it almost blind and in need of corrective lenses. Hard to deny the utility of the shuttle with such a state of affairs, isn't it?

Each time a repair mission was mounted, the shuttle's crews were also placed on tall pedestals for exemplifying bravery beyond compare, so that school kids would continue to be drawn towards math and science by the pretty pictures of far off stars, galaxies, and black holes. And there is no denying those stoic astronauts their due. It was, and still is, very dangerous work.

Columbia, following Challenger, opened our eyes to that danger. In recognition of the risks, in a period of calm, reasoned, and thoughtful decision making, a final servicing mission to Hubble was cancelled. The outcries that followed listened to no such reasoning. For a period, robotic servicing alternatives were explored but found to be beyond the state-of-the-art for what was required.

Hubble was to be allowed to live out it's life, allowing resources to be directed towards the next generation James Webb Space Telescope. But the dissent steepened in pitch until the decision maker found his place in history's den of thieves, accused of stealing visual candy from future generations of kids.

But the Emperor changed all of that. His anointment was conditioned on re-instating the besmirched fifth repair mission. Jobs in the State of Maryland had to be saved. The chief scientist pressed hard as well, in ultimately self-serving fashion. "It's worth risking my life to save the Hubble," he proclaimed like a youngster talking about a teddy bear he tightly hugged.

Unfortunately, it is we, the lowly taxpayers, who have suffered once again from these emotional, irrational, and egotistical decisions. Costing approximately $2.5B initially to develop, we did with Hubble what we do with everything else we have developed in our space faring history. We threw away the option to build copies. And in doing so, we created yet another false customer for the shuttle's services.

The KH-11 spy telescopes are close cousins of the Hubble and have been upgraded with each succeeding generation. Build and launch costs are on the order of $1.4B each off the production line. Conservatively, a shuttle repair flight costs $1B each, not including the cost of the telescope upgrades carried aloft. Pick the numbers you want to use, but the bottom line is clear: instead of risking lives and national shuttle assets, we could have been launching brand spanking new telescopes all along without risking a single soul to the surly bonds.

Imagine five telescopes, each with a succeeding generation of capabilities now afforded by the single Hubble in orbit now. Imagine five times the data, five times the discovery, five times the science we are now in receipt of. Instead, we have one telescope, held hostage to an upgrade schedule dictated by the availability of the shuttle. Oh, and a bunch of ticker tape parades and oval office visits.

The same emotional, irrational, egotistical decisions got us into the mess called Constellation. No thought has been given to the needs, the requirements, the purpose of the vehicles being put on paper (we can not yet say they are actually being "developed," for there are no signs of that within Viceroy Hanley's domain). The return on investment has not been considered, but rather ignored. But we will launch humans, again, maybe, perhaps sometime after the middle of the next decade in a crude capsule from 50 years in our past. And they will journey (we cannot say "fly") to an empty Space Station, again built without regard for purpose or in consultation with real customers.

We, the people, must stand up and say, "Wait a minute!" "What am I getting for my investment?" "How should we measure success?" "Does this make sense?" Until we ask these and the other questions, then the success of any space mission, the apparent likes of which we are seeing this week, is in truth little more than a bunch of misdirected Hub-bub.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Low Tide

If a new leader is anointed today, as has been virally suggested, and the anointed one is also as suggested, then take it as a sign that this administration does not care in the least about our space faring future. Rather than sticking to their guns and promoting a leader in all senses of the word, the selectors have thrown in the towel, and Sen. StickMan has prevailed.

If you thought (insert favorite recent event within the past 40 years) was a setback for our loftier aspirations, then today may put a bit of finality into things.

Sailors, exercise caution today, for the tides will be a little weaker, as the moon drifts further away.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It seems we are not the only ones who have been reading the Norm '90's concerns and findings as captured in his first panel's Report. In fact, the Viceroys and minions have been studying that report carefully for clues on what Norm '09 might look like, and are now taking their best stab at preparing a smokescreen defense, with some sacrificial modifications to the current solution. Think of it as a going-in, get-ahead, response.

Witness the first chess move made today by Viceroy Cooke. Huntsville Danny (Boy) is returning to the Theater on E Street, now starring in the role of deputy Viceroy, just four or so years after he was sent packing back to the Tennessee River for failing to develop an executable systems engineering plan for Constellation. Apparently his previous experience on E Street as the Space Shuttle Main Engine Program representative is better remembered?

SSME, you see, is the source of the smoldering smoke that is about to rise like a Phoenix from the ruins of the Emperor's former domain.

The latest script being reviewed on the seventh and ninth floors tells the story of a pony-tailed engineer, led astray by the Chief Engineer of the Universe, to develop a safe new rocket quickly and simply. The Viceroys will concede that the current five-segment SRB, J2x-powered ARES 1 rocket is technically feasible, but will take longer to develop than another configuration originally considered, but dismissed as too expensive to operate in the long-run.

Norm '09 clearly stated last week, that if we set a goal we cannot afford, then what good is the goal? The E Street cast is turning that around now to suit their purposes. If you can not afford to wait for a rocket that is inexpensive to operate, then what good is that PARTICULAR rocket?

Especially, if you have something else to offer. Something that allows the President to put his hand-stamp on things. Something that might cost a little more in the long-run, but could be available sooner. Something that will keep more jobs around longer until it is really too late to turn back. Something with which to build a plausible smokescreen while all this comes to pass. Something that brings the SSME program rep back to E Street?

Consider a stock four segment shuttle SRB. No thrust oscillation, no grain changes, no nozzle improvements. Already human-rated (unlike EELV's that will need new structures to meet the margins required for human-rating, right?). Not a lot of new testing required, so it's cheap, too (as long as you do not think about the roll control system keeping this shorter piece of spaghetti going straight uphill, but that is a detail). Bye-bye ARES-1Y?

The Italian Waiter and the pony-tailed engineer dismissed such a starting point at the time as under performing, requiring a SSME-powered upper stage to meet the performance objectives set for Orion. SSME's are expensive. Who knows if they can be air-started (The minions do not. That is why they wanted to do development testing, then deemed too expensive and introducing time delays not required in the J2-X "update.")? But, if you are in a hurry, and want to use an off-the-shelf solution to pull in schedule, reduce the amount of expensive systems testing required, and allow the White House to claim victory with it's own answers, then SSME may be just the ticket to sell to Norm now.

Are you seeing the smoke yet?

Norm '90 v. Norm '09

The more things don't change, the more they stay the same. Or something like that. With that in mind, it may be worthwhile to adjust our expectations of what the upcoming Blue Ribbon Panel's conclusions may look like by looking back in time (many moons ago, pun intended) to the concerns of a similar Panel led by a now even older Norm.

One of today's concerns is how can a Panel of this charter possibly finish their work in 60-90 days? With some limited editing you can clearly see that this Panel could bring the old findings up-to-date without requiring too much creativity. In fact, substitute Columbia for Challenger, and you'd be pretty much good to go. We, too, shall not expend much effort in paraphrasing the concerns, but will remember them in close to, if not their original forms below.

The first of Norm '90's concerns was related to the lack of a national consensus as to what should be the goals of the civil space program and how they should be accomplished. The usual conclusions that Americans support the program generally even if they don't know what it is achieving specifically, that robots are cheaper and safer to fly than humans, that commercialization should be accelerated, and that the returns from fundamental science will forever be challenged by those who can not foretell the future.

Second, Norm '90 found that NASA is currently over-committed in terms of program obligations relative to resources available. Margins are slim to none. Frequently major programs are revamped, which in turn sometimes results in forcing smaller (scientific) pursuits to pay the bill for problems encountered in larger (frequently manned) missions.

Third, continuing changes in project budgets, sometimes exacerbated by actions needed to extricate projects from technical difficulties, result in management inefficiencies. These demoralize and frustrate the individuals pursuing those projects, as well as those who must pay the bills.

Fourth, there is the matter of institutional aging and the concern that NASA has not been sufficiently responsive to valid criticism and to the need for change.

Fifth, the personnel policies embodied in the civil service system are hopelessly incompatible with the long term maintenance of a leading-edge, aggressive, confident, and able work force of technical specialists and technically trained managers.

Sixth, it is a natural tendency for projects to grow in scope, complexity, and cost. Deliberate steps must be taken to guard against this phenomenon if programs are not to collapse under their own weight often taking a toll on the smaller projects that must share in the budget.

Seventh, the material foundation of any major space project is its "technological base." It is this base that produces the key building blocks, or "enablers," that make major missions possible. The technology base of NASA has now been starved and must be rebuilt if a sound underpinning is to be regained for future space missions.

Eighth, space projects tend to be very unforgiving of any form of neglect or human failing, particularly with respect to engineering discipline. Spacecraft incorporating flaws are not readily "recalled" to the factory for modification. It is this category of problem that has evoked much of the criticism directed at NASA.

Finally, ninth, the civil space program is overly dependent upon the Space Shuttle for access to space. The Space Shuttle offers significant capabilities to carry out missions where humans are uniquely required. The Shuttle is also a complex system that has yet to demonstrate an ability to adhere to a fixed schedule. And although it is a subject that meets with reluctance to open discussion, and has therefore too often been relegated to silence, the statistical evidence indicates that we are likely to lose another Space Shuttle in the next several years, probably before the planned Space Station is completely established on orbit. This would seem to be the weak link of the civil space program, unpleasant to recognize, involving all the uncertainties of statistics, and difficult to resolve.

The Space Shuttle differs in important ways from unmanned vehicles. On the positive side it provides the flexibility and capability attendant to human presence and it permits the recovery of costly launch vehicle hardware which would otherwise be expended. On the negative side, it tends to be complex, with relatively limited margins; it has not realized the promised cost savings; and should it fail catastrophically, it takes with it a substantial portion of the nation's future manned launch capability and, potentially, several human lives.

Like we said at the top, won't take much to turn 90 into 09.