Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Enemy Within

As they say, "We've been to this picture show before."

Think back to 1966, er Stardate 1672.1. While orbiting the planet Alfa 177, the U.S.S. Enterprise experiences a transporter malfunction as Captain Kirk beams aboard. Kirk leaves with his officers and when the transporter room is deserted, a second Kirk materializes on the pad. The rest of the landing party must wait, at risk, on the surface for the problem to be fixed.

One Kirk is good and honorable, the other is evil and runs amok on his ship. As time passes, the "good" Kirk weakens, losing his ability to make decisions, while his "evil" half is dying. Neither Kirk can survive without his other half. Time is running out, not only for Captain Kirk, but for the landing party on the planet's surface.

On TV, the two Kirks are brought back together into one, the landing party is saved, and the Enterprise continues going where no one has gone before.

Theater follows life and, in our case, life is now following theater. The evil Emperor has done his damage. The "landing party" minions are getting into deeper trouble without solid leadership. In reality, any good replacement must have the evil Kirk's ability to make timely decisions. Only when the two halves of authority and responsibility are brought together in one person do we see a leader emerge.

Without benefit of clear, educated, inspired, innovative, dare we say youthful, leadership, the hydra-headed set of external commissions, panels, boards, and reviews that are about to take form will run the risk of grounding our space-faring enterprise for some time to come. Much time will be lost. Think Challenger Commission. Think Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Think downtime.

There is an alternative. And the approach we suggest was successfully implemented over a period of about 60 days after the Apollo 1 fire. Back then, our Agency did not allow itself to lose control of its mandate to reach the moon. Despite pressure from Congress and elsewhere, our Agency's leader did what he was paid to do. He lead the country into accepting the thesis that the Agency would review what went wrong, fix it, and move on to meet the challenges ahead. It did not require grandstanding, career building, or politics to fix the technical problems that just took the life out of the Apollo Program. It took leadership. And it worked.

Mr. President, it is time that you take the time to anoint such a leader. One who is technically competent, able to administrate, and capable of making informed decisions within the constraints of our times. He should seek council, but not let consensus stall our progress. He does not need six degrees, but he should know how to inspire technically competent people to do the seemingly impossible on a daily basis. He requires an ego, but is not consumed by it. We think you know the type.

It is also time for you to reign in those in your own party who would illogically dictate that the needs of the few or the one outweigh the needs of the many.

And when that leader is handed the conn, he should be allowed to review the bidding and formulate a recovery plan from within his own Agency. The only thing that has been missing for the past four years is leadership made from whole cloth. If you pick the right person, we can move forward and inspire the next generation to study hard and aim high. No board, no commission, no panel will fix what is wrong without putting a steady, competent hand at the rudder.

It worked for Apollo. It will work for us today.

9 comments:

kT said...

It doesn't take a genius to figure out where we need to go with this, it just takes a rocket scientist.

As far as I know that sort of degree isn't even available anymore. There is a saying in laser spectroscopy - a PhD is not enough, not even close, so why bother.

This has to be earned, in real life.

Anonymous said...

The next administrator should start with a clean sheet, with incremental steps toward an achievable goal. It cannot be done with the current crop of managers and minions.

Management is ignoring all of the warnings to slow the procurement process. Their firm belief is that they can save the program if they show that we have too much invested to stop and start over.

In the meantime, we proceed with a very vague idea of what Ares is supposed to be. The requirements are so poorly defined that they are being responded to with gibberish and lots of scare factor ($)built in.

Caution has been thrown to the winds. Those that counciled caution have been banished. The ratings are being skewed by personal bias. The entire effort is being schedule driven. Resulting in what was said in another post - "An ontime failure is of no value."

Starting over is not the problem. Keeping the managers and minions out that caused the mess in the first place is the only path to success.

Anonymous said...

could be done, but the people who could do the job now work at SpaceX, etc.....

NOT NASA.

The Pres should change the agency name to ASAS... (All Shoot Another Screw-up)

Anonymous said...

If the priorities are just doing SOMETHING- ANYTHING regardless of whether it works or not then by all means carry on! If they really want to accomplish something then the whole ESAS architecture should be declared dead and all ongoing contracts for ARES, J2x etc terminated. There is no need for those rockets or engine at all and they are unaffordable in the long term. Sorry about that ATK and P&W but that is the raw truth.

LM Orion work should be reset to be launched using already proven vehicles that can be ordered off the production line. Only ISS provisioning should be included. This terminates most of the service module work and greatly relaxes absurd mass restrictions.

As was intended from the outset- technologies required for actually going the moon in a serious way should be developed to get to an advanced readiness state. A complete and thorough recon of the lunar surface should be undertaken with robotic probes including multiple landers and surface technology demonstrators before much else is even considered.

NASA should develop a complete list of tasks to be accomplished without specifying HOW to accomplish them. This should be fact-based from the lunar recon activity.

A full-scale competition involving everyone from industry, teamed with NASA center teams should be conducted with design responsibility for launchers, propulsion and cargo delivery residing with industry and science/crew operations elements owned by NASA. A competition should be held with staged awards. No NASA center or corporate entity shall be prohibited from participating in any way. No proposal should be burdened with shutdown costs from other programs- giving a fair going forward cost for the new program unentangled with shuttle issues.

The proposals should be evaluated by wholly independent people including ex NASA, ex-DOD, ex-Industry and a large cross section of the science community. No artificial timeline for surface return of humans should be imposed - the maintenance of a fully functional base with real scientific and technological value should be paramount. Engaging with foreign entities, despite the complications, is highly recommended.

This is how adults do things- they aim before they fire. The opposite, emperor-style command decision making without reference to reality is what gets you Shuttle style costs and near-zero capability.

Anonymous said...

"It is also time for you to reign in those in your own party who would illogically dictate that the needs of the few or the one outweigh the needs of the many."

I hope you dont mean what I think you mean by this.

kT said...

I think you mean 'awe shiieeoout'

As far as I know, America doesn't shoot bad piano players anymore, they just give them really bad reviews.

Or in Rocket Man's case, reviews veiled in recondite abstruseness.

I just had to look those words up.

Anonymous said...

"No board, no commission, no panel will fix what is wrong without putting a steady, competent hand at the rudder."

Sorry, but no steady, competent hand will fix what is wrong without a smart, savvy board, commission, or panel that can deliberate and provide links with national needs, provide the and offer a sense of consensus, without which, the steady competent hand will be DOA. That steady, competent hand isn't working in a vacuum. (Well, at least not at NASA HQ!)

Anonymous said...

We've got the vision for space exploration. Both sides of the aisle agreed to that in 2004. That's not a vacuum. What we didn't get was the steady hand without personal agenda to do the right things then. O'Keefe was at least inclusive with the Roadmaps exercise. Griffin threw everyone out of the locker room while he shot up Apollo on steroids.

Anonymous said...

Every time I go to an Ares 1 meeting @ MSFC it’s like someone set the ships Phasers on Stupid….