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.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dead, but not Yet Buried

Being a good embalmer is a thankless job. And its now up to Norm to pickle the former Emperor's aborted creation.

But before that will happen, the clothless wonder took time Friday night to tone down his commentary from the after-life. After a subtle yet testy repartee with Miles O'Brien over just how the campaign to sell him to a Democratic President came to pass ("honest, I had nothing to do with Doc's campaign...and who can control their own wife anyway."), the poor RNASA audience had to endure a monotonous 20 minute speech that seemed to drone on for the 50 years since NASA was born.

The theme of the speech followed closely on the heels of the Weldon/Lampson piece in the Washington Times last weekend. Starting and stopping a project is not healthy. The executive branch should not tell the technical branch how to formulate their programs. And it was on these notes that it became clear how Norm's programmatic autopsy will be defended against.

The naysayers are barking up the wrong tree, somewhat, technically speaking. There is no reason why ARES-1 and ARES-V, Orion, and Altair can not be made to work...eventually and for a price. That is the answer and the deception in one package.

Unfortunately, two more questions have not been asked and answered simultaneously. How much will it really cost to really solve these very real technical issues? How long will it take to reliably solve the very same issues? Do we have the compunction, time, and the resources required to cover the resulting gap?

That is the problem. And now its Norm's job to decide if the answers are acceptable.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Norm Augustine handed helm of Blue Ribbon Panel to assess current state of non-space-faring affairs - Born in 1935. Reviewed Bush 41 plans to go to the moon and Mars. Fostered the creation of the Office of Exploration which later was led to failure by the young Emperor-in-training. He gets picked to settle NASA's future direction, but no Administrator available to support Agency positions. Coincidence? We think not. We also can't wait to see the innovation and youthful creativity flow out of this panel's review. Note to graduating seniors: Aim for grad school, change of major optional, but recommended.

Chris Scolesce says ARES-1 delayed because of Hubble Repair Mission dual pad needs -Ahhh, if ARES-1 was at all ready to fly, rationale was being developed to skip the dual pad configuration and hand one of the pads over to ARES. Of course, it is nowhere near ready to fly before the end of the year, so back to two pads we go. Note to Chris: the taxpayers are curious why you are continuing to spend their money if the program is going to change. There wouldn't be any need for any Blue Ribbon Panel if everything was obviously healthy and moving forward, now would there?

Scolesce also says Constellation is moving toward IOC in 2015 - Fails to mention IOC 2015 has a zero per cent confidence associated with it. Note to Norm: always watch out for positive statements qualified by confidence ratios. Second note to Norm: go take a class from Penn and Teller on misdirection and distraction. You will be experiencing a lot of that shortly. Third note to Norm: Lots of caffeine.

Steve Kohler resigns from Space Florida - Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said it would be fair. Note to Steve: Try following next time.

Former Emperor in Houston Friday - More whining about staffers keeping him from leading the minions expected as he receives his RNASA award. Also expected to attend a media gathering at Space Center Houston on Saturday, as Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Olsen demonstrate their ignorance of current events and praise him further. Obama watches from afar and interprets event as a show of support from JSC, further cementing his plan to cut center program funding after 2012. Note to Cornyn and Olsen: Never mind.

Charlie Bolden in and out - He says he doesn't want THE job to all that ask. Fails to tell Sen. StickMan, so his name stays in the hat. Gen. Lyles does the respectable thing and publically bows out. Note to Charlie: What are you really holding out for?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ares Idol or Idle?

Yo, dog, check this out. The Ares-1X "movie" posters are starting to get bottom heavy now. Stick-on labels moving the launch date forward are extending into the third dimension. April 2009 is the latest date to get covered up. Perhaps the next sticker should just read "???"

If you take a look at the program's status chart, reviewed regularly by the Italian Waiter, a.k.a. von Braun II, you will only observe a sea of red with dashes of yellow sprinkled in for good measure. For a program supposedly so close to launch you would expect to see at least some green in the field of view. Maybe it's not so close to launch after all? Maybe the chart maker is color blind? Or maybe they just manage things differently inside the house that Shelby protects?

This situation, of course, raises a couple of other questions. For instance, will the Waiter press for a launch before its time to influence Mr. Holdren's panel of administration judges? If, by some bit of luck the sham (four segment SRB, old grain, inert solid upper stage, inert Orion, along with many other non-flight systems) test succeeds in getting off the pad and down range, will the panel take the time to review what was actually (or not) accomplished by this test of the blockhouse? Paula Abdul might be impressed. If Ares-1X cartwheels off the pad, does that seal Constellation's fate as well? Simon Cowell, what did you think of that performance?

In typical fashion, bad rationale is allowing taxpayer dollars to continue to be spent bailing-out this program. Sunk costs appear to be the only justification offered for not holding up the test right now. Perhaps the panel of judges will see the light of day and call time. For a rocket that is pitchy and out of key, it may finally be time to move off the stage.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dying Program

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. - Rocket scientists at New Mexico's Spaceport are trying to figure out what went wrong on Saturday, when a rocket carrying experiments from students failed to reach outer space. Instead the rocket crashed in the desert.

Student experiments weren't the only objects onboard. The flight also carried the ashes of over a dozen dead people. Like Taurus 6 and Falcon 1 before it, the SpaceLoft XL failed to reach it's goal.

Maybe even dead people don't care about space anymore either?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Over the Line

So just how important was it to lay off 160 people yesterday, instead of waiting until 2:09pm on May 11th? Do we really think the budget savings will enable the Theater on E Street to continue to produce plays until 2010 and beyond as a result? Or did the new proprietor, Viceroy Gerst, punch with a low blow in his continuing desperation to produce an uproar in Congress outside of Florida?

Taking advantage of the limelight being afforded the Hubble Repair Mission to pursue an agenda that was declared dead back in 2004 is not a demonstration of "leadership in action." No, playing with morale a week before a launch is yet another example of how we got here in the first place.

Happy Space Day - Belatedly

Did you miss Space Day yesterday? The 12th annual Space Day, even. For those of you out of the know, the theme for this year's event was "Celebrating Human Space Flight: Past, Present and Future." Didn't get much attention, did it?

Upon reflection, it's obvious why you probably didn't hear about it on Fox News last night. The constrained theme left out the one spaceflight hero for our times. The one that didn't stand on two legs. Please pause with us for a moment of silence for the excluded. All hail, Spacebat!