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.