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.


Anonymous said...

One way or another, there needs to be a "spring clean" of managers at the top of CxP. They need to go somewhere where they can do no further damage. I suggest we make them all part of the first 'crew' to fly on Ares-I-X. They aren't trying to recover that, right?

BenRG said...

I think that saving CxP is increasingly the only objective that they care about now. With the former Emperor safely out of the way, worse comes to worse they can blame everything on him and insist that the underlying program is sound so long as the archetecture is changed.

Likely heard testimony from Viceroys to the Commission: "The Stick? No! I hated it but I was told to work on it by my boss!"

Oh well. So long as the program gets back on track, I'll be willing to allow them a selective re-writing of history.


Ben the Space Brit

Anonymous said...

Not only will they come up with seemingly brilliant solutions to the problems that they themselves created but they will be rewarded beyond measure.

It happened on ISS. Problems were created through bad engineering, then solved by the ones who created the problems. Then management paraded them in front of the rest of the minions as hero's and they were presented cash awards, praises and honors.

This is ISS all over again!

Like the 17 year cicada (CEQTR?)NASA goes through these throes periodically, resulting in a total reset back to square one. This time, they have cost us manned flight capability for the next 50 years.

Anonymous said...

WTF happened at the Ames TO TIM to make everyone go home 2 days early?

Anonymous said...

they are now in the "Griffin screwed all this up
but in 18 months we can fix all the tests and
fly in 2 years after we get the data"

Lyles will go to the mattresses with Obama
to preserve Ares 1

Anonymous said...

Orion has already deleted 1-Y - to stay in the funding box and hold schedule. If it reappears lots more money and a year, or more, slip will be required.

> unless the outcome was predetermined
it always is having been "socialized" extensively beforehand.

Anonymous said...

this is the play for time thing. by saying we can't prove our work until 1-y, they don't have to show
any reason to stop until after that.

Anonymous said...

If Augustine's Board of Inquiry returns a judgement that Ares-I is unsinkable and on the right heading and should continue full-speed-ahead into the iceberg, it'll be the signall to all involved to abandon ship.

It won't be far past that before NASA decides to cancel Altair and "delay" Orion in order to scrounge the funds to make Ares-I work.

Time to take the tarps off the lifeboats.

Anonymous said...

Look, RaS guy, you're obviously well connected and intelligent. Yet you continue to wish for EELVs to launch Orion on. Let me tell you what would happen with that:

First, we would get to LEO pretty well, and much faster. That's great. But what would we do with the engineers that were working on Ares I? Well, maybe we can put them onto Ares V, you say. But Ares V just got a LOT more expensive, since we've shut down the major solid rocket propulsion factory that was (up until the EELV experiment) helping produce the Ares I. So now we can't make the Ares V without spending another billion dollars or so.

Ok, you say, so let's just lay those people off. Well, the senators who enjoy those people voting for them are not going to be happy about that. So let the twiddle their thumbs. Ok, but then how are we going to get a heavy lift? The EELVs have no easy way to grow their capability into HLLV status.

Ok, you say, so let's go with Direct. That was basically the ESAS Initial Reference Architecture. How do you support ISS with that? It's too expensive and now we can't do anything but support station until it's gone.

Like it or not, politics ENABLES spaceflight--nothing else can collect the $Billions needed. Since politics is necessary, then the political stakeholders have to be pleased. The Cx architecture is the way that it is for a reason.

An interesting question that you could answer would be this: the system that NASA has come up with is a result of the constraints on the system, political and physical. What constraints drove the system to be so inefficient? What constraints could be changed?

For instance, many people favor Direct. We can't really do Direct because of the great expense of servicing Station. Well, what if we changed the constraint of needing to have a US Government LEO vehicle? Then we could buy EELVs and work on Direct.

A list of the constraints, as you see them, and what the system would look like without some of those constraints, might actually be a good thing to post here, get some ideas, and then submit to the Augustine Commission. They will be reading each and every one of them, just like Wayne Hale's team read every public comment during Return To Flight.

Instead of simply snarking, why don't you do some useful, end-to-end, analysis of the system? I know that sounds like real work, and snarking is easier, but maybe it's time to show us that you really are a better architect than Doug Stanley.

Simply stating that EELVs are good isn't good enough. You have to show us all that switching to EELVs would enable human flights beyond LEO better than Ares I would.

I dare you to do it. Show us how smart you really are.

Anonymous said...

In response to 'show us your architecture'; we are out of time. A viable, well thought out system architecture doesn't just pop into existance overnight. NASA couldn't do one right so they chose not to do one at all.

NASA does not have the engineering expertise to pull this off. Their requirements effort stands as mute testimony to their lack of technical capability. Forcing suppliers to resurect 50 year old technology, ignoring new technology and processes is the height of folly. They have exactly no knowledge of how that old stuff worked or didn't work. Those that knew are long gone from the space business. Oh, by the way, it has to work in an entirely different environment in an entirely different way is never taken into account.

So the program started off with inexperienced engineers, a flawed architecture, bogus requirements and now proposes to delete tests because they cost too much and impact the the schedule. Is it any wonder that they are where they are today?

Time to pull a John Galt!

Anonymous said...


EELV for ISS, Put up a propellant depot at
ISS, assemble and tank at ISS, shoot about 90% of NASA managers and 30% of the engineers.

Anonymous said...

"We can't really do Direct because of the great expense of servicing Station"

What are you on about?

You do know that Direct saves about $6 billion in development costs, yet only costs $30m extra to fly than Ares-I?

And it deletes $15 billion more for development of the Ares-V too.

I would trade a $30m increase in launch cost for a $21 billion decrease in development cost any day of the frakkin' week!

Anonymous said...

Anon 1059 - Get a grip. We read the news here from a reporter. He's not making up news himself.

BenRG said...


FWIW, the DIRECT light version (the Jupiter-130) is only intended for use with the ISS when there is something that needs shuttle-level lifting capability (delivering a MPLM or maybe something like CAM if they decide to revive it). It can also be used as the launcher for ISS maintenance missions (such as fixing that radiator).

Other than that, they intend to use EELV for crew rotation and use the SDLV exclusively for beyond-LEO applications like return to the Moon and NEO encounter.


Ben the Space Brit