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 new promises required to get it flying...and its already paid 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."