Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Getaway

"I've had many wonderful experiences in developing advanced space transportation technologies, but nothing compares to this project," he said in 2006. "This is fundamentally why I came to NASA."

The revisionists, now leaderless, nevertheless have begun to paint a much different portrait of someone who, as early as 2003, began contemplating leaving the lair. So why, fundamentally, did he decide to leave now? Packing up and moving out on a Saturday? Taking the last two weeks of his incomparable time as leave?

Oh, never mind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2012 II

The end of the Mayan calendar also foretells of cataclysm and millenarianism. It appears that such prognostications were not that far off. Indeed, the dinosaurs, seeing the incoming asteroid, are now beginning to look up from their watering holes in wonder. The large apparition in the sky is unlike any they've seen before.

Many stumble, not knowing which direction to take to escape the glowing orb's path of destruction.

Only the fleet of foot dragons and flying horses run from the light and take flight.

We can't wait for the next sequel to find out how this movie ends.


While the Mayans had trouble counting past the number, the President's men and women will no doubt be busy counting votes on a cold night in November a few years hence. How those votes stack up, and where the dollars will fly in from beforehand, is the subject of much debate for those reviewing the 475nm Ribbon Panel options.

Really there are only two paths when faced with a fixed budget. Think small or go big and long. And its not clear cut that either option will help push the home team over the top next time at bat.

If you take the first path, some pain must be endured. Infrastructure and people pain. However, while memories are conjured when placing items on the table in the driveway for sale, our garages are emptied making room for new stuff that makes us happy again.

The second path requires patience. Only by adding years to the schedule can we accrue enough dollars from future budgets to build a rocket worthy of Shelbyville. But assuming that rocket will grace a launch pad some 10-12 years after the next election (and that's a big if considering the track record of the Shelbyvillians), do we care?

How best to get the Shelbyvillians to help staff the garage sale then? They won't believe its needed until they see it for themselves, that's for sure. So why not give them a couple of dollars, tell them to go pick out a rocket of their choice, and when they come back saying two dollars isn't enough, shrug our shoulders and say, "sorry."

We gave you a chance (several actually). Now its time to make room.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Launch Scrubbed, One Send-off Not

Like a horse in the stall before the race, the shuttle, a potential forefather to the next generation of heavy lift rockets (cough cough), is working through a temperamental moment before it comes to life.

Its forlorn cousin, the five segment piece of spaghetti rigidly attached sideways to the ground waited prayerfully for its cue to send fire down the valley. It never came. Instead, the career ending exclamation point came not from what it did do, but from what it didn't.

A fitting silence punctuating the going away party.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gettysburg Address

With one cook's failed recipes almost behind us, another will soon be leaving the E Street kitchen as well. He will exchange his limited wardrobe for everyday gray flannels and spend his days up north, telling war stories about a time that never came to pass.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cadillac Ranch

"Curiosity, the Cadillac of Mars rovers, will carry a plethora of instruments to the Red Planet," reads the headline.

Provocatively , the puff piece from Pasadena passes on presenting a precise picture of its ponderous pricetag.

As the 475nm Ribbon Panel nears the end of it's chartered time, and our human spaceflight heritage is relegated to history, it will soon be time to rotate our gaze to the Cadillac Ranch on the left coast with our green shades on. There we can examine the debacle enveloping the remains of our robotic program as well. How our exploration timeline jumped from using Honda Civics to Cadillacs is worth least by Nunn-McCurdy.

Just image the scientific take that a dozen Spirits and Opportunities, loaded with different instruments, could have returned if they were distributed over our Red neighbor. But, no, bigger is better, right?

Better ask the new Waiter over at Dynetics how that worked out for him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Toxic Assets

Q: When is an option a recommendation?

A: When its the only thing that fits within budget guidance.

The 475nm Ribbon Panel has been given very limited authority to violate its charter (by asking for a little more budget) and will eventually bring forward options for our space faring future. Only one of them is financially feasible, but perhaps politically intractable, and it will be an uphill battle swaying the Purveyors. Then again, these are the same folks that remade GM, the banking industry, and are now working on health care. Why wouldn't they take on E Street too (the irony here, of course, is the handing over of E Street to the private marketeers, instead of embarking on a more socialistic course of action)?

Any of the other options suffer from temporal and logical breaks. What's the point of keeping a space station with nothing to do but float on it? Why bother building a large rocket when you can't afford to put anything on top of it? And who, living today, really cares about a trip to the moon TWENTY years from now?

So how best to find bucks for Buck Rogers? Sally gave us a hint. Real Estate. E Street's toxic assets. Get rid of them. Only rent a hotel room when you are in town. No need to own it for one night's stay. And put your maintenance cost savings on layaway for some new toys.

And least you thought we'd pick up Norm's betting guide and make heads or tails about where to place our bets, you'd be getting way in front of the horses. No, Norm will just hint at what we should be doing with humans in space, but he will not be prescribing an architecture for doing that. Cue tears.


No More Foaming at the Mouth (of the Mississippi)

The Band Leader continued his tour through the underbelly of the land and told the minions under the large roof where tanks are made that their services will no longer be required after the last one currently on their books is completed.

A musky smell filled the air.

Gasp! No more foam to spray? No more shuttles after the last one flies next year? No more foam for even a follow-on heavy lift machine?

No more MAF. It was a great run.

Time to turn over the reigns.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


After a short visit by the Band Leader and the Snow Princess this afternoon, the minions in Cajun land were left with the same dazed look they had after Katrina devastated their homes and workplaces. Words never before heard echoed through the auditorium. Were they listening to a bad dream that would go away when Congress woke up? Or a premonition of a bold new future that returned Von Braun's testing refuge to a more natural state?

An honest question from the audience set the tone. "We've got a rocket assembled in the VAB ready for launch. Are we going to launch it?" came the inquiry from a veteran space worker.

"Well, that's a good question," said the Band Leader. "Since the program of record will not be recommended by the Augustine commission, I don't see any point in continuing with the launch."

And in that pin-dropping moment, only the sound of the nails being hammered in the former Emperor's ego-laden, budget-busting, achy-shakey-breaky, corn-dog monument to himself could be heard. That, and some noise coming from Tuscaloosa.

Government health care started to look better as the afternoon sun headed for the ground. "And you folks should look around and think about what you are going to do with all this infrastructure when NASA gets out of the business of flying to low earth orbit," the Band Leader continued as coughing sounds broke the silence. Or was that "BRAC" we heard moving down the aisles. Portending a very different future where Dragons and Dreamlaunchers fly to a government-owned contractor-operated port in the sky, the Band Leader painted a picture absent of Meatballs and blue suits. "My former colleagues in Houston will need to think about a coming time where they will no longer be needed to train the way they do for things they currently do." Cue the tears. New suits with flashy trademark brands may soon be plying the skies 340 km up.

The stage is being set. The battle begins September 14. Harrumph.

What Can Brown Do For You?

If you're the Marshall Space Flight Center, Brown won't take one Italian Waiter off your hands in the next bunch of days. But Dynetics will.

While the former E Street Tyrannosaurus Rex wasn't too happy about doing a business deal in exchange for a table server, the other guys now have the incentive for the placement of a weekly pasta special on the cafeteria menu.

See you at the going away party!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chowing Down at the Trough

The Executive Vice President for Technical Operations of Excalibur Almaz Limited seems to have been taking lessons at Doc's School of Interesting Conflicts. Just as the 475nm Ribbon Presidential Panel that he sits on comes out promoting commercial space transportation in a BIG way, the commercial space transportation company that he works for announces their intent to step up their effort to get into the commercial space transportation business.

Coincidence? We think not.

Conflict of Interest? Don't worry about it. Those astronaut "operators" never do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spending Spree

Remember the $150M that was promised by a certain American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the E Street Theater? A musky donation to a certain candidate's campaign was geared towards getting those funds aimed at accelerating the ability of a certain 2-3 rocket company (and maybe one or two others) to get into the crew transportation business. All was on track until a certain Senator from the Yellowhammer State put his paws on the funnel and diverted two thirds of the funds into an uncertain sinkhole in the upper middle of his state.

With the 475nm Ribbon Panel promoting further significant funding for commercial transportation above the wild blue (or shall we say wild 475nm), we, the taxpayers, have to wonder if the remaining $100M might now be better directed back towards its original targets?

Oooppps. Too late.

For as soon as the minions came to a similar realization, they embarked on a spending spree to commit the remaining funds as fast as possible to their doomed pet projects. Never mind that most of the remaining funds will likely soon be directed towards termination costs, instead of adding value to whatever outcome comes out.

We suggest that the headlines denouncing the $3B that will be thrown away on Ares 1 when it meets its just ends should now be updated to more accurately reflect a spending spree augmented figure of $3.1B.

Pep Talking

With the chubby one's publicity machine working overtime, we've been privileged to see just about every nut and bolt on a daily basis being assembled into the shaky corn dog. Simultaneously, we've heard about how $3B will be thrown away in the trash can if that sham stick isn't rolled out to shake the self-destruct system into submission.

And so it was told by the Viceroy to the minions today. "We are doing quality work." "We have shown and are being recognized for what's been done so far." "We have real hardware and it's stacked in the VAB." "Whatever comes next, we've got a rock solid foundation for whatever comes next."

Or something like that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The greatest thing since sliced bread, or so it would seem to the 475nm Ribbon Panel, is COTS. While there is nothing "off-the-shelf" about a commercial cargo and crew delivery service today, even the new Band Leader and Snow Princess have high hopes for a miracle on E Street.

Unfortunately, not much about the program announced last week makes sense or cents.

Who has ever heard of a government agency trying to put together a workable program that effectively puts the same government agency out of business? Bureaucracies are constructed to do just the opposite, to perpetuate their existence well past the their time of need. COTS seeks to take away just about the only remaining job the minions have left in their soon to be empty jar, that of safely transporting 475nm suiters to low earth orbit.

Can you imagine Danica Patrick being asked to sit in the back seat while she takes a ride around Indy? Maybe a tank rolling off a Fed-Ex C-5A in the middle east? How about a Blue Angel being moved aside by a Southwest Airline pilot? Can you visualize an F-18 pulling up to a Chevron decaled KC-tanker? Or Neil Armstrong in the back of a yellow taxi headed for Tranquility Base?

Having a hard time with those aren't you? As well do the minions.

And consider, how will those same bureaucrats more known for buying $475 toilet seats and $1200 hammers figure out how to buy rocket seats cheaper than the price they currently pay driving themselves? (oh wait, they did figure that out didn't they, Mr. Putin?) The odds of that happening in non-ITAR fashion are vanishingly small as well. Its not because the private sector couldn't do the job more cost effectively, in theory, than the government. The problem is that the government isn't going very far away when it comes time to mil-specify the leather on the seats in the Dragonbuster 3000 XL. And it will also wait until its too late to make that specification. And then they'll change it. Three times.

The new program, announced Thursday, suffers from all of the above. Failure to exemplify knowledgeable, inspiring, confidence-building leadership. Check. Failure to identify market, expected price points, and overall business case. Check. Failure to specify exact human rating requirements. Check. Failure to pin down destination interfaces. Check.

So what will be the result of all this wishy-washy-ness, this gap-non-filler?

We suspect a musky down payment on a launch abort system to be argued over in bankruptcy court next year. Anyone else interested in making a buck on this job will stay far far away from this program.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Leadership is hard to describe. You can feel it when you are in its presence. When you put yourself on the line without that feeling, the initial void only expands to engulf one's own being in the end. The minions are starting to experience a gap of their own now.

A true leader would be out on the front line in these trying times. Visible. Taking the hard questions in town hall meetings. Hanging tough with the troops. Fire in the belly. Take no prisoners. We're going to make this happen, people! LET'S GO!!

Instead we watch for smoke signal emails in a dark room.

But its hard when you don't have a workable plan, when the engineering is suspect, and when the house of cards is tumbling down all around. Even the Italian Waiter has been seen out interviewing. Truly, the end of days.

"If the outcome is that the Constellation plan as we have formulated it these last four years remains largely intact, we will have benefited from pressing ahead," read the hastily crafted email from the Viceroy to the troops.

"If." That word says it all. Great title for a Bread song. Not so good for soldiers in battle. Leaders do not carry "if" in their vocabulary.

"Keep moving forward" was the sign-off from the darkened room in which direction could not truly be discerned.

We would, if we could only find the door.

An August Carol

Yesterday Norm finished up his public meetings and seemed ready to put pen to paper with our (non)spacefaring future.

But is that really the end of the story? Perhaps not.

Tomorrow, Norm will share his findings with the greenshade wearing folks throwing out the big mega-billion dollar checks for GM subsidies, bank bailouts, and health care. The same folks will don their crumpled hats, torn mittens, dragging chains and Scrooge mentalities for this special occasion. And Norm will say the line he has been practicing for some time now, "Please Mister, can we have some more?"

And if the answer is "no," then Norm is ready to revisit and discuss the options his team has formulated, minus the plus-up they feel is needed to keep the E Street theater open. That contingency and the opportunity for one more public discourse was opened when another Federal Advisory Committee Act meeting notice was filed for a week from Monday, if needed.

And how does this play end? The same way it started, of course.

The remaining withering options will be tossed up to Congress. And they will stay the course keeping the jobs protected in their districts. And that, dear friends, should be enough of a clue to discern the ending. Except, this time, there will no chickens in every pot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

"Changing To Delta IV Rocket Could Cost NASA Billions," reads the headline. The rockets would be cheaper, but Orion would be more expensive, according to an "independent assessment" done by the Aerospace Corp and released on E Street Tuesday.

Not that Orion is getting any cheaper on its own after the most recent $1.5B increase given to its builder.

Aerospace says they "focused specifically on the implications of replacing the Ares I rocket" and "failed to address a key issue raised by Columbia accident investigators: crew survivability." That's ok, we know the Air Force already looked at that.

But here's the clunker paid for by your tax dollar cash. The Aerospace Corp. "said it had not independently verified NASA's estimates for Orion cost increases or the underlying assumptions."

Now, about that headline?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday the 14th

One day past Broomhilda's favorite kind of Friday, our fate will be more or less sealed.

If you are handicapping the seven or eight remaining options, there's one that sort of fits the budget and one that is sort of close but does not. One lives within our means, is exciting, and leads to the future. The other costs our Dear Leader a few more pennies, "saves" a program adrift, but anchors us to a path of mediocrity and perhaps, ultimately, the end of the program for years to come.

If you are still unable to see behind the green curtain, remember it has always been and always will be...about the jobs.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spin Doctoring

Inverted logic. Once the domain of the Emperor, the minions have now taken to continuing the tradition of making confounding arguments intended for the uninitiated audience. As far as the public is concerned, if someone with a meatball on their shirt says it, it must be true. Unfortunately, the uneducated press propagates the confusion without challenge.

Take, for instance, one of the architectural concepts being considered by the 475nm Ribbon Panel. Instead of redeveloping an existing capability, it has been suggested that multiple EELVs be used to mount a mission to the moon. More successful flights (as opposed to paper excursions) also raises the confidence level in any given rocket's reliability. Even Bow Tie Joe would have to agree with that.

Enter the Spin Doctors, pointing to the downsides of the plan. "Rocket malfunctions are not uncommon, and the more launches are needed for each moon mission, the more likely it is that something will go wrong," says a former senior minion to New Scientist.


Of course, this convolution fails to take into account the impact of any single failure that might occur. In reality (ours not theirs), should any single EELV fail, all is not lost as it might be if all eggs were placed in one ARES V basket. Launch teams are kept busy doing what they are supposed to do, launching, instead of sitting on their thumbs for the majority of a fiscal year, growing rusty.

Rest assured, this won't be the last oxymoron promoted by the mouthpieces being contracted for by the Italian Waiter to revise engineering textbooks. There are still 27 shopping days left in this crazy season.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The Viceroy decided to take some vacation after a hard week of testimony to the 475 nm Ribbon Panel, so the task of reality distortion fell to poor Mr. Davis this morning. Recently removed from his job running the upper stage program, he was relegated to pouring the Kool-Aid in the Viceroy's week starting staff meeting.

"We showed 'em we got a viable program." "Staying the course is an option on the table."

Cue the frosty pitcher guy filled with cherry Kool-Aid, "Oh Yeah!"

Pasta Puttanesca

It's a good thing that the Olive Garden serves a never ending bowl of Pasta e Fragola. Our favorite Italian Waiter will never run out of bowls to fill when he takes his new job there.

However, his new employer better keep a close eye on what is being served. Who would want the health department getting involved because of the serving of bad pasta? Still, our Waiter seems intent on ignoring the observations of Dr. Ride, saying that the fact that he has Ares hardware already at the right coast is "proof enough to many at the ... agency that the schedule is on track." Of course, the operative words are "many at the ... agency," as nobody outside the agency believes that to be true. He must have been in the lobby when smart Sally revealed her report, because he still claims Ares is "well under way" and "on target" for Ares I to begin operating in 2015.

And we won't even bring up the sham nature of the Ares 1X test that the Air Force believes is incapable of safely flying.

Sorry, we said we wouldn't bring that up. More soup, please!