Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Cold Down There.

And if Richard Pryor was still with us he'd say, "Yeah, deep, too."

We are, of course, talking about the satellite graveyard just off the coast near McMurdo Base Antarctica. This morning another spacecraft was interred there. A simple fairing failed to separate and weighed down the payload, keeping it from escaping the surly bonds.

Rocket Science is still hard.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Plumping the Turkey

Viceroy Hanley has another bill come his way soon. The reconciliation, churn, and delays in failing to set a configuration baseline for Orion keep adding up. Despite the multi-billion dollar plus-up that has already been confessed to, another quarter billion or so is needed to keep the contractors from stopping work soon.

And, oh, you wanted a launch abort system with that? Better keep the checks flowing there, too. If new money doesn't flow soon, the same company that really lost CRS, but was moved to the head of the class with divine help, will have to stop its efforts as well. That's what happens when the resources have to go to education instead of being applied directly to development. Oh, yes, good luck with that CRS thing, too.

No wonder the free models of the stick and its gumdrop payload get so much attention at the weekly staff meetings. If you had problems like these you would not want to talk about them either, now would you?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All These Worlds are Yours, Except Europa

Cue, "Also sprach Zarathustra."

Funny how real life follows art, isn't it? In the movies, Europa is placed off limits by the guardians who seek to protect whatever is swimming in the ocean below the icy surface. Here in our world, $3,8B and 17 years of development will keep us away.

Much like the bloated Rube Goldberg machine called Mars Science Laboratory, the minions are designing an almost six ton monster that will launch in 2020 and go into orbit in 2026.


The real mission, landing on Europa and submarining under the ice to look for whales, is still further off. No wonder school kids don't care anymore. When considering this kind of planning, footprints on Mars starts to look relatively close.

Cue, "Alan Stern."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Yellow Jacket for the Emperor

In an effort to plan for a life outside the confines of E Street, our (former)Dear Leader decided one day to go shopping for a late winter wardrobe. The real world can be a very cold when one lives without whole cloth.

Getting a bit of a Buzz, he visited a clothier in Georgia and found a yellow jacket to his liking. The store had one coat left that fit just right, but, alas, the Emperor could not stay long enough to have it fitted. It seems that he had to run back to E Street to wait for a call that never came. When he returned weeks later to the little store, he found the rack bare and the jacket already sold.

And so now he finds himself on the street, threadbare once again.

But the good children of Georgia can rejoice. For their Bud-ding new leader now wears the yellow jacket. They also have another thing to be thankful for. Their path to enlightenment will not be tarnished by yet another four year gap.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dog Days Come Early This Year

These truly are the dog days of the space age. A space station shaken almost to the point of bending. Space shuttles grounded by cracking valves. Satellites colliding just above the Hubble telescope. Pretty tough stuff for an acting Emperor to deal with, let alone a real one.

And an even larger problem may be lurking around the corner.

One does have to wonder, how the big eyes of the Pentagon, and its super computers on the ground, missed predicting the dust-up on orbit over Siberia. The Pentagon acknowledged that it did not anticipate the ka-boom. "We did not predict this collision," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, "There are limits on your ability to track and compute every piece of orbiting man-made objects."

Ahhhhh, maybe not every piece, Bryan, but how about the stable bigger stuff? We sure knew how to blow a satellite out of the sky last year when its orbit was not so predictable near the edge of the atmosphere. That's a lot harder to track and predict than what happened last week.

Which also makes us wonder, if they missed that one, what about the smaller stuff aiming for the shuttle headed towards Hubble in May. What about the slightly bigger tool bag recently sent adrift by an astronaut near the space station? If we can't predict two car-sized objects are about to occupy the same box in space at the same point in time, what does that say about the models, the sensors, and the humans generating predictions that lives in orbit depend on every day?

There are only three answers possible. Either a big ooops happened last week, and no one in the five-sided building wants to come clean on that, or the collision was deliberately allowed to take place, and someone left us with a big mess as a result, or our prognostication capabilities are not all that they are cracked up to be. Any conclusion you come to is not a good one.

And we aren't even talking yet about the big asteroid with our name on it hiding in the deepest darkness.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Must See TV


O Sole Mio!

With all the hardware being pushed to the south right coast these days, you'd think Viceroy Hanley's staff meetings would be chock full of status reports, risk issues, and opportunities for advancement when possible. Especially from the minions racing the clock to blow up a rocket later this summer.

And, of course, you'd be wrong.

No, the highlight today was our favorite Italian Waiter, practicing for his next career as tenor for the evening serving at Olive Garden. Our rotund friend set aside the things a program manager should talk about, and the things his superiors should want to hear about, and instead talked about his favorite contractors' "contributions."

Scale models of rockets and such. Delivered to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. Not a penny of taxpayer's dollars wasted. At least not on the models. And our Waiter was very proud of that. So much so, in fact, that Viceroy Hanley became a bit jealous and requested some for his domain in Houston.

Such was the topic of intense staff meeting conversation, tying up hundreds of civil servants listening in on the line, no doubt inspiring intense confidence in the process and their leaders.

But, of course, they must have talked about more important things than that, you say? Something maybe remotely related to managing a $100B development program? Something worthy of tying up the minions for more of their precious minutes?

Once again, you would be wrong in thinking that.

No, the other important order of business today was an explanation of how a Big Team is heading out to the left coast to "benchmark" a company that makes routers, albeit one of the largest companies doing so, so that the minions could see how "industry" sets up development teams.

We are not making this up.

And you wonder why no one really cares about this anymore?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Brilliant Disguise

"I saw you last night out on the edge of town
I wanna read your mind and know just what Ive got in this new thing Ive found
So tell me what I see when I look in your eyes
Is that you Viceroy or just a brilliant disguise"

Something funny is going on inside Viceroy Gerst's head. Perhaps he shared too many pieces of the poison apple with the former Emperor. Perhaps he is tired. Whatever he is, he is not himself.

First he changed the rules wily nily to suit himself on the commercial crew cargo award, enough to inspire a protest. Next he forced words into another procurement to legalize his ability to disregard the grades brought forth by the evaluators. Once again, an agency whose very watchword is "discipline" has arrogantly compromised on principal. And you wonder why the financial system is still chastised by the GAO?

It should be evident to even the uninformed reader at the point, no one is watching the store, no one cares outside the store, and the franchise office has other things on its mind.

No rules, just wrongs.

The Viceroy is now engaged in a quiet battle to move his programs towards 2020 while paying lip service to the up and comer trying to take over his launch pads. And while the Russians conspire to shake apart the only destination we will have for some time to come, the Viceroy was handed a gift from the shuttle gods when a little old valve decided to damage itself some 28 years after its design went into operation. On the surface, it looks like yet another nail in the aging shuttle coffin. Au contraire, mon cher ami.

The little valve has flown many many many times before. It has a small resonance problem which fatigues it, resulting in limited life. One of these little guys was used too many times. We know what the Emperor would have done. Buy, build, or steal one with new parts and limit the number of times it flies. Launch!

So why is the program standing down now?

The Viceroy is playing the sympathy card. A risky, but time tested move that will accomplish a number of things. First, it points to the need for more money to keep our blue suiters flying safely. Second, it pushes out the schedule on handing over assets to its replacement, making it more likely that time will never come. And, third, it kicks the program end date out past the end of 2010. More time to build more tanks out of the stack of aluminum lithium that just happens to be available. If you can fly in 2011, proving everyone wrong about a need to stop in 2010, can 2015 be that far away?

"Tonight our launch pad is cold
Im lost in the darkness of our sky
God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he's sure of."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Skip To My Lou

Those of you holding out false Hope for a quick puff of white smoke out of the D Street chimney have probably turned blue, dropped over, and well, probably are not reading this. The rest of us, who know that the more things change, the more they stay the same, also know that our beloved space program is not very high on leadership radar, except for the month preceding a close election. Once the White House is in the bag, the priority level falls to generally the same level as keeping campaign promises.

And so the wait continues.

Being headless, however, the minions are not waiting to push on up the trail to ignomy. Parts are now arriving at KSC for the upcoming ARES-1X debacle. Of course, the parts are arriving now because they were bought off the shelf in a fire sale and are being applied to tasks for which they are not qualified. Give them credit, they didn't waste our taxpayer dollars on something that won't matter in the upcoming spectacle. And if you don't have to qualify the systems, you can certainly skip that part of the schedule, too.