RIP, Outpost

And RIP, Apollo mentality:

The Outpost was an icon of the previous generation of NASA – test pilots, rough-and-tumble guys who blazed trails into outer space with their grit and determination. Or so the story went – when you delve deeper into the details, you find out that really it wasn’t their grit at all – the Right Stuff that we all know so much about really had very little to do with humanity reaching space. The world, America, even NASA allowed the myth to continue because it made much better press – some superhuman beings stretched us from the ordinary to the extraordinary. To glamorize the engineers who actually made it happen: how boring!

Unfortunately, that view was allowed to persist long after it was useful. Today’s NASA is hampered by many forces; one of the most detrimental is the crew office. The crew office is the greatest bastion of the Space Ego, where test pilots, sports heroes, and other mythical creatures can take refuge in perceived greatness.

Time to let go of the Cold-War past, and face a bright new free-enterprise future.

[Update Sunday afternoon]

A lot more (depressing) discussion in comments at NASA Watch. What this comes down to (a recurring theme here) is that space isn’t important. If it were, we’d fix things.


[Update a few minutes later]

I think that this is related. As far as I’m concerned, shrinking the astronaut office is a good thing — they’ve had too many for years. And what they’ve really had too many of (with exceptions, of course) is people with attitudes like this:

Ross personally does not like the idea of turning to commercial providers to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

“My personal druthers are to keep the program totally within NASA like we’ve done in the past – the vehicle, the launch team, control, everything – because I know, I’ve seen, how difficult it is to do and I’ve seen what happens when you don’t pay attention to details,” he continued. “Even as hard as we’ve tried to pay attention to details, being what I will call a professional flight launch team, and processing team and flight crew team and flight control team, we still miss things.

“We’re going to have some people that are very much novice in what they’re doing, and trying to do things as inexpensively as possible to make a profit and we’re now going to be putting our crewmembers onto those vehicles and trusting them to launch them safely and that concerns me,” he adds. “You can do it. I’m not going to say that you can’t. It all depends on how much insight, oversight, control, leverage that NASA is given in the overall process. That’s the big key to it,” Ross said.

I grow increasingly weary of the oft-repeated (and much too oft-repeated in the last year) canard that private transportation providers will cut corners and be unsafe because they have to make a profit. The other one is that NASA somehow has some magical expertise and insight that private industry doesn’t have into human spaceflight safety, when in fact much of that, to the degree it exists is in private industry at places like USA and Boeing (who is building a commercial capsule).

Last time I checked, Southwest Airlines had a perfect safety record. Last time I checked, it was one of the most, if not the most profitable airline. And they seem to do both without any oversight by the “professional flight launch team” at NASA. Because, you know, those at Boeing and SpaceX and other places (many of whom are NASA veterans), are just “amateurs.” By these peoples’ theory, Southwest should be killing passengers every week or so. Why don’t they?

Gee, could it be because that they know that killing your customers is bad for business, and that if you go out of business, you don’t make any profits? On the other hand, the agency that not only hasn’t had to worry about profits, but had so much vaunted expertise in human spaceflight, and “knew what they didn’t know,” destroyed two multi-billion dollar Shuttle orbiters, and killed fourteen astronauts, while spending untold billions of dollars of other peoples’ money in apparent futility to make them “safe.” And each time that happened, the agency was rewarded with budget increases and new programs, which they then proceeded to screw up.

So you tell me, who has the more useful incentives, in terms of both cost and safety?

Mind, I’m not complaining that they kill people occasionally — this is a new frontier, and people are going to die. What I’m complaining about is that they’re spending so much money (and again, other peoples’ money) to do so, for so few results.

12 thoughts on “RIP, Outpost”

  1. Last time I checked, Southwest Airlines had a perfect safety record.

    Not quite. They have not had a fatal airline crash but a Southwest Airlines plane did have an accident in 2005 that resulted in the death of a 6 year old boy on the ground.

    8 December 2005; Southwest Airlines 737-700; Chicago, IL: The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Baltimore to Chicago’s Midway Airport. After landing, the crew was unable to stop the aircraft on the runway, going off the runway, through the airport’s barrier fence and onto a nearby street. At some point during this event, the nose wheel collapsed. The aircraft struck at least two vehicles, with the impact causing fatal injuries to a six year old boy who was a passenger in one of the vehicles. None of the five crew members or 95 passengers were seriously injured. This was the first serious accident involving the 737-700. Because this event did not cause a passenger fatality, it is not counted as a fatal event as defined by

  2. Actually, thinking about this .. both lost multibillion dollar space trucks have further fueled the handwringing about safety. So NASA, leading with its very poor performance on keeping their astronauts alive has AGAIN contributed to this safety wrench being thrown in the works of commercial manned spaceflight.

    Had NASA not done these spectacular fireworks, we would probably not be hearing that much about this safety dance.

  3. I’m vaguely reminded of the public schools, for whom any evidence of appalling educational outcomes just means you didn’t give us enough money and who demonize private equivalents as being amateur profit uber alles ruffians.

  4. “It all depends on how much insight, oversight, control, leverage that NASA is given in the overall process”

    This chaps my ass. If the private players allow this, they will never get off the ground.

    This is what really bothers me about SpaceX and others taking NASA funding through COTS, etc. Sure, the use of taxpayer money irks the Libertarian in me, but the real problem is that it invites in the NASA vampires.

  5. And remarkably: “[should a commercial provider fail]…the only options are not to fly anymore or to give them a whole bunch more money to get them out of bankruptcy and get them flying again.”

    Setting aside the assumption that there’s only one supplier, how is this any different from the way we currently do things with only one, publicly funded government sinkhole?

  6. I passed by the remains Saturday and Sunday. Even if Outpost was a relic of times gone by, it was a shame to see it go. In a better world it would have been preserved like a museum.

  7. I have a very hard time taking seriously a 7-time NASA astronaut about the value of an all-NASA access to space. I mean, of course *he* thinks NASA is doing it the right way, *he* got to go into space seven times! And he’s the best!


    I’ve said before, I’ll say again: waiting for NASA to get the common man into space is like waiting for the DMV to get me a Ferrari.

  8. The barnstorming era of spaceflight started with the X-Prize. It is happening in spite of NASA instead of because of NASA. NASA’s continued relevance depends on whether it makes the transition from the Langley era to the barnstorming era, too.

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