NASA’s Bureaucracy

This comment over at NASA Watch is a pretty good description of the problem, on the 57th anniversary of the agency transforming from the NACA (which it needs to return to) to NASA:

In another current post on NW, Wayne Hale laments that the lengthy list of specifications is going to kill the commercial crew effort. Why this lengthy list of specs? Maybe because the NASA people who wrote the program requirements had no actual experience in developing any space hardware, and they did not know which specs to select, so they just included them all?

I should also note that it is not because more experienced and more qualified people were not available in these instances of program management, vehicle design, or spec writing. There were people with experience in Shuttle, Spacehab (commercial), Mir systems development, and with DOD programs, but the NASA management went with people they “knew” despite their lack of experience. You can look all the way to the top of the program, the AA for manned spaceflight, and he has little more experience, and so how can he provide the guidance for others to “learn the trade”. In fact he appears to have been responsible for naming a large number of his contemporaries, all from his old organization, payload operations, to leading positions. I don’t think they’ve worked out too well.

The mission ops directorate has the right idea-they require people to be certified and as they get certified their careers progress and they move from document writer to flight controller to flight director. The other technical/engineering disciplines do not have this and so we wound up in a situation where virtually anyone with a degree can be selected for almost any position.

Now, especially after 3 decades of ISS, you have the big bureaucracy in which the main experience base is in meeting attendance. And the people without the experience in the top positions are fearful of the people who actually have any education and experience. This is a corrupt bureaucracy.

That Wayne Hale post, from five years ago, is sadly prophetic.

2 thoughts on “NASA’s Bureaucracy”

  1. It will only get worse as NASA struggles to define any relevant programs to provide program management *for*. Increasingly it is the Senate Rocket Design Bureau, not NASA that is in the driver’s seat. NASA will eventually become adept in managing programs that have as a primary objective, wait for it… Program maintenance. It’s a shame that the experience base is either being bypassed or allowed to retire. Maybe NACA will re-appear as an industry consortium formed to address the common needs of the New-Space era, staffed while it’s still feasible with knowledgeable ex-NASA folks, similar to the way Underwriter’s Laboratories work for many industries today. But the trend seems unmistakable. Government run “civilian space” is quickly becoming irrelevant.

  2. I think it’s time to revisit Jim Bennett’s Space Guard idea. That’s the only way I can see NASA being “fixed” and turned back into a NACA-style agency.

    And, Jeff Greason was right: the only good reason for doing anything in space is with an eye to eventual settlement and colonization. (Ed Lu touched on this as well). Manned-vs-robotic an SLS-vs-commercial is down in the noise compared to that signal.

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