Category Archives: Space History

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.

The Rashomon Of Apollo And Shuttle

Stephen Smith has a lengthy review of John Logsdon’s latest book.

As he notes, the dual myths of Kennedy as space visionary and Nixon as space villain don’t stand up to any sort of realistic historical scrutiny. In fact, with Apollo, Kennedy set us up for decades of failure, in terms of making spaceflight economically realistic.

Yuri’s Night

If you’re in LA, this is the place to be.

Don’t go in hopes of seeing me. I can’t see spending money to be tortured with awful, loud music. But if you’re into that sort of thing, and what passes for dancing in this society, knock yourself out.

No, this has nothing to do with me being old (though I do seem, unaccountably, to be aging). I’ve never been into clubbing, or awful, loud music. The twenty-year-old me wouldn’t have gone, either.

The High Cost Of Space Access

Roger Launius has a brief history of the Shuttle, but this number is outdated:

The best expendable launch vehicles (ELV) still cost about $10,000 per pound from Earth to orbit.

As I commented over there (it’s awaiting moderation), Falcon 9 delivers ~30,000 lbs to LEO for ~$60M. That’s $2000/lb. Price, not cost. Falcon Heavy will roughly halve that. If they can reuse cores, they’ll drop the price further.