11 thoughts on “NASA’s Aging Work Force”

  1. 56 percent of NASA employees fall into that category. [Over 50]

    That’s a lot. They almost certainly have too few incels as employees.

  2. IOWs, where the aerospace industry was 25 years ago. The solution then, of course, was a massive layoff to cull the herd of high pay experienced professionals and bring in fresh low pay diversity hires to meet the quotas. Win win. Not sure a government bureaucracy like NASA can run the same play though. Civil servants got protection.

  3. Why would someone want to retire from NASA? Sure some people might find other challenges in the private sector more rewarding or have other things pull them away but working at NASA is prestigious and the pay isn’t bad either.

    And although there are plenty of people who go to work for NASA today, there aren’t as many opportunities for young professionals.

    Is this really a problem? NASA doesn’t exist to cater to people wanting jobs, that is what the private sector is for. People who are inspired by NASA should be able to find other ways to pursue their passion.

    The troubling thing with the article is the implication that new hires would all be youngsters and that managers all come from within.

    “You need experienced people to mentor, but you also need fresh blood and ideas,” Rand Simberg, a former aerospace engineer, writer, and space policy expert told THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

    This is exactly true and the fresh blood and ideas shouldn’t just come from recent college grads. Middle aged and older people with experience in more than one field are good sources for innovation.

  4. The number of people my age (64) or above in senior management has got to be large, which might explain why all of NASA’s “vision of the future” artwork looks so much like a collage of all of their past programs. In fact, it all looks so…retro. The centerpiece is a huge black and white rocket, with a conical capsule (bi-stable, for maximum nostalgia, never mind the risk, thinks this cripplingly “safety”-obsessed agency) between it an (unnecessarily heavy, dangerous, but “we always did it this way, dammit!”) escape tower, blasting its way skyward with a pair of huge solid propellant motors on its sides like big, expensive, dangerous colostomy bags spewing rivers of aluminum oxide nanoparticles and hydrogen chloride gas into the stratosphere (so healing to the ozone layer, is my guess). If they could only come up with a place for it to go….

    James Webb deliberately set up NASA as a system of centers in Sunbelt (read: pork barrel Democrat Congressional districts) states so that it would survive across presidential administrations, possibly with a change of Party, long enough to reach that first President’s (JFK) goal of reaching the moon. He built better than he knew. This is the kind of organization that used to build cathedrals, whose apprentices would die of old age on the job, after imbuing the next generation of apprentices with the “right” (read: “only”) way to do things. Those guys could knock out a York Minster Cathedral, say, in a mere 252 years. Today, NASA can keep its big rocket program going for just as long, and doesn’t ever seem to have to build anything at all!

    The transportation side of this outfit has no reason to exist any more, and substantial reason not to. It benefits no one, even those who continue to get paid to “work on” a never-never-rocket to nowhere. Please let it die. Allow no new hiring into NASA, for any reason whatsoever. There is no other way to kill it.

    1. Some years ago on a NASA website I ran across an interview with a senior engineer who was working on a “hopper” that used cold gas thrusters to fly inside a building briefly before falling into a net. She said it was the most exciting project of her ~20 year career.

    2. I think it was George Turner who noted that the SLS is the first “generation ship,” in that the launch crew for each launch will be the descendants of the launch crew for the previous one.

      1. I’m thinking of a revision to the Heinlien’s SF classic Universe (aka Orphans of the Sky). Where a Congressional revolt leaves the would be the occupants residing in the Deep Space Gateway stranded on the LC39B pad only to eventually break out of the ship to see the big blue Florida sky….

  5. Not a new phenomenon. The economist in me had noted it when I worked NASA Academy at GSFC back in 2002, and I spoke to the topic during my presentation at the SEDS SpaceVision conference back in, IIRC, 2011.

    Healthy organizations have a good mix of fresh outs, some of whom will be groomed for eventual middle management roles, some of whom will be groomed for eventual senior leadership positions. The now largely defunct NASA Academy (well, morphed would be a better word) was supposed to play a role in that, cultivating a cadre of young Researchers who had a solid grasp of the scope of NASA operations and so were better positioned for eventual leadership roles.

    This also helps keep the payroll under control, as you have lots of cheap newbies for the grunt work, but only a small group of top management with fat paychecks. Having the same people in the same roles for decades is a recipe for payroll disaster as you end up with a lot of old, expensive employees. Old being relevant in the context of ‘requiring increasing amounts of medical care which drives up the group medical policy payout and therefore the premiums required to support that policy’.

    There’s no good or easy solution for this. However, those folks who have been at NASA for decades need to recognise that they should have been passing on their knowledge and grooming their replacements all along, and that it is time to let a new generation have a moment in the Sun and create the space program that they envision. Let go of the torch…let someone else carry it for a while.

  6. I would comment on only one thing, this last bit at the end:

    “A wealth of experience is a good thing, and a person who’s got that is an asset,” he said. At the same time, however, someone could be stuck in their ways, trying to apply methods from 30 years ago to problems that may be more easily solved by recent technology. “It works both ways. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing altogether.”

    This is a source of great frustration for me, this myth that all the 50-years-old-ish folks are going to just rest on the old stuff to do things in the space industry. If it’s old and it works, and costs less than developing something new, using the old ideas is not a bad thing. If it’s old, and something new works better and is (often) also cheaper, do that. It’s a simple calculus really, and for me, I’m ready to use the new stuff. I’m not scared of it, and I’ve been around a while. Build, test, validate, fly, using the best tool/material/process for the job, I don’t care. I don’t care for the timid approach either, and I’m in the age group always accused of being in rut.

    What kills me about that, too, is that I’ve been placed in that generation since I was 30 years old, this weird accusation of being a “fuddy-duddy” or whatever. They just keep making the age of fuddy-duddy-ness out every year. Most people in my cohort have been chomping at the bit to get moving and use the newest technology for a long, long time. Trust me, we do NOT want to hold back. Quit blaming us, we’re not the dinosaurs you claim we are.

    1. I hear you, and sympathize. So many of my posts have been embarrassing. Your’s wasn’t, though…don’t beat yourself up.

      I was one of the fresh-outs brought in to the ICBM world in 1980, at the start of the Peacekeeper full scale engineering development program. Though I and many others of my wage learned great lessons from the “old-timers,” we constantly carped about their attitude of “Well! We didn’t do it this way on Minuteman!”

      So we went from the start of Peacekeeper FSED to the start of weapon system deployment in a mere 6 years. In the interim, we were given the mandate to develop the Small Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (SICBM). A lot of us upstarts, along with some mid-career (younger than the Minuteman “oldtimers”) people knew – just knew – that we knew how to do it “right.”

      SICBM was an unmitigated disaster. In part, it was due to being under the command of a Captain-Queeg-like BMO CinC. But it was largely because we upstarts hadn’t learned quite as much from the oldsters as we thought, and didn’t apply what we knew as well as we should have.

      The first two flights of SICBM were failures, a record not seen since Minuteman I. When the Berlin Wall fell, President HGW Bush offered an olive brand to the Soviet Union by announcing the cancellation of SICBM. That was the cheapest bargaining chip I’ve ever seen used in international diplomacy. SICBM would never have been a threat to anybody but our missile crews.

      But, as it turns out, the Soviets were genuinely very afraid of it. For good reason, too. They had figured out the benefits of mobility for missiles, but we hadn’t. Unfortunately, they had no operational proof. Not, that is, until Desert Storm. Iraq launched large numbers of Scud missiles from mobile sites. The U.S. never found a single Scud launcher. The good news was that the Soviet Union had collapsed by that time, and the advantage it already had with mobile, intercontinental SS-20s went with it. Had the timing of the Gulf War been somewhat different, the Cold War might have turned out very differently.

      Of course, the Gulf War might have turned events in another direction. Gorbachev offered to send ships into the Persian Gulf to support our operation, but GHW Bush declined. He didn’t think anyone would take Mikhail’s navy seriously.

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