The Reality-Based Community

“Liberals” are more likely than conservatives to believe in ET.

One of the annoying things about being a space policy and technology expert is that many assume that you are knowledgeable about, and have in interest it, this topic. If you’re doing a call-in show on space, it’s inevitable that someone will call in about it.

How Many NASA Engineers…

…does it take to screw in a bolt? From comments here:

Take a generic piece of Criticality 2 hardware:

1) First there needs to be a released, CM-controlled drawing signed off by (among others) a stress analyst who does calculations to ensure that the bolt is not being over- or under-torqued. The drawing must be referenced later by the technician to verify the proper torque range of the bolt.

2) Then a project engineer needs to write a Task Performance Sheet (TPS) that is no fewer than 4 pages long that documents, in excruciating detail, which bolt to tighten, what tools to use, the exact locations of every piece of hardware involved throughout the entire process. The part numbers, serial numbers, and lot numbers of every part involved are recorded on the TPS. (The work instruction document defining the TPS process is 55 pages)

3) The TPS needs to be signed by the Project Engineer, his/her manager, and two Quality Engineers (who designate “Mandatory Inspection Points – MIPs – where a Quality Assurance Specialist needs to monitor the process); additional signatures (e.g. stress or materials experts) may be needed depending on the job. Then a Quality Assurance Specialist looks over the paper, approves it, and sends it to the Quality Assurance Records Center (QARC) where it is scanned, copied, and then placed in a basket to be worked.

4) Oh, we need the bolt, too. The bolt has to meet certain quality and reliability specifications, so it is purchased from an approved vendor and is most likely a MIL-spec part. When the vendor ships the part, it must be traceable by lot or serial number and accompanied by a Certificate of Conformance (CoC). The Receiving department will open the package, inspect the parts and make sure the CoC is present. Then some percentage of bolts from that lot of bolts will go to the Receiving Inspection and Test Facility (RITF) and be tested to ensure that the bolts actually meet the MIL Specs (in spite of the CoC being present). Then the RITF report is attached to the lot of bolts, with the CoC, and they all go to bonded storage.

5) The Project Engineer takes the TPS to the bond room, and someone pulls the bolt off the shelf, then a QAS makes sure that the proper part was pulled and that the CoC and RITF report are indeed attached. The parts are labeled and bagged and the Project Engineer is called to pick up the paper and part.

6) These get walked to the work area, then the Project Engineer rounds up two QASs and a union technician who has received special training on how to tighten bolts (no joke). The technician gathers the calibrated tools.

7) The technician tightens the bolt and records the tightening torque on the TPS. The QAS and NT QAS stamp the TPS to verify that they witnessed the bolt being torqued. (While the bolt is actually being tightened, 3-4 people are present watching.)

8) The Project Engineer and one of the QASs will take the hardware back to the bond room or wherever it needs to go. If the hardware is going back to the bond room, it has to be cleaned and sealed in a bag first.

9) The Project Engineer takes the TPS back to the quality office, where one or two QASs will go through the document and make sure that all of the required information was recorded and each step in the process was stamped or signed by all of the required people. Then the QAS will stamp the TPS “closed” and send it back to the QARC office, who will scan and copy it again.

I’m not going to debate the wisdom of any of these steps; any one of them are defensible in some instance. But I count around a dozen people immediately involved in the process and in general I’d say it takes a couple of days, assuming none of the required people find something they view as amiss. I’ll also point out that this is the process, as I understand it, as of today; every few weeks someone will get a wild hair up their ass and add another requirement.

In all fairness, though: I’m fairly confident that most of these people don’t make $100k a year. If they do, I need to have a talk with 4 of my managers about my salary 🙂

Every one of those procedures evolved as a response to some kind of mishappening, and they’ve accreted over decades, but if you want to know why NASA programs cost so much and take so long, there you go. And despite all of that, they destroyed two orbiters that cost a couple billion each to build, and shut down the program for years. So even when failure isn’t an option, failures occur. What is needed is an attitude that failures must be allowed for the program to succeed. The other related attitude that’s required is that what we’re doing is important, which allows the taking of risk.

[Update a couple minutes later]

I would note that one of the reasons that SpaceX can avoid a lot of this quality acceptance stuff is that they manufacture so much in house, and are vertically integrated, as a result of the fact that they couldn’t find contractors who were responsive to their needs in terms of price and schedule. The traditional NASA/AF way has bred a culture among the lower subcontractor tiers that isn’t useful for those trying to lower costs. We need to replace the existing infrastructure with more nimble players. The growing new space industry will help make that happen, but it won’t happen overnight.

How Bad Is Chris Christie On The Second Amendment?

Pretty awful. If he had any presidential ambitions, this by itself would shoot them down, unless he runs as a Democrat. And maybe even then. He’s swimming against the tide of public opinion in general.

[Update a while later]

Thoughts on President Obama’s awful choice for the head of BATF:

Mr. Traver’s forked-tongue performance in that sloppy NBC story was typical: The popular-disarmament gang has long attempted to conflate semiautomatic weapons and machine guns in the public mind, though it was unusual, almost refreshing, to see a federal law-enforcement agent engaged in so flagrant and undisguised a display of dishonesty. Most of the so-called assault weapons are the ballistic equivalent of sheep in wolves’ clothing; they’re basically scary-looking squirrel guns. The greatest part of them are .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles, which is to say that they are largely indistinguishable from the little .22-caliber plinkers boys have been knocking cans off of fence posts with for generations. The .223 is too small to be used legally for deer hunting in most of the country — these paramilitary terrors being insufficient to bring down Bambi cleanly. Notable, that: The gun-grabbers always insist that they do not want to restrict hunters’ access to legitimate sporting guns, but a North American hunter stalking grizzly bears or moose frequently will be armed with a rifle packing a far more powerful pop than that of those carried by most of the world’s infantrymen.

All of which is rather beside the point, since rifles as a category, from Granddad’s deerslayer to Uncle Nasty’s assault rifle, are used only rarely in crimes. Even for a gangster in sagging jeans, it’s hard to walk around casually with Elmer Fudd’s blunderbuss in your shenanigans, and those .50-caliber competition-grade rifles they’re soiling themselves over in California go for about 15 grand, putting them out of the financial range of Joe Crackhead. Rifles just aren’t where the action usually is, crime-wise.

Which is not beside the point. What Traver and those philosophically aligned with him are engaged in is the opposite of law enforcement. We might call their business anti-policing, inasmuch as they seek to restrict the actions of law-abiding citizens — lawful gun owners, licensed firearms dealers — while largely leaving actual criminals untouched.

I agree that the agency should be disbanded.

Bloomberg’s War

on the First Amendment:

As long as Mayor Mike is in the dock, let us also note that when it comes to building a mosque near Ground Zero, he has from the start stood behind the First Amendment — sort of.

That is, he likes the part that gives Muslims the right to build a house of worship just about anywhere they want.

But the part guaranteeing a separation between religion and government?

Not so much.

That much became obvious last week with the release of e-mails demonstrating that City Hall did much more than offer the mosque’s organizers routine help.

In fact, it turns out that Team Bloomberg was heavily involved in operating the political machinery needed to ensure that various regulatory agencies approved the controversial project — which has rightly drawn the ire of many 9/11 survivors and victims’ families.

It’s OK. I mean, it’s not like it was a Christian church or something. That would be wrong.

Don’t Like The Winter So Far?

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Funny, he’s got a better track record than the warm mongers. Though, while I joke about firing up the SUVs, I don’t think that increasing the CO2 levels are a solution to a new glacial advance (I continue to be unconvinced that CO2 is a cause, and not a symptom, of climate change). We’ll have to think about serious geoengineering for that.

[Update a few minutes later]

When white isn’t right.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Here’s how you transcend ideological differences. It’s too hard for most people, though.

Things The Chattering Class…

got wrong:

You would think the liberal intelligentsia would, with a record of so many misses on so many consequential matters, become chastened. But no. They are filled with certainty: Obama is back, the recovery is around the corner, Russian “reset” is a success, ObamaCare can’t be repealed, there are no electable Republican 2012 contenders, and more, they tell us. We’ll see if the left’s crystal ball is any more accurate in 2011.

I know how I’d bet. They can’t help themselves.

[Update a while later]

Something else the chattering class is getting wrong — Barack Obama isn’t the “Comeback Kid.”

Restrospective And Prospective

You’ll be seeing a lot of pieces like this one from Leonard David over the next few days, with a look back one year and forward one year at commercial spaceflight. Leonard got quotes from Brett Alexander, Jim Muncy, and me among others. I’ll have a couple up myself, probably early next week, at AOL News and Popular Mechanics.

[Update a while later]

Clark Lindsey has a roundup of the past year as well.

Islam On Campus

The numbers from the UK are pretty scary:

The statistic that stood out the most was that 32% of Muslim college students believe it is OK to kill someone in the name of religion. Most who held that belief said that killing is perfectly fine if you are defending your religion. So it shouldn’t be surprising that another CSC study (done in July 2010) revealed that 1/3 of terrorist attacks done by British Muslims the last ten years was done by people who had attended universities.

Other parts of the CSC research found that 40% of Muslims want Sharia law in the UK for Muslims. 1/3 of those want a worldwide Caliphate based on Sharia. There are already over 85 Sharia law schools in the British Isles, so their wish is becoming true. Moreover, 54% of those survey wanted a Muslim Party to be represented in Parliament.

I too would like to see a similar poll done on American campuses.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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