Time For Heads To Roll

I have a piece up at AOL News calling for a new NASA administrator.

[Update a while later]

My favorite comment over there so far (there are about thirty, most of them pretty dumb):

Are you sure it’s not just because he’s black??? I’ve rarely heard that much hatred and pure BS except from racists! What proof do you have for these theories of yours? Other then way much Rush!!

Wow, this guy has me pegged.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Here’s another gem, from “RetardedPalin”:

Its the Republicans that see NASA as a waste of money. Bush cut NASA funding. Christians don’t believe there’s any reason to be looking at space or going there.

Sigh…

[Update a while later]

Here’s another highly perceptive comment:

Where did you buy that fully loaded Manure spreader? Thats some load of disrespect for a former Marine Corps General, enjoy your NASA retirement check you republican old f@rt. it is your generation that heaped these problems upon us.

Every day I look in the mail for my NASA retirement check, but it’s never there.

The Requirements Mess

“Ray” has a good comment over at NASA Watch on the NASA Commercial Crew requirements:

Oh I just cannot wait for these requirements to finally see the light of day. I am going to have a field day with them (because, of course, any requirements the GOV levies on commercial enterprises are subject to public comment). Without even reading them, just based on Wayne’s words and my knowledge of existing substandard NASA requirements (current human rating requirements is but one example), I can tell they are going to be a bunch of unsubstantiable doo doo.

I am just getting warmed up, but here are the first two issues I have for these requirements mongers:

1) How many of these existing requirements are actually validated? And if so, what are the principles against which they are validated (I hope someone answers this with a CFR citation!)
2) For all those requirements in this set that are not yet validated (a viable situation), I would hope that NASA will clearly and unambiguously identify each and every validation plan for each and every requirement levied.

My specialty over the last 10 years of my career is going into troubled programs and laying waste to all their BS, unverifiable, or outright wrong requirements. The best way to prevent such problems like this from happening is following model-based systems engineering principles, which I am pretty sure NASA has not done in this case. If they actually did, then when they release the requirements for public comment, they should also be expected to release the fully coherent operational, functional, and physical architecture models. If they do not or cannot, then all they are doing is politics, not engineering.

I will take this task on as part of my duty as an American engineer to make sure NASA is NOT permitted to make these kinds of mistakes in systems engineering that they have made before. It is well understood by professionals in systems engineering that each “shall statement” has a dollar amount attached to it. Many contractors use this as a metric (e.g. so many dollars for each well-formed, substantiated, and traceable requirement). When requirements are found that are not verifiable, not measureable, not coherent, or not traceable, the “cost fudge factor” on those requirements is usually somewhere around 4-5x that of a well-formed requirement.

What we are seeing here is the EXACT same problem that DoD has. It is the single biggest problem that government, overall, has that causes over budget and blown schedule technology programs. If We The People let this happen without a whimper, we deserve what we get.

Actually, I would go further. In order to figure out what the “shall” statement is going to cost, you have to look at the verification statement(s). In the last few years of my own curmudgeonhood, I will no longer accept a requirement without one (or more, if necessary). Because in my experience, the verification statements are the foundation for a test plan, and that’s where the costs of a program can really balloon. A requirement without a verification statement has no value, and isn’t a real requirement. I would also add that when I was working CEV (before it became Orion), NASA had imposed some truly ridiculous requirements on it (e.g., it had to survive a bird strike at 10,000 feet).

A True Bitter Clinger

If this guy was a Tea Partier, the media would make him the face of the movement. But he did it out of a rational hatred of a young woman who’d never done anything to him except be on television, so it’s OK. Apparently his remote was broken, and he was too lazy to get up and change the channel.

[Update a few minutes later]

Iowahawk comments on Facebook: “After booking, he was offered tenure by the University of Wisconsin and a Senior Fellowship by Media Matters.”

Regrets, I Have A Few

Wayne Hale thinks that he posted in haste. But the problem remains:

Now I have re-read it and have some additional thoughts. It is clear that this is a vast scaling down from the requirements that say, Ares-1 and Orion had. And many of the paragraphs say that the specifications and standards can be replaced with alternatives, or with other standards that “meet the intent of” spec such and such. That is good. And to the casual reader that sounds like a big change. Unfortunately, it is not. Having to prove that an alternative standard is just as good as the standard NASA listed is an uphill battle. The adjudicator will be some GS-13 who has lived with one standard his whole career, understands it thoroughly, probably sat on the technical committee that wrote it, and loves it. Proving that his baby is ugly is going to be time consuming, and probably fruitless. I speak from sad experience.

So, what is my recommendation? Simple. Do what the Launch Services Program does: require that providers HAVE standards and follow them – don’t make them pick particular processes or standards, let the flexible, nimble, [your adjective here] commercial firms pick what suits their business best. As long as they have standards and stick to them – that is what we should require.

I would note that this is the FAA’s approach for launch licensing of passenger flights, until the industry matures sufficiently to develop certification standards (a point in time that is many years off).

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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