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« I'm Calling You Out, Gregg | Main | Losing Meaning »


Don't you just hate it when your multi-million-dollar satellite falls over and breaks?

Way to go, Lockmart...

Keith Cowing over at NASA Watch provides the following reader comment:

"It turns out that the POES group at GSFC had a training session for an ISO 9000 audit in July, 2003. Here's the link to the briefing slides.

The accident appears to be LockMart's fault, but once again we see the benefits of an ISO 9000 program..."

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 09, 2003 09:01 AM
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Spacecraft Accident
Excerpt: Ouch! GOES/POES Spacecraft Falls Down, Goes Crunch. I hope no Virginia Tech graduates were involved in this incident. (via Transterrestrial Musings) UPDATE: More details and photos have been added. As the Generals used to say in the USAF, "When we...
Weblog: Spacecraft
Tracked: September 11, 2003 10:53 AM

Reality time Rand; Accidents happen.

Posted by Derek L. at September 9, 2003 09:06 AM

Your point? They seem to "happen" to some companies more than others...

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 9, 2003 09:21 AM

Over the last few years, Boeing out at KSC has been having a lot more "incidents" than usual. Many of us uninformed wage-slaves have small-mindedly attributed this to the fact that management has riffed so many of the older, experienced people from the payload handing area. I wonder if a similar phenomenon's at work here?

Posted by David A. Young at September 9, 2003 09:33 AM

Sorry. That should have been payload "handling" area.

Posted by David A. Young at September 9, 2003 09:35 AM

I'd like to know what happened to the guys who took the bolts out of someone else's stand without either asking permission or notifying anyone. If someone did that to my experiment they'd never find the bodies...

Failure to check before a possibly hazardous maneuver is bad, but you just don't f*ck with other people's equipment without permission.

Posted by Andrew Case at September 9, 2003 10:57 AM

Why didn't they just say the cat knocked it over?

Posted by Carey Gage at September 9, 2003 12:16 PM

Sheesh. Accidents like this don't "just happen". Good management would have procedures in place where such accidents would require deliberate flouting of the rules and individual responsibility for causing it. Betcha this is another case where no one gets fired.

Posted by Raoul Ortega at September 9, 2003 12:19 PM

Ok, that made my day. How often can you look at a picture and laugh and feel sympathetic pain at the same time? Ok, so somebody else REMOVES 24 separate bolts holding a multi-million dollar device? All of them? No note? I really feel for the guy that started moving the thing . . . then watched as it teetered and went *THUNK*. ?I KNOW I PUT THOSE BOLTS IN, I JUST *KNOW* it!?
OOOOOWWWWWW! I can feel that heart attack coming on.

Somehow, I don?t think this sort of thing happens too often at the plants where the solid rocket fuel booster segments are constructed. The thought of instant immolation might make one more cautious. I dunno . . . maybe corporal punishment would help?

Posted by VR at September 9, 2003 04:20 PM

"Betcha this is another case where no one gets fired."

Of course not. They will be counseled.

Posted by Jon R Brenneman at September 9, 2003 04:25 PM

Thinking more about this - they are building $100 million+ satellites, but they don't have a drawer full of bolts? Twenty-Friggin-four bolts? How the hell do you run a production shop without bolts? Are these magic aerospace-grade unobtainium bolts with pixie-dust anti-sieze?

Posted by Andrew Case at September 9, 2003 05:22 PM

Yeah, we feel like real fucking idiots, Rand. I'm sure there will be a giant Sam's Club economy barrel of whoop-ass opened on this one, because it was a very stupid incident.

Of course, your smart-ass contempt for every person who's actually been able keep a job in the Aerospace business rather than having to resort to lame opinion columns and bitter blog entries grates a wee bit on the nerves. Like to see the rocket on your drafting board loft a 15,000 lb spacecraft to geosynch. That'll be the day...

Posted by idiot at September 9, 2003 06:23 PM

I've no rockets on my drafting board.

It's not a design problem. As the Gehman Report indicates, it's an institutional problem.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 9, 2003 07:22 PM

Rand: In case you're pondering this sudden, cowardly (e.g., no email or name) attack on your fine website, please allow me unload for a few minutes (unless you one of those alleged "freedom-loving" bloggers who hates a contrary opinion and chooses to suppress this one). I've read your little rants about the space program for quite some time now...I actually agree with you more often than I would like to admit (like I agree with Zubrin or crazy Buzz Aldrin). I am a 30-year member of NSS (actually started out as a charter member of the L5 society) and have great admiration for those who try to find a way to make this a space-faring, space-using society reminiscent of the conquering of the old West. However, lately I've noticed a strange pattern in your general griping and belly-aching that seems eerily reminiscent of the worst kvetching from the anti-capitalists and other smelly leftists that infect Indymedia. You rail against NASA, you scream about the giant, evil "monopolies" like Boeing and LockMart (gee, what a hypocrite you are - I guess you only like capitalism if it's itsy-bitsy - no Starbucks or McDonalds or Microsoft for you), you hate OSP, you hate X-33 (or you did when it was tried), you hate expendables, you aren't thrilled with space exploration strictly for science, you seethe about any attempt to go into space that isn't put together by two kids on a lemonade stand budget. But yet, for all of this ranting and raving on your website and in your opinion columns, I have yet to see you propose a viable, technically feasible alternative that can bring payloads of many sizes (including lots of humans) into space. How do you propose to replace these systems? Is the solution in Rutan's hands? Did Beale have the solution? How will you get my replacement Dish Network and new GPS satellites into orbit? How will you meet the needs of the Defense Department and the NRO and Homeland security? How do you meet the requirements of Range Safety? (RS is not a mythological organization that can be blinked away if you wish it - see how far you get in this litigious country if you happen to kill a few unwary civilians with a launch vehicle experiment).

Lay it out, Rand. What fuel does it use? How do you achieve 100% reliability? How do you bring back your visitors from space? What magic pill achieves 17,500 mph velocity in just a few minutes, yet can tolerate the energy shedding during the return to earth? Why do you hate the people that work in the Aerospace industry so much?

I got news for you, pal...The airplane was a cute little novelty until the War department got interested and the Post Office decided to send letters by airmail. The atomic bomb wasn't created in Burt Rutan Sr's garage, but required an infrastructure of a scale never seen on the planet. The invention of VLSI microchip technology didn't happen overnight in a small, dimly lit basement in Hoboken. The Apollo program was not thrown together with an Estes rocket kit. The transcontinental railroad wasn't created by a bunch of drunk visionaries in Omaha, Nebraska with shovels and a few boards and spikes.

We need the economies of scale created by large pots of money and engineering talent AND the imagination of people like you to create that space-faring civilization. Please don't keep going down this path of bitterness and finger-pointing at your fellow citizens who are trying their best to do their jobs.

Posted by idiot redux at September 9, 2003 07:56 PM

Guess the guy that was in charge of spotting holes where there used to be bolts had the morning off or something.

Also guess there wasn't a step in the procedure along the lines of: Look at bottom of fixture, are there holes? If yes put bolts in them, if no continue to step 34285A.45

Posted by John S Allison at September 10, 2003 06:12 AM

> aren't thrilled with space exploration strictly for science

Dear Idiot. I'm the person who pays the bills.

I will not pay for space exploration strictly for science.

In fact, I won't pay for space exploration significantly for science.

Oh, and I'm not much impressed with the science either (although I do admit that Tang mixed with milk is tasty).

> I'm sure there will be a giant Sam's Club economy barrel of whoop-ass opened on this one, because it was a very stupid incident.

Feel free to report back on the exact contents of said barrel, after it is actually delivered.

I'm betting that the reality is more like a small box of Kleenex. Why? Because the initial talk is almost always stronger than the actual reality.

Posted by Andy Freeman at September 10, 2003 08:12 AM


Who the hell are you?


My L5 days go back to 1977.

I worked at Goddard from 1990 to 1999. I left because I was under attack from managers I (and others) viewed as dishonest, abusive and incompetent. This is a very real problem of long standing in the industry. It's now making big headlines.

Most people view me a very reasonable guy. I have friendships that span the political and social spectra.

Sticking up for current aerospace management frankly looks dishonest and desparate. Your bragging about still having an aerospace job makes me think "What's wrong with him?"

Posted by Chuck Divine at September 10, 2003 12:12 PM

Getting back to the original, I'd say that those pictures are priceless, but judging by, the actual cost was only about $300 million.

I agree with the commenter above that Rand is an obvious commie/pinko/pervert who will have nothing of value to say until he single-handedly designs an entire space transportation system capable of putting a human being in orbit for $1,000. ;)

Posted by Jay Manifold at September 10, 2003 12:12 PM

Jay, I suspect that just designing it wouldn't be enough. I'd have to actually build and operate it, too.

And by the way, "idiot"...

Of course, your smart-ass contempt for every person who's actually been able keep a job in the Aerospace business rather than having to resort to lame opinion columns and bitter blog entries grates a wee bit on the nerves.

I left the aerospace industry completely voluntarily. I resigned (almost exactly a decade ago), and unless they were lying to me, my management was sorry to see me go and tried to get me to stay.

I don't have contempt for people in the aerospace business (though I do for some managers both at NASA and the DoD and in industry). Some of my best friends are in the aerospace business, and many of them are as frustrated as I am, and encourage me in my pointing out the problems, and trying to fix things.

I think that when you call people "bitter," you're projecting more than a little...

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 10, 2003 12:44 PM

Owie. Don't know any of that crew. This is just about the worst thing that's happened since somebody plugged satellite number one into bus socket number two back in the late '90s, IIRC.

Odd that there's nothing in the news about this, though. If we're liable for the damage, I'd think this would be on the LMT page, right quick.

Posted by David Perron at September 10, 2003 01:47 PM

Idiot, another former L5er here.

Bitter, you want bitter? Soon after the first moon landing our grade school teacher said that when we were her age, some of us certainly would be up there. It was so obvious, I almost forgot it. After all, we had gone from nothing to the moon in 10 years. I wanted space, and clearly, lots of people would be working there. I figured about the only thing that could stop it would be a nuclear war.

I remembered that a couple years ago when I saw a teacher, about my age now, on some news show talking to grade school kids, saying, maybe, just maybe, when they were her age some of them would be in space. That hurt. A lot.

How far did airplanes go in 40+ years? How many new operational spacecraft designs have there been in 40+ years? When was the space shuttle built? Here?s my copy of ?Shuttle? by Robert Powers. Phew, dust ? uhm, copyright 1979. Most of the technology was established years before that. Most of the ?dumb boosters? are older. There have been a few upgrades, but we?re still flying the equivalent of space biplanes.

On Lockheed: Kindly explain X-33. Reports I saw on it said that it MUST have been based on a black project, after all, aerospikes, complex shaped composite cryogenic tanks, and advanced heat shielding were all laboratory stuff. There was NO WAY they could put anything together in the few years they had unless ? wink, wink ? it had already been done. But it hadn?t.

Some teams at Nasa have done wonderful things. But they have had too many chances and have screwed up way to many times. For me, X-33 was the absolute last straw. Columbia was sad, but didn?t surprise or shock me. And I have seen no evidence the existing big aerospace companies have any interest in going a different route. DC-X was the last thing that looked promising, but it and the company are gone. Oh, and Nasa crashed a prototype as soon as they got it.

Bitter he says. Have your hopes dashed a few dozen times. Yeesh.

Posted by VR at September 10, 2003 02:15 PM

Well, I certainly pegged this group right. Elitists, Utopians, bitter guys...

My long-simmering resentment at some of comments I've read on this blog finally boiled over last night. The smirks and childish remarks about the terrible, stupid and totally preventable accident at Sunnyvale were too much, I guess. Rand and his little band of reformed ex-Aerospace merrymen (similar to recovering alcoholics) are perfect, of course, and would certainly know how to fix those malevolent, mismanaged, bungling, cheating, incompetent ISO-9000 infected idiots at LockMart so that something like this would never happen again. I defer to your superior wisdom - go to it, guys. FIX IT, instead of talking about it! >:-( (and, by the way, the ass-whipping will probably be more than just a hand slap, having lived through one myself because of a preventable flight failure).

Am I bitter, too? Maybe just a little - I wanted us to have people on Mars by now and have moon colonies and L5 colonies and asteroid mining and all those other neat things that seemed so imminent and logical after Apollo. But I have no doubts or bitterness about what I've done for a living and am quite proud of the contribution I've made and wouldn't trade it for anything. The troops and their leaders in Iraq have personally thanked me and others on my program for making their lives and jobs easier because of the spacecraft we've launched. I'm also easily excited by pure science, which is such a bore for so many of you (guess I haven't watched "Outland" too many times to have the same hankerin' for gritty space exploitation and mining for diamonds on Vesta) and I am thrilled every day by the discoveries of Hubble and Chandra and Galileo and Mars Global Surveyor etc., etc and can't wait for Cassini to make it to Saturn next year. I wish we were further along, but I'm a realist who actually understands that flying rockets is NOTHING like flying airplanes and anyone who thinks they should be fast-tracked the same way is delusional and needs a refresher course in the rocket sciences. Since Rand is such an expert on the CAIB report (something I've read three times now to ensure our program understands the lessons), he will know that any launch vehicle technology fails about 2 to 5% of the time. Is this strictly due to incompetence, Rand (which I'm sure is your opinion)? Or is there something just a tad more difficult about making it to orbit and beyond that isn't nearly as much of a challenge when you go from 100 mph and 10,000 feet to 1200 mph and 65,000 feet? You're the expert, Rand (and friends), you tell me, because I'm one of those lying, bad people who stuck around by choice to work for the big, nasty Aerospace business and this group certainly wouldn't believe my story because I'm a sworn agent of the "enemy" of pure, little, lemonade stand and woodshed capitalism.

By the way, I also believe that ISS has been a major disappointment and essentially amounts to a giant welfare program for the Russians. But it's better than nothing, and even with the Columbia accident and the things that need to be changed at NASA, we at least still have two very lonely guys in space waiting for something to happen rather than no one. (Yeah, yeah, I know - Zefram Cochrane is about to invent the warp drive and we need to get moving to meet up with him, so that's a major disappointment ;-0)

As to my "buddy" Chuck who wanted to know who the hell I am, I guess that's none of your business. I don't need someone hammering me with his/her email opinions about how I'm personally responsible for the downfall of western civilization because I don't agree with his opinion about space, particularly since he had a "bad experience" with management at NASA/Goddard. Talk about painting with a broad brush, Chuck (and I guess I'm doing it too, before anyone can squawk). I believe you're a died-in-the-wool bigot against the people who still are "stupid enough" to work in this business, much less manage it. I'll ask back: who the hell are YOU and why should I apologize for my career choice or my opinions or consider myself delusional?

I'll say it again to you, Jay Manifold. This blog is all talk and no action. Nothing that is currently being done is right, so what are the alternatives? I'm dying to hear about them (and no, I don't need to read more of the fluffy "what-if" papers that make it to NSS or Mars Society conferences). If Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites actually make it to orbit with living, breathing people, I will be the first to cheer. But if Burt fails the test, will you chalk it up to "mismanagement" and demand a Congressional investigation? Somehow, I doubt it...

As to the X-33 program...Mismanaged? Perhaps. But again, I think it demonstrated the difference between airplane programs and space programs. The same innovative engineering shop that gave the world the U-2 and SR71 wasn't so bright when it came to a "leap forward" in space technology. I wish that they had kept trying - they were probably two inventions away from something really, really different. But, I forgot, Rand doesn't like that program, either, so why try to put perfume on one of his stinky pigs?

Last words: The CAIB report was a sad, sad thing to read. I am convinced that NASA (and the contractors, including one that I work for) need some major mid-course adjustments. I have spent my career looking at why failures happen and how we can do better, with the hope that the next generation or program will not make stupid mistakes. I feel pretty good about that and will continue to feel good about it, as "evil" as my career choice may seem to the utopians. I shall not darken your doorstep again, oh great "reformed" ones and frustrated masters of the universe. Move on to your next kvetch...

PS: Oh, and one more thing...I'm not a guy (interesting how all of you assumed I was). I guess that makes me REALLY incompetent based on some comments I've read on this site a couple of weeks ago about Linda Ham, because I'm sure in your minds that PC attitudes and affirmative action had more to do with my career (and hers) than any actual brains or ability. Men are allowed to make mistakes; if Gene Kranz had failed to bring back the Apollo 13 astronauts, his gender would never have been an issue. However, women must still be twice as perfect as men and ten times more competent. If they have ONE fuck-up it has to be the hormones or being on the rag or a lack of brains...Yup, that one pissed me off, too, I must admit.

Ad Astra, hombres...

Posted by idiot's one last pass at September 10, 2003 07:22 PM

Nobody's asking the REAL question... Were the missing bolts Metric or English?? ;-)

Posted by Eric S. at September 11, 2003 06:58 AM

Your first thought is incompetence. My first thought is sabotage. Whoever removed ALL the bolts had to understand the ramifications.

Posted by Bill S. at September 11, 2003 08:50 AM

...interesting how all of you assumed I was...

Speaking of asinine assumptions, I think you've set the standard with that one. Still, it is a little amusing, if not particularly relevant.

Posted by David Perron at September 11, 2003 08:57 AM

Well, when a Mars probe can be lost because of confusion between metric and English units, I doubt this was sabotage.

A few notes ?

On assumptions: I was going for professional astronomy, but got hooked on computers ? more jobs there, and I?m good at it. I still love astronomy, and am also thrilled by the science missions ? but also by what ground based astronomy is doing. I love science missions. I have Hubble pictures on the wall, tons on the computer. But if we had reasonable access to space, the current science missions would look like a joke. (Incidentally, ?Outland? is fun but technically idiotic.)

I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the reason we do not have reasonable access to space is operational, not technological. I do not accept that with more than half a trillion dollars spent, we should still be using spacecraft developed in the ?70s.

X-33 wasn?t mismanaged. It was impossible, and obviously so. And it was only one of several ?second generation? reusable spacecraft programs that failed. I can think of literally dozens of cases where NASA messed up badly.

Just about everyone I know that wants to go into space has given up on NASA. From what I?ve seen, the attitude here is very common. Most of them love the great things that have been done at NASA (the Voyager grand tour and the moon landings still take my breath away) and are sad to see what NASA has become.

The X-prize contestants are taking a new direction. I?m very hopeful that they will start the real space race. If not them, than another country might. But not NASA.

Posted by VR at September 11, 2003 05:20 PM

> But if Burt fails the test, will you chalk it up to "mismanagement" and demand a Congressional investigation? Somehow, I doubt it...

Huh? I thought that Rutan was being funded by volunteers.

Unless the idiot is suggesting that Congress has special expertise in space, it's unclear why it should be involved.

Life's different when the people paying the bills can say "no". (No, Congress doesn't pay the bills.)

Posted by Andy Freeman at September 13, 2003 01:27 AM

Everyone keeps comparing the first space flights to the Wright brothers, and then complaining about the lack of spaceliners by now. Isn't it clear that the first space flights should be compared to the first balloon flights, (first send animals, then people, main use spying, science and photography, it's very similar really)and that we need some totally different approach before the "Wright Brothers" event occurs?

Posted by Patrick at September 13, 2003 01:53 AM

I think idiot has the right idea. More doing less talking.

Posted by at September 14, 2003 12:53 AM

Ummm, some thing appears to be overlooked here...
Why the hell was NOAA N-Prime being screwed with in the first place? That satellite was built and tested circa 1998 in New Jersey, as LockMart was squandering their East Coast satellite manufacturing capability. It was shipped to storage in Sunnyvale. It was not due to launch until 2008. Why the hell was it out of the storage container?

Posted by Space Cadet at September 17, 2003 06:22 PM

Well gentlemen and ladies,
I have no experience in any form of this science, but have many years of management in production and assembly. I will tell all of you that what I have seen of the pictures of this satelite, that what I was afraid of has come to pass. We the american taxpayers are being screwed and not even getting a kiss. Since my days of reading my weekly reader and seeing the apollo program, it's hard for me to say it but if something doesn't change in a very short time then we the american taxpayer are going to put an end to manned spaceflight, and as far as I'm concerned, if it isn't satelite based for our use on earth then fire all space based employees and have them go to work in the real world and see what happens if you forget something as simple as putting bolts in a dolly before using the lift jig. Or spending the energy it takes to make sure it's safe for reentry and your heat shield doesn't have a 2 foot gaping hole in it. You would be looking for a new job immediately. If not being sued for damages? As for those defending this ignorance we have witnessed the last decade at Nasa, earth has plenty more room for graves and money is so plentiful we can continue to throw it to geotherma all day long, NOT.
I for one am just about fed up with the whole space GAME.

Posted by Guy at September 17, 2003 07:58 PM

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