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February 1, 2003

Rick Douglas Husband, Colonel, USAF

William C. McCool, Commander, USN

Payload Commander:
Michael P. Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF

Mission Specialist:
Kalpana Chawla, PhD
David M. Brown, MD, Captain, USN
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, MD, Captain, USN

Payload Specialist:
Ilan Ramon, Colonel, Israel Air Force


1 Kryten42 { 02.02.10 at 12:16 am }

Yeah… Another great NASA achievement.


This is hardly surprising really, and I can’t say I disagree.

Obama Calls for End to NASA’s Moon Program

He’s right about the need to focus on R&D, personally, they’d be better off giving to funds to people who know what they are doing. I’m sure someone like Branson and his EU allies could do far more with $100bln over 5 years than NASA will. I wouldn’t trust the current NASA to design a skateboard, let alone new spacecraft.

2 Bryan { 02.02.10 at 12:49 am }

Actually, I think that NASA’s engineers could probably design a great ship, the problem is that they are allowed to, they have to turn things over to the defense contractors and everything turns to very expensive crap. It is all part of the privatization of government which results in higher costs and lower quality.

The Mars rovers show that they can design and build good equipment, but they aren’t allowed to handle the “big money” contracts, because Congress wants to reward their patrons.

Rutan has to work within a budget and produce a usable product to get paid, while the big defense contractors don’t worry about it.

3 Kryten42 { 02.02.10 at 12:57 am }

I’m not dissing the engineers or scientists. I’ve managed award winning engineering teams. If the management sux, all the teams will produce is garbage. The culture and the administration at NASA is not at all conducive to good engineering or good science. and that’s before any of the damned politicians get involved. If the engineers there want to produce anything that works, they should apply to Branson for a job.

4 Kryten42 { 02.02.10 at 2:40 am }

The Engineers can only produce the results that the environment allows. Money is all well and good, but it’s completely wasted if it isn’t used properly. A good engineer (or Scientist) can only succeed or improve on previous success if they are allowed and even encouraged to fail. Sometimes, we learn a lot more from the failures than the successes. NASA’s administration totally discourages failure, it makes the bosses look bad, and gives some politician an excuse to scream about the waste of money and demand budget cuts. Of course, most politicians would know as much about actual science or engineering as they do about personal hygiene or tying their shoe laces on their own.

My team that won several Queens awards for excellence and industry awards for the project that took us just over 2 years to complete, failed many times. My Engineer and designers HATED failing! But I made sure they all understood why it was a good thing! And showed them how to learn from it. It’s NOT a failure if you learn something valuable you didn’t know before and it helps you move forward to the ultimate goal. When you are doing something that has never been done before, how else to you accomplish the goals without trial-and-error? You can’t look it up on the Internet! Because of the environment I created for the team, we finished ahead of schedule, under budget, and even improved on the original goals. Every time the team got a success on a milestone, we took the next Friday afternoon off and had a BBQ and relaxed. It became a real challenge for the team. They decided they never wanted to miss a Friday BBQ. And I was very happy to oblige! They all knew they could always come to me with anything… but I wasn’t going to *think* for them. I had a sign on the wall behind me that said “If you haven’t thought about it, the answer is NO!” 🙂 It took a while for us to really get to know each others strengths, and i encouraged them. The hardest thing for me was to get the 14 team members to document every step, and virtually every though. But I got them the tools to make that as simple as possible at the time, and what we couldn’t buy, we designed. Like an IM system so we could real-time chat (and that was not just done on the spur of the moment. It was something we decided would be useful, but wasn’t available in ’87. We decided that the nest nework platform at that time that would enable that facility and others, was the Apollo Domain server/workstations. I saw a simple demo program called “Netbounce”. A ball would bounce around from workstation to workstation around the LAN, if you put the screens together, you could see the smooth transition. Pretty advanced stuff back then. 🙂 It didn’t take them long to see the value in real-time messaging (long before ICQ etc). 🙂 We never said “It can’t be done!” We asked “Why hasn’t it been done?”

The company enjoyed 400%/annum growth because of that design, and others that came after. 🙂

This whole *fear of failure* ethic you have in the USA now will be the end of you. This is what you get when you have incompetent narcissists running everything.

5 Badtux { 02.02.10 at 11:30 am }

This whole *fear of failure* ethic you have in the USA now will be the end of you. This is what you get when you have incompetent narcissists running everything.

And this comment is attached to a posting about one such failure. Sometimes it is appropriate to fear failure.

But I digress. It’s all about incentives. The primary incentive that NASA folks have is avoiding getting fired. And the way to avoid getting fired at NASA is to avoid being associated with spectacular failures. Non-spectacular failures — such as failing to get an ARES rocket off the ground — are far preferable, nobody generally loses their job over such a thing, except maybe the NASA head and who cares about him anyhow?

That said, we’re probably better off without this particular rocket. I looked at the design concept stuff on the NASA site a while back, and the Ares 1 was a Shuttle SRB strapped to the bottom of the crew capsule, while the Ares V was two Shuttle SRB’s strapped to a main stage that had six engines. Which is crazy. SRB’s are cheap, but they have inherent vibration and thrust control issues and I don’t want one of them anywhere near man-rated flight. There’s a *reason* why von Braun used kerolox and hydrox for the Saturn V and why nobody else on the planet uses SRB’s… but NASA’s engineers were ordered, “re-use as many components from the shuttle as possible.” So that’s what they did….
.-= last blog ..Spoon! =-.

6 Bryan { 02.02.10 at 9:45 pm }

The Shuttle’s SRBs were responsible for a major failure, and the main fuel tank design for this one. The basic crew module seemed to hang together really well. I would think that, given that the two major failures were related to the launch system, it was time to rethink that system and it’s components, not use them in new designs.

7 Badtux { 02.03.10 at 1:09 pm }

All about welfare for current Shuttle vendors, of course. Not about how to build a good rocket. What else is new?
.-= last blog ..Spoon! =-.

8 Bryan { 02.03.10 at 9:37 pm }

Well, the vendors do own some powerful Congresscritters, so it’s to be expected.

9 Kryten42 { 02.05.10 at 8:24 am }

Sorry, things are very hectic…

I wasn’t talking about *major* failures. The USA has that down pat. And that’s due in part to the fear of *micro* failures. I’ve been told by friends in the USA that they are afraid to be seen to fail in any way at any level. So they either avoid things that may fail, or cover up the failures. *shrug*

I was there when Challenger disintegrated. And I can say that almost all the engineers who were in the room with me knew that launching at that time was a really bad idea. Nobody knew for certain the o-rings would fail, but the risk was too high to take the chance. And BTW, it wasn’t just the failure of the o-rings on the SRB’s they were worried about. there were other potential problems, that was simply one of them. Perhaps if they had been allowed to do more testing of the system to the point of failure, they would have *known* what would happen. Certainly, you can’t test for every single possibility, but you can test for high-possibilities, and that was one of them. But, that would have cost money. *shrug* this is where you have narrow-minded narrow-visioned bean counters calculating things like ROI. They look at the straight cost equations, not at the potential cost for the loss of the shuttle, the lives, and the cost to NASA in the long term. They have no imaginations. If you factor in all those costs, suddenly the ROI doesn’t look so good when the system fails. I know about this stuff, it was my job. We designed industrial machinery that could easily kill people or destroy building if the system failed. We tested to destruction and knew exactly what would happen, then designed them so it wouldn’t happen. I believe that not a single system I (or teams I managed) designed over 20 years ago has ever had a catastrophic failure. The systems were designed to shutdown at the hint of a problem. We had to design a cutting system for the Navy (and the US Navy used our machines BTW, because none of the US machines could come close) to cut 4″ RHA armor plates. We designed a plasma cutting system using 800V DC @ 800A switching at 1KHz. Imagine what would happen if that went wrong? We didn’t have to imagine, we knew. 🙂 We designed a water-jet cutter that pumped pure ware through a 0.6mm nozzle at 72K psi! And we discovered that if ANY impurity got into the system, the pump would explode and punch a hole through 2′ of solid steel-reinforced concrete! And still, the ROI on our machines were higher than anyone else’s in the industry, even though they were also the most expensive. We won two Queens awards because of it. So, I know for a fact it can be done. But not when the bean counters are running everything and all they care about is their short-term personal ROI. I’ve spent the past 30 years working on *Risk* in several forms. Both those shuttle disasters were risks that should never have been taken. Many people knew those two launches were very risky. But nobody had the guts to stand up and say *NO!* It was more than their job was worth, after all. And that’s the bottom line.

10 Bryan { 02.05.10 at 2:42 pm }

Oh, I know what you mean, like trying to explain to a client why spending 2% more for subsystem that is warranted for twice as long as the cheap choice and actually has a mean time between failure that is 2½ times the competition is more cost effective. When the people in charge won’t look beyond the next quarter, and don’t care what happens after their contract runs out, you end up with a lot of cheap crap.

Politicians eliminate preventive maintenance and regular inspections because they don’t expect to be around when the bridge collapses, and they can win re-election by looking like they are cutting costs.

11 Kryten42 { 02.05.10 at 10:07 pm }

That’s it. But it’s also because of *the way things work* there. I did manage to engage one senior engineer who I could tell wasn’t at all happy. I got him alone and asked why he wouldn’t stop the launch… He said that his daughter was sick and he needed his medical benefits and couldn’t afford to loose his job. Everyone in the USA today is afraid of something. The USA is run on fear, and the whole *terrorist* thing is just a way for them to focus that fear, gives them a target. Better than feeling ashamed because one is scared to do *the right thing* and loose their job and benefits. The irony is, they are loosing their jobs anyway. The company’s can’t continue like this, it’s counter productive. Everyone is looking for that magic bullet. But it doesn’t exist, and they will never catch it. That light at the end of the tunnel… It’s not just an oncoming train, it’s a supernova!

12 Bryan { 02.06.10 at 12:03 am }

Yeah, here everything is tied to a job, and you are totally wiped out when you lose one. The lack of a secure safety net in this country prevents the overwhelming majority of people to take personal risks of any kind.

I have always felt that the fact that upper executives demand that their contracts have specific provisions for the event of their firing, was a warning sign of their incompetence. They go in to the jobs so sure they will screw up that they want the penalties written out before hiring. I wouldn’t hire anyone who even asked about it.

13 Kryten42 { 02.06.10 at 2:07 am }

Yeah. Sadly, I suspect that’s why many companies are against reforms such as healthcare. It’s not just the insurance companies who stand to loose out, the companies loose one more form of control over their employees. A company wouldn’t want to have an employee to have *options* G*d forbid! People might actually exercise them if they had any… you know, like… actually leaving to work for a company that pays them better, has better employee facilities, etc. 🙂 but the poor working slaves have no options. and the Exec’s get richer, and richer. If an employee screws up. they get fired and loose everything. If an Exec screws up, and he can’t blame an employee, he might get a 10% or 20% cut in his bonus (bot NOT in his million $ salary). How terrible. He may have to put off that 10th bedroom extension on his mansion for a year. Poor bastard.

It’s such an equitable system. 🙂 And people there are outrages, OUT-RAGED I tell you, over the sweatshops in China and Africa! The irony is just hilarious! 😆

Of course, screaming about everyone else’s problems means they don’t have to think about their own. 🙂 It seems many people in the USA own a telescope and crystal ball, but not a mirror. A shame really… they might see some truth. 😉

PS. For anyone wondering… I was speaking… metaphorically. 😉 Just in case… one can’t be too careful with language. 😆

14 Bryan { 02.06.10 at 10:34 pm }

When working on computers for corporations it is amazing how many up to the minute résumé you find on people’s disks. There are a lot of unhappy people who would love to change jobs, but they won’t risk it.

The system sucks.

15 Badtux { 02.07.10 at 3:00 am }

Well, then there’s people like me who have up-to-the-minute resumes because we don’t know if our employer’s doors are going to be open tomorrow or not (not to mention layoffs, though I don’t have to worry about that — the only way I get laid off is if the company closes its doors).

One thing I’ve repeatedly noted on my own blog is that the lack of a social safety net in this country is what has rendered the current downturn so severe here. It wasn’t this severe in Germany, or in France, or in Japan, or any other 1st world country. Just here. The biggest reason for the collapse in consumption here in the USA (but not anywhere else) has been that people are stashing money away as fast as they can in case their own job is next on the chopping block, thereby making it a self-fulfilling prophecy since collapsed demand means fewer people employed. They wouldn’t be doing that if the U.S. had a real unemployment compensation system that provided medical care, house payments, and car payments for the unemployed as they looked for a job. But people are scared that if they lose their job, they’ll lose everything — and are doing what is rational when there is no social safety net to back them up, which is exactly the wrong thing to do if we’re trying to keep people employed.

– Badtux the Economics Penguin

16 Bryan { 02.07.10 at 12:16 pm }

Until people figure out that what is in the short-term interest of corporate profits is rarely in the long-term interest of corporate survival or the economy, we are going to be in this mess.

The “social safety net” was started by conservative politicians to maintain the stability of their countries, not because they were nice people. You can’t raise and army if all of the workers are on the edge of starvation, but you can have riots in the streets.

The “teabaggers” may not have identified the source of their problems, but they know there is a problem, and they are scared.