guest blogger john hare
Many people have a phrase they use about making things happen. ” We need to convince the president that space is crucial.” “We need to make those NASA guys do the right thing.”(Everybody having a different right thing) One from an older generation, “I’ll break them of the habit.” And so on. Quite often people think in terms of making the results happen. The phrase they use tells a lot about the type of people you are dealing with, and if they are going to find a good way of dealing with things. My phrase is “Create a situation in which the desired result falls out naturally.”
To me, the NGLLC is a good example of the approach I like. Prize money is put on the table andÂ two different teams build operational vehicles that do the job, with one more on their heels, that I know of. Total cost is a couple of days interest on the money already spent on the Aries I Griffinschaft. Total NASA overhead and risk on the competition would be hard to estimate, but probably about the cost and risk of the coffee for a day in the head office. Low cost, no risk, and now there are multiple VTVL RLV teams incubating on their own dime now. Creating a situation in which other people would put up all the development sweat and risk is a sweet deal, especially compared to the supervised contracting model where they try to make the contractor deliver to a constantly changing spec.
Just today I ran accross a method of getting NASA costs under control without trying to force them to do it in a particular way. We create a situation in which another Â government agency desires to control NASA expenses in their own best interest.
We let the IRS be in charge of making them justify all expenses, just like they do when they audit our businesses. The agents will be looking for ways to justify their jobs, expanded department section, and therefore promotions. Poor jokers won’t stand a chance.
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So how do we go about letting the IRS be in charge of making them justify all expenses?
The NASA budget is tiny relative to most other government budgets. And the current NASA budget of represents just 0.55% of the Federal budget. During the height of the Apollo development era, it represented more than 5.5% of the Federal budget. NASA’s current 17 billion dollar a year has less than $10 billion of that related to our manned space program. $10 billion would fund our troops in the unnecessary war in Iraq only for about a month.
And what is NASA being asked to do with that whopping amount of cash ($10 billion):
1. Continue to operate a highly complex aerospace plane called the space shuttle
2. Continue manned missions to the International Space Station
3. Fund the development of a spacecraft to replace the current space shuttle
4. Fund the development of a heavy lift vehicle in order to return to the Moon.
5. Fund the development of a lunar landing vehicle in order to return to the Moon.
At the height of the Apollo era, we were spending more than $30 billion a year in today’s dollars– just trying to get to the Moon. And that’s how much NASA should be allowed to spend today, IMO. Even the US military’s space budget is larger than NASA’s.
1. This was a humor post.
2. One of NASA’s problems is that they already have too many cooks stirring the stew.
3. Your points 1 and 2 become invalid in a year or so with points 3, through 5 being botched so badly that giving more funds is money down a rathole.
4. Find a realistic way of getting the placekeepers out of the way of the productive personell, and then more funding would be reasonable, except that then they would be productive enough to not need it.
5. Nasa budget should be based on what they can deliver for the money, not on how big a piece of the pie they should get. Do you buy a hamburger based on it’s percentage of your income, or on what it costs compared to the alternatives?
First of all, I’m not an advocate of the Ares 1/V architecture. But I am a strong advocate of NASA’s alternative architecture, the Sidemount Shuttle which NASA itself admits is substantially cheaper to develop than Ares. You add $3 billion extra dollars to a Sidemount program then we won’t have a space gap and we’ll probably end up returning to the Moon by 2016.
Secondly, NASA is not asking for any more money. Their plan was to fund the development of the next space flight architecture by decommissioning the Space Shuttle after 2010 and decommissioning the ISS after 2016. But the politicians and I suspect a lot of the public don’t want them to do that. Folks seem to want to continue the shuttle program until the next manned space craft are ready. And they also want to continue the ISS program until 2020 and maybe beyond.
So if you want NASA to do– everything– then you’ve got to give them some everything money! And an extra $3 billion a year would amount to less than 0.5% of the current military budget. But once the current developmental phase is over and the space shuttle has been replaced by the new space architecture, NASA will be awash in several billion dollars in extra funds that could be used to develop the architecture to get us to Mars.
First you must do something about an agency that spends $450M on an existing rocket with dummy segments and stages and spends 4 years getting to that point. As long as the capable people have to carry the incapable, and worse the anticapable, no architecture is likely to perform well. I don’t know how that reform could be done in the real world.
In the private world, it is possible to eliminate some positions and use the salaries saved to reward the ones left. One person can do the work of three, if one of the three is interfering with performance.
interesting post, a few questions.
In what ways does the congressional budget office (CBO) already fullfill the role you are suggesting that the IRS might take?
In terms of becoming a spacefaring civilization, I would be interested in hearing about some of your ideas for using the “Create a situation in which the desired result falls out naturally”approach. What are some of the desired results? What are some example situations? How might they be created?
The IRS thing was a joke. IMO a large part of the NASA productivity problem is caused by excessive oversight and management.
A desired natural result for employees in my concrete company is that they be productive, reliable, cost effective, and turn out good quality product, all without intensive supervision. I set up a bonus system with approxamately 50% of the labor portion of each job available for completion. The other 50% is what is needed for insurance, taxes, equipment payments, and other overhead. At the end of the month, we would add up the gross pay of the crew, and the gross product. Half of the difference went to the bonus check.
For people making $15-$20 an hour, an extra $500-$1,000 a month gets their attention. After getting some wrinkles out, productivity increased month by month and problems decreased. They were looking for quicker methods of getting the job done, and not tolerating people that didn’t pull their weight. Quality improved because a crew that is fixing a problem is not working on bonus and is therefore costing themselves money for every mistake. Supervision is easier because you don’t have to try to make people do their jobs, and you don’t have to ‘chew them out’ when a mistake is made, as the bonus losses have them doing a more effective job than you could. With a self motivated crew, it takes far less management time on the job that with people that are there for 8 and the gate. These guys are still with me in this economy while several competators have gone out of business.
Trying to figure the ideal expansion ratio for a rocket is a pain. If one of the altitude compensation schemes works, then the natural result is that you don’t have to compromise performance and chase the optimum all over the map.
If the pump in chamber works then high pressure plumbing is eliminated. In the term that I use, the pump createws a situation in which you don’t have to be a high pressure plumbing expert to build an engine.
Fairly low pressure staged combustion can create a situation in which you don’t have to compromise performance with poorly combusted turbine exhaust.
A cost estimate for a theoretical SLaTS is not like an estimate for an SUV or a passenger jet. The unknowns are legion. The handful of standard rocket equations is for undergraduate students and sloppy first guesses. For instance, they totally neglect manufacturability, they assume material behavior is predictable, and they can’t begin to estimate how far a design will push into the hairy edge of structural and thermal modeling capability. That’s just a small set of issues that can bite after an archetecture is selected; there are scores. The Augustine commission understands this, which is why they, unlike the blog jockeys, aren’t pounding forward a favorite solution with guarantees about its simplicity.
Furthermore, NASA is not a concrete company. Management in a blue collar production-and-effeciency-centric industry is fundamentally different, in my experience, than management of a high talent force with a single product, long-lead-time, quality-centric mandate. We don’t want NASA to build a launch system fast even a fraction as much as we want them to build it well.
Since they are not doing it well either,I don’t see what your point is.
My point addressed the attitude within some of the space enthusiast community that: (1) there is an obvious solution to question of NASAâ€™s future that can be recognized and understood by bloggers, but not by NASA Engineering, and (2) NASA is manned primarily by lazy, narrow-minded engineers and useless, buffoonish bureaucrats. This perception is off base.
Often, as in your comment above, this characterization of the space program is dropped out casually, as a well established fact, without explanation. When it is explained, it is solely by reference to beleaguered Constellation program. It ignores, among much else, the still fully active Shuttle program, the ISS, the Mars Rovers, Hubble and a cadre of other space telescopes, Cassini and a platoon of other probes, and the army of satellites doing earth science.
So answer me this. How exactly does NASA Engineering differ from Lockheed or Boeing or ATK, or any other significant aerospace operation that has developed or managed a mature launch system, that makes its engineers so ripe for skull cracking?
As I have said a couple of times already, the IRS skull cracking was a joke. A solution to NASA’s future is not obvious. NASA is manned by talented motivated people that are in a straightjacket of a system. The Constellation program alone is fully enough to cause a questioning of the entire agency. If you happen to be on one of the productive programs, your reputation and integrity are at risk by this one major item.
NASA engineering is not the problem. NASA direction is. A projected cost of $35B to develop the Aries I is criminal use of funds. Boeing and Lockheed both have existing rockets that could do the job Aries is supposed to do, and they could do it next year. Given the low number of flights that Aries is expected to do, it will not leave infant mortality. It is a fairly safe bet that if it ever flies, vehicles will be lost to things unexpected in advance. Afterwards of course, monday morning quarterbacks will claim they knew it all along.
If you had read any more of this blog than this one post, you would know that I propose many things that won’t work along with some that might. I am an inventor and I use this blog to throw ideas out there for discussion. I have even put up small amounts of cash a couple of times for information. Once I spent a hundred to be proved wrong, and still have five hundred up for someone to bust or confirm another. I am free to waste my money on risky concepts, not yours.
I would agree that NASA should get another $3B a year if, and only if, that money went strictly to NASA employees achieving goals that would be considered impossible under the current planning. If it were in their best interest, they would find ways around the roadblocks.