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NASA Democrats Government Space Politics

Does Obama Have a Problem At NASA? 479

Posted by timothy
from the hey-what's-a-few-trillion-in-deficit? dept.
MarkWhittington writes "Has NASA become a problem for the Obama transition? If one believes a recent story in the Orlando Sentinel, the transition team at NASA, led by former NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver, is running into some bureaucratic obstruction." Specifically, according to this article NASA Administrator Michael Griffin made calls to aerospace industry executives asking them to stonewall if asked about benefits to be gained by canceling the current US efforts to revisit the moon; we mentioned last month that cutting Aries and Orion is apparently an idea under strong consideration by the Obama transition team.
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Does Obama Have a Problem At NASA?

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  • by Angostura (703910) on Friday December 12, 2008 @08:55AM (#26089387)

    For some reason the submission goes to a site that mentions the original articles appeared at the Orlando sentinel, but doesn't link to the articles. So here they are:

    December 11: NASA chief Griffin bucks Obama's transition team [orlandosentinel.com]

    and

    December 12: NASA chief insists he's cooperating with Obama's team [orlandosentinel.com]

  • by Pumpkin Tuna (1033058) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:02AM (#26089469)
    We can't just "un-retire the shuttle," mainly because it is a bloated, out-of-date, foam-shedding death trap. Besides, with everyone talking about creating jobs, how does it make sense to cut NASA hard and put tons of people who are working on Ares out of work?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:05AM (#26089517)

    We NEED to cut our spending. (Score:2, Flamebait)

    Thought Crime Alert!! *WHOOP! WHOOP!"

    Yeah, I aggressively counteract negative modding by setting their scores to +2.

  • by Jugalator (259273) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:08AM (#26089543) Journal

    This was an easy article to find, that's following up this story... Being on Space.com, it was on Slashdot's side bar... ;)

    http://www.space.com/news/081211-nasa-obama-transition.html [space.com]

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:13AM (#26089593)
    Are you kidding? The guy KNOWS he's cannned. Hell, the transition team's first stop was probably taking pictures of his office and measuring the drapes. He's toast and he knows it. And so he's just trying to make as big an ass of himself as he can right now to try and claim later that he was only fired because Obama didn't like his "honesty," not because he's a GLARINGLY bad manager who's been more interested in towing the Bush line and diverting big bucks to Bush-friendly contractors than to actually delivering any value to the American people.
  • by Longwalker-MGO (816354) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:25AM (#26089749)

    (b) face the reality that we have to cut Medicare and SS benefits to a needs-based program rather than an entitlement.

    When I am forced to take money out of my paycheck and "give" it to the government for my future medical needs and retirement because the government demands it, damn straight its an entitlement. I am *entitled* to get my money back.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:28AM (#26089795) Journal

    Actually, I'm Russian, so don't tell me about your "bad" and "inefficient" government. I know what a truly bad and corrupt government is from first-hand experience.

    I also have enough European friends to know what a government can be, and I've seen it for myself as well when I studied in NZ for two years.

    Other questions?

  • by characterZer0 (138196) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:34AM (#26089851)

    "If anyone knows why my comments recently started appearing with score 1, despite "Excellent" karma, I'd love to hear."

    Mine changed from 2 to 1 like that for a while, then after several months it changed back. I have no idea why.

  • by st0rmshad0w (412661) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:39AM (#26089905)

    Everything you put into SS is payed back to you (on average) within 2 to 3 years. Researchers interviewed retirees and asked them how long they thought it took to get everything back that they had put in, most said 20-30! years.

    They were all pretty shocked when they were told the reality of the system.

  • by roccomaglio (520780) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:49AM (#26090083)
    From the article: Michael Griffin, noting that no one on Lori Garver's team has any engineering expertise, suggested that Garver was "not qualified" to judge the Constellation program. Garver will not comment about the conversation, but has hinted that there will be a new administrator chosen at NASA shortly and that there will be change to NASA policy."
  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:50AM (#26090089) Journal

    Toeing. Not towing. Much less work.

  • by mknewman (557587) * on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:17AM (#26090511)

    I work at NASA and got this message yesterday:

    HQ Special: A Message from the NASA Administrator
    A recent report in the Orlando Sentinel suggested that NASA is not cooperating with members of President-elect Obama's transition team currently working at Headquarters. This report, largely supported by anonymous sources and hearsay, is simply wrong.

    I would like to reiterate what I have stated in a previous e-mail to all NASA Officials: we must make every effort to "lean forward," to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately.

    We are fully cooperating with transition team members. Since mid-November, the agency has provided 414 documents and 185 responses to 191 requests. There are six outstanding responses, and the agency will meet the deadline for those queries.

    Also, we strongly urge full and free cooperation by companies performing work for NASA. I am appalled by any accusations of intimidation, and encourage a free and open exchange of information with the contractor community.

    The transition team's work is too important to become mired in unsupported and anonymous allegations. The President-elect's transition team deserves everyone's complete cooperation.

    Michael D. Griffin
    Administrator

    Point of contact: David Mould, Office of Public Affairs, 202-358-1898

  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:27AM (#26090673)

    IANAAE (I am not an aerospace engineer) but to me, Ares looks silly. Solid rocket boosters do not burn smoothly, they have a big problem with thrust oscillation. The designers actually worry that these vibrations will incapacitate or kill the crew.

    To quote a real expert...also known as Resonant Burning - described as vortices that shed within the solid rocket motors during combustion due to the shearing of internal flow at propellant discontinuities - the issue relates to when the frequency of thrust oscillations is coincident with the acoustic modes of the motor cavity.

    Solids work fine when grouped together with liquid stages, but a single solid booster just seems wrong.

  • by twostar (675002) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:40AM (#26090909) Journal
    IAAAE (I am an aerospace engineer) and Ares looks silly. Solid rockets should never be used for manned vehicles. The capsule idea is the way to go but the LV is a bad choice IMHO.
  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:49AM (#26091071)

    This article is pure flame bait, Neither Griffin nor the Transition team have stated that any infighting has been occuring.

    In fact the transition team has NASA's full attention, read Griffins Response before you make your kneejerk reactions slashdot:

    http://www.space.com/news/081211-nasa-obama-transition.html [space.com]

  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:00AM (#26091251)

    And Griffins Reply:

    Today, Griffin replied, calling the charges "simply wrong."

    "I am appalled by any accusations of intimidation, and encourage a free and open exchange of information with the contractor community," Griffin said. "I would like to reiterate what I have stated in a previous email to all NASA Officials: we must make every effort to 'lean forward,' to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately."

  • by Dawn Keyhotie (3145) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:19AM (#26091555)

    Reliability was not the primary issue. The SSME's are very reliable and have a very good track record. But they are designed to be flown and re-flown for up to 25 missions. And with Ares (or DIRECT or any non-Shuttle rocket), the engines will not be re-used. They will crash into the ocean when the fuel is used up and the stage is disposed of.

    But the SSME costs upwards of $60 million each, whereas the RS-68 only costs about $25 million.

    Finally, I am not saying that it was the wrong decision to make. I am saying that they should have re-evaluated all options when the main engines were changed out. That decision completely destroyed the basis for the ESAS committee's recommendations.

  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:38AM (#26091855) Homepage Journal

    Well, I will say that Obama has been quite vague on whether he'll keep NASA well funded.

    So what you're saying is that he is pushing, "Change we've been duped into believing?" Speaking honestly for a moment here, I was not a supporter of Obama due to his policies on the Space Program and Energy. (Both of which he eventually backed off on, and even claimed he was a "big supporter" of the space program.) But when he was elected, I was very much hoping that he was the true force for public good that everyone hoped him to be. I don't want to be critical of him, but I cannot help but notice that he is poised to tear the space program asunder. If he can't even give a clear view on where he is going with NASA, how many other areas has he used misdirection to deceive the public on his policy?

    So many people have put so many hopes, aspirations, and dreams upon Obama and how different of a President he would be. I could not bear to watch what would happen to the people around me if he turned out to be politics as usual. :-(

    That aside, I can't really say that this kind of behavior that should be rewarded or even tolerated in a subordinate. The whole hiding of information and acting like double checking his figures suggests that he's lying about something makes it look like he genuinely has something bad to hide too.

    I think you're exaggerating the situation. Griffen asked the contractors to keep their opinions to themselves about alternative programs. When the transition team comes knocking, they're going to want to know about the Constellation program. The last thing NASA needs is for every opinionated engineer to pipe up with his own pet ideas. The transition team (who lacks even a single engineering resource!) could easily become confused and fail to look at the Constellation program itself over the din of excited engineers talking about pie-in-the-sky alternatives.

    While I agree that Griffin is stonewalling Garver, he has repeatedly asked to speak directly to the President-elect. Given his excellent handling of politics in the past, I have a feeling that Griffin would fall in line if the new President gave him a direct order. He would even make preparations if the President-elect told him exactly what he wanted to happen. But the key is that Griffin reports directly to the President. He does not report to middle men, relationship managers, or any other such nonsense. So the President-elect had better get used to not beating around the bush and simply meet with the man.

    IMHO, Obama needs Griffin. Griffin is a very rare type of individual who can bridge the gap between the world of engineering and the world of politics. Loosing Griffin would mean going back to the NASA of the 90's and early 2000's. As in, the one with ineffective leadership which managed to take the space agency all of nowhere. (*shudder* O'Keefe in particular was a pure disaster.)

  • by usul294 (1163169) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:50AM (#26092011)
    Well, Bush's line is only the "we gotta get to the moon then mars on the cheap". Griffin is using an idea that's been floating around for about 15 years on his Mars plan, and the Moon plan is just bigger, better Apollo. Griffin has also been a supporter of what Constellation basically is since 1995 (according to Zubrick, The Case for Mars), well before he was even aware there was a Bush line to tow. Most likely, he wants Constellation to happen because the concept is something he feels ownership towards, and doesn't want Obama to get rid of it and divert the money to the black hole known as the education budget.
  • Re:NASA's Future (Score:4, Informative)

    by Your Pal Dave (33229) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:12PM (#26092359)

    For a simple example, NASA came up with the first prototype of creating Velcro.

    According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

    The hook-loop fastener was invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer, George de Mestral

  • Re:NASA's Future (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:19PM (#26092495)

    From the same article: "As velcro only became widely used after NASA's adoption of it, NASA is popularly credited with the invention of velcro."

    It also says this: "NASA is a big user of velcro. Each space shuttle has ten thousand inches of a special velcro made of Teflon loops, polyester hooks, and glass backing.[4] Velcro is used everywhere, from the astronauts' suits, to anchoring equipment. In the near weightless conditions in orbit, velcro is used to temporarily hold objects and keep them from floating away. [14] A velcro patch is used inside astronauts' helmets where it serves as a nose scratcher.[4][3] During mealtimes astronauts use trays that attach to their thighs using spring and velcro fasteners."

    And this: "Leonard Duffy, noting the disadvantages of velcro, and taking velcro as his model, created a new product called the "slidingly engaging fastener". Instead of loops and hooks, it has interlocking islands with undercut edges that slide together. Duffy then created a wraparound cast made from a single plastic sheet sealed with his fasteners to replace similar removable casts with velcro straps. His sister-in-law had a removable cast with velcro strips, and complained about the velcro because it absorbed perspiration and thus smelled, as well as catching on her clothing.[17][18] With the Unity Wrap, Duffy won the grand prize in NASA's "Create the Future" invention contest. Since then the sliding engaging fastener has become available at Material ConneXion, and several designers and a prosthetics company have expressed interest."

    NASA didn't invent Velcro, but they had an important role to play in both its past and its future.

  • by evanbd (210358) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:32PM (#26092691)

    As YAAE, I think it looks silly for several reasons. The first and most important one: you can't actually test fire the engine you're going to trust your life to! You can inspect it, and you can test the process, but you can't test the actual article. Furthermore, the propellant grain is susceptible to handling damage and manufacturing defects, so there is reason to want to test it. There are cases where solids in proximity to humans are reasonable -- small solid motors for ballistic parachutes, for example. Or signal flares. In those cases, you can reasonably test two or three orders of magnitude more devices than will be tested for Ares (mostly because they're smaller). The other cases where solids are better is where readily storable propellants are required, like for most missiles. That doesn't apply here. (There are plenty of other reasons as well, but I won't bother going into them.)

    The mistake that leads to thinking solids are a good choice is comparing them to the SSME and other engines like it as if that was the only alternative. It's not. The best design to compare it to is probably LOX/Kerosene running at a modest chamber pressure, with a pump feed (gas generator cycle) where the pump and its drive system are heavier than they could be, but simpler in design and with more margin (and hence more reliable and cheaper). It doesn't need to be a turbopump -- piston machinery works too. For a large system, though, the turbopump is probably enough lighter to be better, but it should really have more resemblance to industrial turbomachinery than conventional rocket machinery. Yes, that won't hit the maximum possible Isp or mass ratio for the stage. But that isn't as important on a first stage (or really, anywhere you'd consider using a large solid -- even the low-performance LOX/Kero rocket will beat the solid). What is important are things like design cost, manufacturing cost, and reliability.

  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:26PM (#26097037)
    If anyone bothered to read this far, this is a comment on the NSF forums from someone who was at the event where Griffin apparently "yelled" at the transition team: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=14928.msg343718#msg343718/ [nasaspaceflight.com] Note that forum is filled with NASA and Aerospace people. This whole thing is a smear campaign from someone who has an Agenda against Ares and Griffin... The fact that it made it to national news outlets is a shame.
  • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:40PM (#26097875)
    That quote was from the same blog, the sentinel... I'm sure it was taken out of context as "journalists" are prone to do.

    Either way,

    Read the middle of this page/thread <url:http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=14928.msg343718#msg343718>

    People who were actually at this so called event were Griffin lashed out at the transition team. They state that nothing out of the ordinary happened and no yelling.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:22PM (#26098333) Journal

    I actually had high hopes for Griffin as well, but the problem is that he came in with his own personal rocket design and essentially banked the entire space agency's future on it. He's been crushing all the voices of dissent (of which there are many) within NASA who think that it's an inherently flawed design, and has been gutting other NASA programs to pay for the cost overruns of his design.

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