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NASA Space Politics

Ares Manager Steve Cook Resigns From NASA 153

Posted by timothy
from the but-it's-a-revolving-door-in-space dept.
FleaPlus writes "Steve Cook, project manager for the Ares I-X, Ares I, and Ares V rockets, announced that he will resign from NASA MSFC after 19 years at the agency, leaving for an executive position at Dynetics, Inc. This raises doubts about the future of the Ares program, which has been plagued with development problems and massive cost/schedule overruns since its inception. Steve Cook also oversaw the (since discredited) 2005 ESAS study which scrapped NASA's prior plans to adapt already-existing commercial rockets for human/beyond-LEO exploration in favor of internally developing the Ares rockets."
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Ares Manager Steve Cook Resigns From NASA

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  • Sounds like there's going to be new disappointing information coming out in the near future about the Ares program.
  • by marciot (598356) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @07:52PM (#29247743)

    He is leaving NASA to become a scientologist? This is a sad loss for science.

  • by El Torico (732160) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:19PM (#29247903)

    Why would the departure of Steve Cook raise doubts about the future of an entire program? If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

    • by Paradoks (711398) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:37PM (#29247985) Homepage

      The summary of the article mentioned that his previous work included overseeing a discredited study, and until now he had been overseeing a program that seems to not be doing terribly well.

      This departure would seem a net positive.

      Unless, of course, Timothy and fleaplus have led me astray with that summary of Steve Cook's nineteen years at NASA.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by confused one (671304)
        He was also responsible for the X-33; he's been in charge of a big budget program that was shut down before. I'm guessing he can see the writing on the wall.
        • by lennier (44736)

          "He was also responsible for the X-33;"

          Yes, whatever did happen to that critter [wikipedia.org]?

          For that matter, whatever happened to Ronald Reagan's Orient Express [wikipedia.org]?

          Why has NASA spent most of the last 30 years building advanced hypersonic test vehicles which never quite seem to make it into civilian production? Are they doing test work for USAF black planes? I mean well of course they are, but might there be some kind of underlying plan they're not talking about? It's interesting to me how hypersonics [wslfweb.org] seems to be one of th

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Discredited by a bunch of nobodies.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

      One person is not a program?

      Tell that to Robert H. Goddard, Werner von Braun, and Freeman Dyson.

      How about less emphasis on "managers" of "programs" and more emphasis on "visionaries" leading "engineers". (grumble, grumble, as cool as it is, we're building the wrong spacecraft-named-Orion, get off my lawn...)

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:56PM (#29248103) Journal

      Here's the problem - good program managers come from good engineers. And NASA has very, very few engineers anymore. They've got principal investigators (scientists) and contract managers. Most anybody who was left at the end of the 70s was fired by Reagan and the jobs subbed out to contractors. That way they could manage cash flow by simply increasing or decreasing manpower by manipulating the contract. Which sounds great if you're a business major, and is just death for any sort of continuity and corporate knowledge. The best and brightest go on to find steady work, the good stay around, and the dregs come on and off jobs as the contract tide rises and falls. Which, by the way, happens very little. With the contractor employees being so entwined with the remaining personnel, there's pressure to find work for everyone when the money gets tight. That's just human nature - but it foils the MBA's plans to save money, and it prevents NASA from having the in-house expertise (since it was all farmed out).

      • Most anybody who was left at the end of the 70s was fired by Reagan

        Got a citation for that? Reagan's administration began in 1981 and according to this wiki article [wikipedia.org], NASA's budget for that year was $11.2 billion, and steadily increased (in real dollars, adjusted for inflation - these are real increases) except for one year, 1985. There was a one-time spike in the budget in 1987 when they got extra money to replace Challenger.

        I haven't heard that Reagan fired engineers, and I'd love to see your source

        • I worked there (NASA). No engineers were hired (actually, simply "very few"). The budget increased because we did more stuff, and we paid more accountants and contract staff to administer outside contractors who paid higher wages (with lower benefits, generally, I must add) and added profit on top of it all.

          I don't have a cite, but if you look at the civil service: contractor ratio you'll see the shift. Hell, JPL is only contract administrators - there are effectively no working civil service engineers doi

    • by Old97 (1341297)
      Ever heard the expression "rats leaving a sinking ship"? When a program is in serious trouble, the head guy often bails just before he is fired or demoted. His departure signals the seriousness of the problems with the program. It has nothing to do with a shortage of PMs.
      • by ibbey (27873)

        Either that or he got a good job offer.

        • by Old97 (1341297)

          Either that or he got a good job offer.

          Which he apparently has. What government contractor wouldn't jump at the chance to hire a guy with a track record of failed projects and yet who seemed to survive and prosper despite that? Clearly he knew how to "get along" in the system and cultivate important friendships. That's an invaluable skill for a government contractor.

    • by PapayaSF (721268) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:55PM (#29248413) Journal

      If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

      Sorry, I don't think feeding the giant bureaucracy that NASA has become will get the results we want. Here's my manned space program:

      1. Take the money NASA gets for manned space and give it to Burt Rutan.
      2. Tell Burt to get people into orbit and to the Moon.
      3. Stand back.
      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by wasted (94866)

        If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

        Sorry, I don't think feeding the giant bureaucracy that NASA has become will get the results we want. Here's my manned space program:

        1. Take the money NASA gets for manned space and give it to Burt Rutan.
        2. Tell Burt to get people into orbit and to the Moon.
        3. Stand back.

        Burt's company is Scaled Composites . I don't think I would trust a

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wasted (94866)

          Darn, screwed up the blockquotes.
          Corrected:

          If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

          Sorry, I don't think feeding the giant bureaucracy that NASA has become will get the results we want. Here's my manned space program:

          1. Take the money NASA gets for manned space and give it to Burt Rutan.
          2. Tell Burt to get people into orbit and to the Moon.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Kartoffel (30238)

            I would trust composites. Sure it will take some engineering to make it work, but you'd have to engineer metallic structures, too. FWIW, I develop advanced sensors and structural health systems at MSFC.

          • A composite material is nothing more than a non-homogeneous material. Composite materials are engineered to take advantages of some material's properties while mitigating it's disadvantages with some other material's properties. For example, reinforced concrete [wikipedia.org] is a composite material. It is formed by concrete and rebar. Concrete is very cheap, moldable and considerably resistant to compressive forces but has a limited tensile resistance and has very limited elasticity (it suffers from fragile, even explosi
      • And how, exactly, does giving the money to someone with zero relevant experience accomplish anything? No offense to Burt, who is brilliant in his field, but you'd accomplish roughly as much by handing the money to some random person off the street.

    • by PachmanP (881352)

      Why would the departure of Steve Cook raise doubts about the future of an entire program? If that is the case, then NASA really needs to work on hiring and/or training more Program Managers.

      He talked to the Augustine panel and decided to ring up a buddy for a job believing the program is not long for this world...

    • The whole problem with NASA is it became hopelessly politicized. Thus, as has been proved with the Bush administration, planning was done in the interest of the 'good old boys', rather than scientific and engineering reality.

      That is why the shuttle was not re-furbished and failing components, like the booster tank foam re-designed so it didnt fall off.

      The shuttle should be re-ferbed, and more built if needed, see the F15 aircraft programs. Commercial competition should be embraced not excluded and rational
  • Maybe he's going to build some space-ships that look like DC-8s, and fly to the Galactic Confederacy to meet Xenu.
    • by Sawopox (18730)

      Regardless of the reason for construction, a vehicle capable of interstellar travel is an impressive feat of engineering.

  • Good news? (Score:5, Funny)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:03PM (#29248139)
    Steve Cook, project manager for the Ares .... which has been plagued with development problems and massive cost/schedule overruns since its inception. Steve Cook also oversaw the (since discredited) 2005 ESAS study...

    So, has he done anything good lately? Either the summary is very unfair to the guy or this Dynetics thing is doomed.
    • Re:Good news? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:10PM (#29248167) Journal

      So, has he done anything good lately? Either the summary is very unfair to the guy or this Dynetics thing is doomed.

      Before making my submission I honestly tried to find examples of things which were even marginally successful, but could only find examples of management failures (X-33, X-34, Delta Clipper, ISS Propulsion Module). The only positive result I can find is that he had some pretty cool CGI videos made of his project designs, which apparently helped a lot with making sure that they got money for as long as they did.

      Seriously, if anybody has examples of anything good Steve Cook did during his 19 years at NASA, please post them.

      • Re:Good news? (Score:4, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:06PM (#29248467) Journal

        Before making my submission I honestly tried to find examples of things which were even marginally successful, but could only find examples of management failures (X-33, X-34, Delta Clipper, ISS Propulsion Module).

        I should add that this can potentially be attributed to big launch/propulsion projects in general at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (or at least those from the past 30 years). It's kind of tricky to separate the two though, since Steve Cook seems to have been manager for most of those projects. There were some failed launch projects though at MSFC which Steve Cook didn't manage, such as the ASRM, National Launch System, and Orbital Space Plane. No MSFC successes I've been able to find, though.

        So... it's an open question if the management failures were due to Steve Cook, NASA MSFC, or NASA in general.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by schnell (163007)

        Seriously, if anybody has examples of anything good Steve Cook did during his 19 years at NASA, please post them.

        If anybody has examples of anything good NASA did for manned spaceflight during the previous 19 years, please post them.

        Of course NASA has sponsored plenty of worthwhile projects in the last 20 years, but all of them I can think of have been for unmanned spaceflight (Hubble, Mars Surveyor, etc.) Why should we be surprised when the program manager for NASA's seemingly perpetually delayed next-generation manned spaceflight program bails out? When the press description for the most recent Discovery shuttle lau

        • The raging success of the Hubble Space Telescope is due almost entirely to manned spaceflight. Without men and women in space to fix it and upgrade it periodically, that program would be viewed as a hugely embarrassing colossal blunder. Successive generations of instrument replacements have dramatically improved the quality and amount of science that the instrument is capable of performing. It is undoubtedly the single greatest testament to the importance of being able to routinely place men and women in
      • I don't know anything about the internal NASA management bureaucracy, but I do know about bureaucracy in business and government agencies. It is by no means guaranteed that Mr. Cook is responsible for the failures of the projects that he managed. He might well be, but it certainly does not automatically follow. Bureaucracies excel at separating authority from responsibility (in fact, it can be argued that this is a core purpose of a bureaucracy, although personally I would disagree with that goal). Mr.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:04PM (#29248143) Journal

    This wasn't in the summary, but it's also worth noting that in his 19 years at NASA, Steve Cook was also manager of the failed X-33, X-34, and Delta Clipper (after it was transferred to NASA). I'm trying to find validation, but I think he was also manager for the failed ISS Propulsion Module project as well.

    In fact, I've been earnestly looking, and I can't find a single example of a project he managed which didn't end overbudget and in utter failure. The only possible exception I can think of is the Delta Clipper, which actually started under somebody else's management, experienced some success, and was killed off so NASA could focus on the X-33 (also managed by Steve Cook).

    The following post by a (now-former) NASA engineer does a great job of summarizing what Steve Cook was like as a manager, although Deger blames it more on NASA management culture than Steve Cook himself:

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=18523.msg467693#msg467693 [nasaspaceflight.com]

    My cut is: the story was "The stick is safe in every way". This made the program not look at problems with the stick that could have been taken care of with some careful engineering design work. Thrust Oscillation, Vibro-acoustics, and SRB disposal all have engineering design solutions, but the party line up front was "none of these are a problem". Any engineer that attempted to fix these problems was removed from the program and made into what the Japanese call a window watcher. I was one of them for trying to get the program to realize the stack was going to be not healthy after an abort and this fact needed to taken care of. I even had a simple design solution to the problem, to take care of it.

    I have heard many people that tried to fix TO [thrust oscillation] were removed. I bet the same happened to the first people that recognize vibro-acoustic were an issue that need to be dealt with.

    I am in the process of doing my best to design solutions to these problems. It may not be possible because there is no performance margin left.

    And to this day, the requirements have not still not been defined.

    Danny Deger

    Edit: And none of this was caused by Mr. Cook. He did his job exactly as he was trained to do by NASA.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Flea, normally, we see eye to eye and agree on most everything, but you are dead wrong here. The X-33, 34, and Delta Clipper deaths can be blamed on Congress and Bush. The X-33 WAS delayed on the tanks, but Bush's admin killed it (contrary to opinion, it was NOT NASA that killed it; History is funny about that; Bush saw that many things were blamed on just about everybody else even though a number of people are now out and out saying that they were doing what Bush's admin said to do). At the time that the X
      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:58PM (#29248429) Journal

        Flea, normally, we see eye to eye and agree on most everything, but you are dead wrong here. The X-33, 34, and Delta Clipper deaths can be blamed on Congress and Bush.

        Do you have any references for your claims? I'm not suggesting you're wrong of course, I'd just like to read up more on it. From what I've read, the X-33 seems to have failed largely due to the requirement of having to test many high-risk technologies in a single prototype, instead of validating the technologies individually. With the X-34, Wikipedia sez, "when the first flight vehicle was near completion, the programme died after NASA demanded sizable design changes without providing any new funding, and the contractor, Orbital Sciences, refused." The Delta Clipper I thought was progressing along nicely, although its minuscule budget was cancelled in favor of the X-33.

        To blame Mr. Cook for having been on these projects is dead wrong. He did excellent work, but was in the wrong place at the wrong times.

        This is actually something I've been trying to get better clarification on, without much luck: How much of the blame for NASA's failed attempts at developing new launch vehicles should be placed on Steve Cook, versus NASA MSFC, NASA in general, the executive branch, or Congress. If anybody has additional insights regarding this question, I'd love to hear.

        • by brennz (715237) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:11AM (#29249507)
          Disclaimer: I am an employee of NOAA

          Your words on "having to test many high-risk technologies in a single prototype, instead of validating the technologies individually" are true. That is very similar to what is happening with the joint NASA/NOAA/DoD program, The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System [noaa.gov] (NPOESS).

          NPOESS' gigantic cost overruns are mainly from an experimental imager named VIIRS [noaa.gov] being placed onto the constellation. The type of contract used for the acquisition doesn't help either..
        • The causes of the X-33 program failure are the subject of considerable debate. Here are several good sources of information. You can see that the program received criticism from the GAO, and other sources. I've seen several references to the DoD effort to fund the flight test program, and that request being over-ruled by the Bush administration. I can't recall if these sources below include that claim or not, but you can probably find one or more if you use Google.

          excellent X-33 overview [fas.org]
          X-33 Ventur [nasaspaceflight.com]
      • Yeah, that's a fascinating and little-told part of the X-33 history. "Ready to fly" is perhaps a slight overstatement, but the tank problem had basically been solved in two different ways (switching to an aluminum-lithium tank was feasible with the tech demonstrated by the second generation Shuttle external tank, but also, cryogenic carbon fiber technology improvements were demonstrated and ready). X-33 certainly could have been made ready to fly, and DoD was ready to fund it. The other successes of the
        • Bush also torpedoed NASA by giving them the directive of going to the Moon and Mars without funding the directives.

          While Bush-bashing is always fun, it should be pointed out that only Congress can fund things in the US Government.

          Specifically, all spending has to originate with the House of Representatives, though actual practice frequently has both Houses creating spending bills in parallel, then working out disagreements later.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      Danny Deger is a dipshit. He has tried since entering NASA to get into design work but he simply isn't qualified.. that's why he's an astronaut trainer. Rather than go get the qualifications, he makes waves.. and shitty books.

      Basically, if it appears on NASA Watch, it's bullshit, ignore it.

      • I was about to say the same thing - Danny Deger is always 110% right but completely unappreciated by his bosses. Or so his story goes, in reality, he's an complete loon. After he was scoffed at on the sci.space.* newsgroups, I'm unsurprised to find him in bed with Kieth Cowing. (Another complete loon.)

  • If Steve Cook's track record is what it takes to get a cushy "executive position," where do I sign up? I can probably lead several failed engineering projects in a row, if I am willing to ignore ethics and I try hard enough.

    -Todd
    • by ibbey (27873)

      You've obviously never worked in Corporate America... Pretty standard stuff, do a good job, never get promoted. Screw up royally, be made an executive.

  • Thank God (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B (891430) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:57PM (#29248419)

    Steve Cook has done more to damange the US space program than any foreign enemy government could hope for. Now that he's gone, maybe things can start to get back on track. He will /not/ be missed.

  • by Loopy (41728)

    One might suspect that his departure would raise hopes and not doubts. Consider that if he was project manager of a project that experienced bad management results, maybe it was about damn time the helm was given to someone else.

  • Not a surprise (Score:4, Informative)

    by Shag (3737) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @02:22AM (#29249579) Homepage

    We've already had the bad news - moon and mars are utterly unattainable with the current budget. Everyone's said it over the last few weeks, and I just heard it reiterated again in a dinner talk by Charles Kennel, who used to be a NASA associate administrator and is now on the Augustine Commission. So if you're Cook, you know your baby got knifed. No harm in bailing.

    Kennel said he thinks it's time we suck it up and treat our international partners like actual partners, including depending on them for launch capability when we need to (after all, we already depended on Russia for a few years after Columbia) - and for really big projects like moon or mars, not go it alone when there's really nothing to gain by doing so.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Sunday August 30, 2009 @03:29AM (#29249847)

    So the guy leaves a couple of turds on the rug at NASA, then slinks out the back door to work for a private company. And people think corporations do a better job of running things than the government?

    NASA probably didn't know any better when they hired him. What's Dynetics' excuse?

  • (De)Face The Facts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @10:13AM (#29251267) Journal

    The Huntsville Times (of all places) gets the story half right and half sensationalistic speculation based on ignoring the rest of the facts, and in posting it here the summary turns to 25/75, prompting shadow tippers to pretend they know enough to continue the line of assumed criticisms and innuendos.

    Cook has been on this project since it began, working his way up and filling bigger shoes capably, including those of his previous supervisor. Now he's leaving with the blessings of NASA to rejoin his previous supervisor, working for a contractor specializing in space craft test telemetry and analysis, including that of (The Rocket Boys' "Miss Riley"? no. My Shiny Metal Ass? no. Wait for it...) Ares.

    Cook is not leaving the project, he's only leaving federal employment. That's not necessarily true, he may be tasked with other work, but figure the odds they'll waste his experience on something else as long as Ares is viable.

    Now, my money says it's not viable and will get canceled and Cook will continue to make good money elsewhere, but at this point neither NASA nor Dynetics is betting that way, and that's how the story should have been written if it had been intended to be journalism. Had it been, it may have even been reported as such here. Of course that would never stop such dedicated and learned critics from toppling every perceived ivory tower with their Tonka Trucks of Truth as long as the facts can be safely kept outside the sandbox.

    • by lennier (44736)

      "toppling every perceived ivory tower with their Tonka Trucks of Truth"

      Best. Band name. Ever.

  • Amazing what 24 hours and a press release can do when combined with the synthetic outrage that the 'net in general (and /. in particular) does so well at generating.
     
    24 hours ago, none of the soi-disant experts here on /. had even heard of Steve Cook - though given the high profile projects he's managed and they're all experts on they should have known him well... And now he's Satan incarnate.

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