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NASA Trying To Reinvent Their Approach 123

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the handle-my-lightweights dept.
coondoggie writes to tell us that NASA has started down the road to reinvention with the addition of four new committees to the external advisory group that drives the agency's direction. "The four new committees include Commercial Space, Education and Public Outreach, Information Technology Infrastructure, and Technology Innovation. The council's members provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA administrator about agency programs, policies, plans, financial controls and other matters pertinent to NASA's responsibilities. In the realm of commercial space, NASA has been pushed by outside experts to leave low Earth orbit flights to other aerospace firms. The Review of United States Human Space Flight Plan Committee report recently took that a step further in recommending: A new competition with adequate incentives to perform this service should be open to all US aerospace companies. This would let NASA focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit based on the continued development of the current or modified NASA Orion spacecraft."
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NASA Trying To Reinvent Their Approach

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  • Quick summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:19PM (#29955112)

    Slashdot user A: This is great!

    Slashdot user B: What a waste of money! We may not even need unmanned missions to space, let alone manned missions. Let's fix earth, instead.

    Slashdot user A: You jackass. We need to be able to colonize other planets, either because (1) we such at conservation, or (2) eventually we'll get hit by a killer asteroid, or (3) eventually the sun will go out / go boom.

    Slashdot user B: Those are all very speculative or a long time off. We have more pressing problems here and now.

    I just wanted to get that preliminary stuff out of the way.

    • Re:Quick summary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebrain (944107) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:24PM (#29955204)

      Slashdot user C: Did it ever occur to either of you that (a)the same technology we use to colonize other planets can help fix climate problems on earth, and (b) trashing earth is not a prerequesite for space colonization? Indeed, running conservation and colonization programs in parallel can help preserve earth rather than destroy it! That's why you go out and colonize, specifically so you don't have to use up all the earthbound resources.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        Slashdot User D, writing to his Republican congressman: "You know, you can kill lots of people with big rockets..."

        Congressman: "Get me the Pentagon! Fly me to Johnson Space Center! We gots to have a meeting about this!"

      • Slashdot user D: Who cares?

      • by IronChef (164482)

        Slashdot user D: Humanity isn't worth saving. Exploring space just means we will ruin more of the natural world. Better that the rocks spin endlessly through the void unsullied by our touch.

        (I can't stand that guy.)

        Oh, I will take the role of user E: GREAT. More committees. That'll help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jameskojiro (705701)

      Slashdot user C: You both suck, we should be dumping money into a big hole and burning it, screw the earth and space, kill everyone.....

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by s73v3r (963317)
      Slashdot user Q: CmdrTaco's penis is sooooo small.
  • by Plasmic (26063) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:19PM (#29955116)

    More committees. Way to think outside the box.

    If they want to reinvent their approach, perhaps they should start by not creating multiple committees every time they want to accomplish something ... or am I forgetting the long track record of success by new committees at already-bloated government organizations?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      More committees. Way to think outside the box.

      If they want to reinvent their approach, perhaps they should start by not creating multiple committees every time they want to accomplish something ... or am I forgetting the long track record of success by new committees at already-bloated government organizations?

      It's not like it's rocket science. ... oh wait.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by jameskojiro (705701)

      Maybe they need more Meetings, I am sure a consensus solution could be reached if we add 4 more hours of meetings each day...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      Managing large organisations is hard. You can't just say make it so and expect anything will get done. Getting even one thing done in a four year period in a large organisation like NASA will take an enormous amount of organisation and planning.

      • by Plasmic (26063) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:50PM (#29955544)

        Yes, but important decisions at large organizations are made by CEOs or other key executives (CMO, CTO, etc.) with clear lines of responsibility and accountability, not by establishing several dozen committees. Only in government (and poorly-run, similarly-bloated conglomerates) is this kind of bureaucratic, process-obsessed operation characterized as "reinventing their approach".

        Don't forget to separate execution of the plan from development of the plan. It will clearly take thousands of people collaborating to execute on the vision of "go to the moon by 2017" -- but deciding what the top priorities are while keeping in mind resources, timelines, and feasibility, simply does not require four more committees at NASA.

      • If it takes large organizations longer to do things, then why don't we just fire 90% of them and get everything done faster?

    • by demachina (71715) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:58PM (#29955630)

      NASA is a hopeless entrenched bureaucracy. Forming more committees, and writing reports, is what they do when threatened, its their counterpart to the old west circling of the wagons when attacked by Indians.

      As an aside here is a fascinating article [counterpunch.org] by an ex CIA agent on why the CIA has exactly the same disease NASA has and why they are dysfunctional too. Apparently most CIA agents spend most of their time angling to making a jump to the private sector where they can get rich by using their insider knowledge to get lucrative contracts.... from the CIA.

      NASA is pretty similar. There are very few scientists and engineers left at NASA. They are mostly contract monitors who shuffle paper from pile to pile to get money from Congress to award contracts to the private sector and the contractors do all the actual work. Of course contractors tend to be flakes, and are just in it to milk as much money as they can. During Apollo there were a lot of contractors but there were actual engineers and scientists at NASA who did stuff, not so much any more.

  • Let's form some committees to help our advisory group figure out how we can fix this gigantic bureaucracy!

    I've got a clue for them. They need to follow some simple rules.

    1. Rockets should look like cocks
    2. People should only ride on liquid fuel rockets.
    3. If you're the booster designer, double the requirements.

    4. Success!

    Explanation:
    1. Rockets should look like cocks. Stacked vertically, not side by side. Both shuttle failures resulted from the orbiter, tank, and boosters being in a side-by-side configuratio

  • It's like the original formulation of Godwin's law: once an organization faces problems by immediately forming a committee, no further solutions are possible.

  • Definition (Score:5, Funny)

    by rossdee (243626) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:36PM (#29955386)

    Committee: The only known form of life with 6 or more legs, and no brain.

    (From the notebooks of Lazarus Long

  • NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by ISoldat53 (977164) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:39PM (#29955422)
    A press release in search of a mission.
  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:40PM (#29955436) Journal

    They would do well to put the moon and Mars on the back burner and focus on the asteroids. Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.
    Focus on alternative propulsion and energy systems as chemical engines are not going to get us very far. Get NASA out of Earth to LEO and focused toward targets that are farther out and harder to reach. Let SpaceX and friends take care of launch costs to LEO. Focus on utilising robotic missions where possible and reserve human space flight for in depth study where the time lag/AI insufficiencies become problematic. Get hacking on the problem of orbital space debris- that will be a major problem if we're going to be going to do anything outside of our atmosphere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ianare (1132971)

      Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.

      Cooperation is one thing, but we shouldn't rely on other nations to provide us with space access. It would be bad for the economy : US funds and technological advantage going to other countries.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.

        Cooperation is one thing, but we shouldn't rely on other nations to provide us with space access. It would be bad for the economy : US funds and technological advantage going to other countries.

        Deep space exploration should be an international activity, if only because it is so expensive.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Deep space exploration should be an international activity, if only because it is so expensive.

          First, it doesn't have to be "so expensive". Nobody, including the US, has tried to reduce the cost of doing things in space. Second, the US would end up paying most of the bill anyway because it already spends most of the money on space exploration and development. So international cooperation would mean maybe something between a modest reduction to a large increase in cost (as in the International Space Station) in exchange for putting other countries in somebody's critical path. It's not the solution for

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by wizardforce (1005805)

        THere is nothing stopping a US company fro mwinning the funds, they're just competing with the rest of the world for those funds. If the US companies are worth a damn they'll get the prize, if not.. well there's no right to profit only the right to try to make a profit. The US should stick to what it does best and stop this silly protectionism in its tracks. It does us no good to put artificial barriers to stop other countries from stepping in where we aren't as efficient. It just helps the inefficient

        • What protectionism is in place? The only thing that we have is that any space tech can not be shared with China. The last time we did, that tech made it into their missiles FASTER than it made it into the rest of their civilian rocket line. As it is, SpaceX has numbers that is lower than anybody, and that is before China starts mega-dumping on the market (they already are dumping).
          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            What protectionism is in place? The only thing that we have is that any space tech can not be shared with China.

            ITAR restrictions (where pretty much anything, however mundane, related to satellites is classified as a munition) are actually rather more problematic than you describe for space industry, although there fortunately seems to be some progress on that:

            http://thespacereview.com/article/1503/1 [thespacereview.com]

            A decade-long concern for the US space industry has been export control regulations. Since satellites and related components were put under the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), space businesses, including manufacturers or commercial satellites and their subsystems, have raised the alarm that the stricter ITAR rules were hurting their ability to sell to customers outside the US, even to close allies. Companies, industry organizations, and their supporters have sought for much of this time to at least partially roll back those changes to enhance their competitiveness.

            While the drumbeat for reform isn't necessarily as loud as it was a few years ago, thanks in part to procedural changes that have reduced the backlog of, and waiting time for, export license applications, there is now real evidence of progress towards the reforms the industry has sought. A section of HR 2410, a State Department authorization bill that the House approved in June, deals with export control and includes a number of key reforms that the industry has been seeking.

            "It accomplishes many, if not almost all, of the things that people in the export control reform movement have been dreaming of for quite a while," said Mike Gold, director of the Washington office of Bigelow Aerospace and a leading advocate for export control reform, during a presentation at the COMSTAC meeting last week.

            One key component is what Gold called a "review and revision" of the US Munitions List (USML), the compilation of components that are subject to ITAR. The bill would require a review of at least 20 percent of the USML every year for five years to determine if items should be removed from the list. After the five-year period the review would start over to allow updates based on advances in technology.

            Another aspect of the bill would give the President the ability to remove satellites and related components from the USML, although it would still not allow the export of such items to China. The bill language would also require the public release of what are known as commodity jurisdiction determinations, when the State Department evaluates whether a specific technology belongs on the USML or not.

            The good news for export control reform advocates is that the bill has passed the House. The bad news, as Gold explained, is that the Senate has taken no action on the bill yet, and there's no indication when--or even if--they will take up the legislation before the end of the next year. "To be honest, we haven't even heard any good rumors as to if this is something that rises to the level of priority" that the Senate will take action on, Gold said.

            Key to the future of the bill is Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "If Senator Kerry chooses to prioritize export control reform, it most likely will get done," Gold said.

            Gold also noted there is a review of export control policy going on within the new administration, although that may be of limited effectiveness for the space industry since the inclusion of satellites and related components on the USML was done in legislation and therefore must be undone that way. However, he said that the actual law does provide some "wiggle room" for the administration to change how it implements that law, if it so chooses. "If there isn't a legislative fix, there is still the possibility--certainly not a strong possibility, but the potential anyway--of the executive branch doing something helpful unilaterally," he said.

            To some, it might appear the administration is already doing that, with its presidential determination in September that shifted authority for approving missile and space technology exports to China from the President to the Secretary of Commerce (see "How competitive is commercial launch?", The Space Review, October 19, 2009). However, Gold said that this was not a significant shift in policy. "There has been no substantive change whatsoever in our export control policy relative to China, or space and missile technology as a whole at all," he said. "The only thing that was done was virtually a superficial change" and was not an indication of any potential changes in export control policy.

            While export control reform efforts continue, Gold noted he is about to have published a law review article that argues that ITAR itself is unconstitutional as a prior restraint on free speech. "If you were to challenge ITAR under the First Amendment, it would collapse like a house of cards," he claimed. "That's another reason for reform: we need a regime that could pass constitutional muster."

          • Yes what you're proposing is protectionism. Any measure designed to artificially tilt the balance toward local industry against foreign competition is protectionism. You're just justifying it with national security and anti-dumping policies on which you are wrong on both counts. There's a difference between covert military tech and the civilian tech prizes I'm talking about here. You're not considering the advantages to rapid development of space flight tech by whomever is able to do so. You're just th

            • First, X-prizes are NOT protectionism. Protectionism is about protecting your own existing companies. An x-prize is about DEVELOPING NEW MARKETS. If you chose to develop it for your nation, how is that wrong?

              Dumb question, but why are you not encouraging other nations to hold x-prizes? If these other nations are so advanced, then they will do it as well. Heck, nearly all of the western nations, Russia, as well as China, are in MUCH better economic shape than is America. What is wrong with THEM doing this
              • I am trying to tell you that we need everyone on this planet to be involved not just the US. I never said that other countries shouldn't have x-prizes of their own, all I said was that it was short sighted to restrict the x-prize competition to our own industry. The tech will be developed faster if countries create x-prize style incentives that are international in scale. Geeze... Everyone and their brother wants the tech to themselves it's just amazing that anything ever gets done on this planet.

        • First of all, this is in no way protectionism. Those funds were forcibly extracted from US taxpayers. There's no reason the recipients of government funding shouldn't be limited to US corporations or individuals. The concept of economic protectionism in a free market has no relation to government expenditures of tax monies.

          Furthermore, even if it were protectionism, the US has obligations to it's own citizens over foreigners. Protectionism is written right into the US Constitution, and helped to build t

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Paranatural (661514)

      If you opened it to anyone, all of the conservative pundits (Beck, Coulter, O'Riley, Limbaugh) would cry and cry about how much Obama hates America because he let everyone bid.

    • China has 4 trillion spare dollars sitting around. They should offer up an X-prize to the world.
    • They would do well to put the moon and Mars on the back burner and focus on the asteroids.

      This is basically the finding of a report by Wesley Huntress (see "The Next Steps in Exploring Deep Space" [iaaweb.org]), who was just named as head of the NASA Science Advisory Committee.

      Then set aside a few hundred million a year in x-prize style incentives open to *everyone* not just US companies.
      Focus on alternative propulsion and energy systems as chemical engines are not going to get us very far. Get NASA out of Earth to LEO and focused toward targets that are farther out and harder to reach. Let SpaceX and friends take care of launch costs to LEO.

      Bretton Alexander, the newly appointed head of the Commercial Spaceflight Advisory Committee, is also President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a group which includes private spaceflight companies [commercial...flight.org] like SpaceX, Armadillo Aerospace, Scaled Composites, and the X Prize Foundation. I suspect he'll be advocating pretty much exactly

  • Amazing (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    that so many idiots want to Kill NASA and America's space program when China just announced that they are going to militarize Space [spacedaily.com]. I mean I can understand if Chinese are hoping that America will kill its program. BUT, there are appears to be Americans that want this.
    • by khallow (566160)
      What brought this whine on? In case you haven't noticed, NASA and "America's space program" is a national embarrassment. At some point, if we want to do something about the Chinese or anyone else who wants to do stuff in space that we don't like, we'll need real space development and exploration not just dump money on the NASA supply chain.
  • New committee heads (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:37PM (#29956168) Journal

    The linked article didn't seem to mention it anywhere, but it's worth noting who the heads of the new committees are:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=29537 [spaceref.com]
    http://www.spacenews.com/civil/091030-bolden-revamps-nasa-advisory-council.html [spacenews.com]

    * Commercial Space Committee: Bretton Alexander [commercial...flight.org], current head of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation
    * Education and Public Outreach: Miles O'Brien [wikipedia.org], pretty much the best and most clueful space journalist around
    * Technology and Innovation Committee: Esther Dyson [wikipedia.org], well known for her tech entrepreneurship work
    * (IT Infrastructure Committee chair seems to be pending)

    All in all, they seem to be rather good picks. It also seems that Wesley Huntress [wikipedia.org] has been chosen as the chair of the Science Committee. In 2004 he was head of a study, The Next Steps in Exploring Deep Space [iaaweb.org], a rather fascinating report proposing a space exploration infrastructure which would initially focus on Lagrange points and Near-Earth Objects, quite similar to the Flexible Path option proposed by the Augustine Commission.

  • Generally, when I see a 'reinvention' start off with new committees, I get sleepy.

    Then I look around to see where the ad hoc committee in charge of making sure nothing gets done is.

    When I find that, I gauge if there is any chance of disbanding that committee...

    If not, time to move on.

  • Failsauce nasa (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    India and China, homes of cheap and mass-produced, are busy going forward and they'll take the lead if NASA keeps on reiterating what a great shop it was in the seventies. It wasn't, Feynmann showed conclusively and in great detail what a structurally shoddy shop it was, but there wasn't anything better. Now? All budget cuts are more than deserved, for it's a dedicated pointy-hair support shop drenched in aint-we-cool sauce to the point of religion. In fact, you could cut it down to a ten person government

  • How about a World Space Agency instead of this massive expenditure and duplication of effort. [wikipedia.org]

    Oh, right. That would make sense.

    • The reason why NASA has problem (as does RSA and somewhat ESA), is that all have settled on one design and stick with it. What is needed is multiple designs and development. Only by doing numerous approaches will better be found.
  • And we all know what happens over time when a government extends itself beyond a sustainable threshold for too long - rebellions. Factions. Unrest. New states and governments that represent the people and their values. The classic example of establishing an independent base away from Earth is that one day if it survives, it will become a separate entity and demand recognition. In the past, the most technologically advanced and financially powerful countries in the history of the world had sent out shi

    • by Xin Jing (1587107)

      I think that Exploitation Colonialism hits the nail on the head rather accurately http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_colonialism [wikipedia.org].

      I would imagine that a wealthy space-faring corporation could easily be substituted for a traditional government, and employees forced to work in laborious and dangerous conditions would seek to improve their lives through and organized revolt or uprising, where "the primary cause for revolution was the widespread frustration with socio-political situation." http://en.wikip [wikipedia.org]

      • The mining will be done by robotics. Man is far too expensive to use for labor. In fact, I would argue that if we do not get off this planet in the next 20 years with a permanent colony, we will probably never get off. The reason is that robots will be sent instead, and we will see far too many ppl saying that man needs to solve our local issues before venturing into space (which will never happen).
        • by Xin Jing (1587107)

          While I agree that mechanical automation is more effecient than manual labor, I disagree that it's cheaper. You don't have to look to the stars to see the cost-savings of having cheap human labor right here on Earth. The agriculture industry has many similarities to mining in that when a machine replaces humans, it's extremely costly, very specialized and tends to need a human crew to assist with the operation. I think it's generally accepted that using specialized machines in labor-intensive industry inc

    • And we all know what happens over time when a government extends itself beyond a sustainable threshold for too long - rebellions. Factions. Unrest. New states and governments that represent the people and their values.

      And the next thing you know, sombody's dropping a space colony on Australia.

    • ... since space colonies are utter pie-in-the-sky (so to speak). There is not the slightest chance we're going to be establishing colonies on other bodies in the solar system any time soon. 1) We don't have the technology. The few efforts we've made at establishing truly self-contained ecosystems on the surface of the earth have been failures - read up on Biosphere II, which experienced massive disturbances in its ecology, and had to "import" atmosphere from the outside world... an option that's not going t

  • By adding 4 new committees, NASA is showing that they're not interested in real change. That's what any government organization does. Now, if they were eliminating some committees, that would be news.

  • For NASA, space is still a high priority.
  • Nasa, Take off your management hat and put on your engineering hat.

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