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NASA Space

The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the when-NASA-starts-looking-like-the-USPTO dept.
schwit1 writes: Rather than work in NASA, the best young engineers today are increasingly heading to get jobs at private companies like SpaceX and XCOR. This is a long article, worth reading in its entirety, but this quote sums it up well: "As a NASA engineering co-op student at Johnson Space Center, Hoffman trained in various divisions of the federal space agency to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college this year after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting Johnson Space Center in recent months. She did have every intention of joining that force — had actually accepted the offer, in fact — when she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with rising commercial launch company SpaceX.

Hoffman took him up on the offer, flying out to Los Angeles in the spring for a private tour. Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse. As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. ... Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take." At NASA, young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor. At private companies like SpaceX, things are getting built now.
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The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

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  • by hamjudo (64140) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:08PM (#47678987) Homepage Journal
    The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.
    • The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

      Big deal. I also worked *at* the NASA Langley Research Center -- with Unisys (1988-92) as a system admin/programmer on the super computing network - Cray-2 and YMP, several Convex systems, etc... and with SAIC (1996-98) as a sysadmin on the CERES [nasa.gov] project - Sun E5000, SGI Origin 2000, ~100 Sun/SGI workstations, etc...

      The Cray-2, Voyager [nasa.gov], ended up at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in 1996 btw.

    • The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

      I think you misspelled "hack".

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

        I think you misspelled "hack".

        hacking is applauded on this site and viewed as a skill you might try different terminology next time.

      • by xevioso (598654)

        I don't undesrtand. Did you mean to imply the hack at xkcd is a former NASA engineer, or the talent at xkcd is a former NASA hack? Or a former hack engineer? Or the talent behind hacking? I'm so confused.

  • Follow the money (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. And it's likely to remain that way until 2020 when the first multi-billion dollar SLS finally makes it off the factory floor. That is two and a half generations of engineers graduating from college with no reason to work for NASA.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by sillybilly (668960)

      Nasa, in view of the global financial crises, is an unnecessary luxury item in the eyes of the leaders. Until you say something that space is gonna be full of Chinese space station, or even Russian, Indian, and Brazilian, and none from the US, and then they all get excited. We can't let that happen. But NASA is a gov't run institution, probably full of red tape and stagnation. The most efficient human organizational unit is the gang (as in drug dealer black gangs from the hood, or maffiozo italian gangs fro

    • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday August 15, 2014 @03:12PM (#47680901)

      NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011.

      I would suggest that the current malaise at NASA extends through the Shuttle program. Operating a first generation prototype for over a quarter of a century? Hell, just flying the same five vehicles for a quarter of a century (not even replacing those that crashed) is hardly a sign of a place that will thrill an innovative young engineer. It's more like a railway museum than a space agency.

      • Very true - I would date the start of NASA's decline as the 1980s, if not earlier.
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      You're 100% right, its all about the money.

      NASA is a research organization, its goal is not to make money, thats not in its charter.

      SpaceX is a company out to make profit. Making a profit IS in its charter, as sworn to congress.

      SpaceX may seem awesome today, but the reality of it is that in a very short period of time you can safely expect that things will change at SpaceX.

      Right now SpaceX is still trying to look trendy and sap engineers from elsewhere, its like Google from 10 years ago.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:09PM (#47678997)

    NASA headquarters staff votes to unionize.
    http://www.ifpte.org/news/deta... [ifpte.org]

    Anyone with the slightest objectivity knows that the working conditions for federal employees in Washington is glorious, with pay about double what everyone else in the country makes and benefits far exceeding even the best private packages. In addition, the hours are great and just slightly longer than what my generation would have called bankers’ hours. Moreover, if I can be blunt, these engineers are mostly paper pushers. They are not the one’s designing and building anything that might fly in space. Their only reason to unionize now is because they see a threat to their cushy jobs with the advent of private space and are organizing to secure their unneeded positions.

    • by poached (1123673)

      There is rarely a better job than the federal government, if you can get in that is. Rather than take the best and brightest, they have a black hole of a job portal called usajobs.gov. Think about applying to private sector jobs is painful? Try applying for federal jobs. Jobs are posted six months ahead so you just sit there wondering if you made it to the next round. And it's kind of like applying to college. You don't know why you got rejected because the skills they are looking for are not very well defi

      • by AutodidactLabrat (3506801) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:38PM (#47679279)
        I often come to Slashdot to see the latest in 'hate government' postings.
        NASA workers making double? Seems you didn't read the article. For profit often has higher wages for the elite performers
        That being said, the same for-profit operation will go 'least common denominator' the moment, the VERY moment they achieve monopoly status, which is the whole point of the patents and copyrights they issue
        Inevitably, government service produces products similar in quality to the electoral politics that rule them
        Whereas for-profit products always mimic the autocratic rulers who make decisions leading to the likes of Comcast, ATT, So Cal Edison and the like.
        So, hate on children, and don't fly commercial airlines...the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees.(and do you really want to be stuck in NY Kennedy airspace with 8 competing ATC's from 4 different companies?)
        • by Anonymous Coward

          'I often come to Slashdot to see the latest in 'hate government' postings.'

          Maybe one day you'll get it.

          "At NASA, young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor."

          This is pretty general of any government position - plenty of red tape, slow pace, delayed/cancelled projects. The only good thing is that you're more likely to get struck by lightning than loose your job - since it's easy

          • Oh, i got it. People who loathe government workers seem to think that for-profit will solve everything
            I hate to remind you, but 'free market' capitalism had its chance.
            It was called the Guilded age and resulted in America being a second-rate nation with no influence on international events
            Along with things like the Johnson County war, the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, the Runaway corruption of the RutherFraud B. Hayes administration, the cesspits in the cities and the slums convinced America that someth
        • by Tailhook (98486)

          the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees

          You mean the ones that tried to go on strike and we fired en masse to reign in their union demands?

          Because if that is the policy you're advocating then I think you and the GP might have found some common ground.

      • by Whorhay (1319089)

        I'll grant you that the Federal Civil Service has some pretty good benefits. But the pay is not always one of them. I've known people that were hired away by contractors to work in the same shop for a 50% pay increase.

        USAJOBS is pretty awful, partly that is a result of managers writing up the requirements when they have little to no expertise with the subject at hand. The feedback is horrendous, and sadly it used to be even worse.

    • by barlevg (2111272)
      Wow is this uneducated. I can't speak to the federal workforce as a whole, but for a variety of technical fields, like the one described in this article, as well as my own (data science), the federal government pays "competitively" but salaries in the private sector tend to be quite a bit higher. As for the hours and the benefits, that's largely a function of where you work, but I will point out that federal pensions for new hires got slashed [govexec.com] as part of a recent round of budget negotiations.
    • by Moof123 (1292134) on Friday August 15, 2014 @02:35PM (#47680555)

      Wow you are ignorant.

      Yes, the average federal worker makes double the average salary across the US. However, most federal employees have to have a college degree, which makes a comparison between a Federal employee and a Walmart employee pretty meaningless. My guess is you already know this and are likely either a mindless Fox watching drone, or a paid shill.

      When skills are normalized, federal workers make substantially less (http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/01-30-FedPay.pdf). The very top of the federal pay scale is under 150k (and the DC area is very pricey to live in), compare that to silicon valley or Wall Street.

      NASA has been starved down to a rotting skeleton, as it is an easy punching bag for the right.

      • NASA has been starved down to a rotting skeleton, as it is an easy punching bag for the right.

        I don't think the right stands for what you think it does, as they are the ones that fund it when they get elected,

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org]

        Where the left when the get elected tend to do things like scrap our rocket program at the same time they decommission our shuttles leaving us with no space vehicle. And say oh well we will just pay other people to take us to space.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

        As Neil deGrass Tyson points out it isn't the right that is cutting science funding like they are o

    • I disagree as to the cause. NASA's issue is NOT pay, NASA's issue is that it's been caught by the bureaucracy, and I know because I saw it firsthand.

      Back in the day, NASA projects were urgent, so the rules were suspended. You could order parts and get them without going through government regs.These days it's months and months as it goes through channels.

      Then there's the obsession with safety. "Failure is not an option" is killing NASA. I worked on a test satellite for them. The flight team came in at the e

  • It's no longer "news" to find that a private sector company has a leaner, less bureaucratic environment and workflow than a Federal government agency.
    • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:12PM (#47679033)

      It's about the boss of SpaceX going (in so many words)... "Yeah we're going to fucking MARS. Wanna help/come along?".

      Well.. fuck yes. Sign me up. Of course he attracts talent.

    • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eepok (545733) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:27PM (#47679173) Homepage

      And that's the way it's supposed to be. The big funding, risk, and genuine exploration is done by the bloated, but driven, government. Once all the basics have been proven, once all the risks have been measured, and once a potential business model evolves from that exploration, then private business comes in to profitize it.

      When the government loses the drive to continue exploration, private industry moves in to profitize and expand until they can no longer profitize. Then government comes in, uses what private business learned, and then does big exploration all over again. Etc.

      All big exploration starts with governments. The private sector comes in only after the risky, heavy lifting is done. It's a symbiotic relationship.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        All big exploration starts with governments

        Subjectively, all "big" exploration starts with government. Objectively, all unjustifiable exploration starts with government. The reason is obvious -- if the project was justified by the private sector, then there would be no need to force others (who won't justify it) to pay for it.

        Before you mod this down, have a crack at trying to break my logic.

        • by imikem (767509)

          Really? This article concerns NASA, which pioneered the exploration of space. Are you saying that was unjustifiable? Which private sector entities were clamoring to throw money at it in 1961?

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            What, exactly, was the long-term benefit of NASA 'space exploration' in the 1960s?

            Apollo was the kind of technical program which could only have been achieved with tax funding, because no-one else could see any use for it to justify the money. So, they went to the Moon, then... stopped. Leaving just a few moon rocks and some rusting rocket stages.

            That's what happens when you push for 'big' exploration. Government is funding it precisely because it makes no sense. If it made sense, private organisations woul

            • by imikem (767509)

              I believe there were many benefits, well justifying the cost. You apparently disagree, fine. Your arguments are unlikely to persuade me, and vice versa. Good day sir.

              • by 0123456 (636235)

                In other words, you can't answer my question, so you're going to take your ball and go home.

                • Culture and morale of the country, fostering imagination and a desire of technical pursuit for thousands if not millions of engineers, and so on. Would we have Elon Musk, Asteroid mining startups, thousands of small and misc. innovations due to zero grav, or the same knowledge of space and the moon without it?

                  If anything, it's sad we didn't do more with it and cancelled it after 17. We should have kept reaching, but it got too bureaucratic, and the unimpressive shuttle came into existence.

              • by peragrin (659227)

                Yes and no. There were very few direct profits from the Apollo project. However it did spurn a ton of new ways of thinking and materials science that lead to profits for companies.

                However a private company only cares about itself. It doesn't matter if dozens other companies make profit from your research and requests. So no Apollo would never have been done by private companies because it isn't profitable to them. This is why you have government projects. To fund the initial crazy ideas that may of May no

                • by 0123456 (636235)

                  If Apollo and NASA did t need smaller computers would IBM and Intel have ever been formed?

                  You do realize that IBM was founded in 1911, right?

                  As for ICs, at best Apollo brought the development forward a few years. And, if you really wanted to bring the development of ICs forward a few years, you could just have spent a few million doing so.

                  Same for those other 'spinoffs'. The spinoff argument never works, because, if they actually matter, you could just have developed those things and not bothered with the whole Moon business.

            • The poster said "1961". There was a market for commercial satellite launches, there was clearly a value in weather satellites and Landsat type imaging. The military uses for space don't need explaining. So the NASA and Army development in the '50s and very early '60s did indeed create the technology that spawned a commercial space industry.

              But during the '60s, the focus shifted from incremental, step-wise development of space technology to the all-in balls-to-the-wall development of Apollo. However, it's im

            • by Calavar (1587721)

              Geez, this is the most idiotic comment I've seen on Slashdot all day, and that's saying something. You couldn't be bothered to do a 30 second web search before implying that Apollo had no benefits?

              http://web.archive.org/web/201... [archive.org]
              http://m.computerworld.com/s/a... [computerworld.com]
              http://www.the-scientist.com/?... [the-scientist.com]
              http://www.consumerreports.org... [consumerreports.org]

              Examples from those links: improved dialysis machines, credit card swipes, army field rations, improved building insulation, low recoil/shock rubber, cordless household applia

            • by Bengie (1121981)

              What, exactly, was the long-term benefit of NASA 'space exploration' in the 1960s?

              Cell phones, microwave ovens, satellites, computers, huge leaps in aeroengineering. The list goes on. NASA has single handily spurned nearly all technology that we currently use. Prior to NASA, there was almost no demand for the research required for our current tech.

              All tech started as a "Waste of money". An amusing physical phenomena with no practical application until it became reliable and cheap enough for an engineer to make something useful with it.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          break my logic

          "force".

          Public and private property are two different sorts of justification for force. Religious extremists tend to believe that only one or the other is legitimate. Pragmatists, i.e. people living in the real world, acknowledge that they're merely two convenient ways of managing society which both have their place.

          So, the government upholds your right to hold do what you will with your laptop because "it's mine", regardless of what anyone else things should be done with it; it also upholds the right for p

      • It's a symbiotic relationship.

        Extremely. They even exchange bodily fluids, through a protective revolving door of course. It is industry that creates governments, to enforce rules of business, and to take back half the money they pay us to fund all these great projects.

      • The 'basics' to Mars have hardly been proven. Actually, what SpaceX is doing is bootstrapping up on 'simple' things - getting something to LEO. That's been proven to work. Then going to Mars (perhaps). But you have to start doing relatively straightforward stuff before you can do the esoteric - at least in meatspace engineering.

        But, as you say, NASA's job was pushing at frontiers. That's actually what NASA was doing in Mercury - Gemini - Apollo. Then the military with their 'we-want-it-don't-much-care

        • Then the military with their 'we-want-it-don't-much-care-how' attitude that brought you the Shuttle Kludge pushed in and pretty much trashed the Shuttle

          It's a standard part of the myth, but it's not true. The involvement of the USAF in the Shuttle design came at the request of (and lobbying by) NASA management in order to try to get defence funding for the Shuttle (and when that failed, to just make the Shuttle uncancellable. "National security!" It's part of the reason why the Shuttle (and now SLS) used SRBs, to keep ATK profitable, to preserve ICBM production knowledge.) The USAF initially bought into the bullshit being spread by NASA about the Shuttle's

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      When it comes to government bureaucracy how much of it is due to the need to document everything so they can prove that they're not wasting taxpayer dollars? It seems like a no-win situation for them. If you're not going to trust that people are doing their jobs conscientiously then you have to live with the inefficiency that all of that documentation requires.

      • Adding procedures is easy, removing procedures is hard.

        Adding procedures is usually like a bug-fix in a program, correcting for unintended behaviour or interaction in the other procedures. But reducing procedures is more like scrapping an entire code-base and starting with a blank sheet. Exciting, but much bigger and much riskier. (And more likely to go wrong and piss people off. See Slashdot Beta.)

    • It's no longer "news" to find that a private sector company has a leaner, less bureaucratic environment and workflow than a Federal government agency.

      Except almost all work at NASA is done by private contractors. Likewise the development of military technology. The cultural failure extends through the whole aerospace industry except for a few small innovators, of whom SpaceX is the largest.

      This isn't just mindless "private sector good, government bad". Most of the harm done to NASA is due to that mindless, unquestioning political belief that the private sector is more efficient... even at government funded programs.

      • Amazing point! And further, work done by NASA is public domain, but work done by hired contractors is generally proprietary. I spoke with someone at NASA at an SSI conference who said NASA had a difficult time making realistic simulations of things like the space shuttle or space station because the contracts specified they would receive blueprints, not CAD files, and the contractors would not release the CAD files, so NASA had to reverse engineer them from blueprints. That is one story that inspired me to

        • And further, work done by NASA is public domain, but work done by hired contractors is generally proprietary

          Although an outsider, I definitely support your "if the government funds it, the public owns it" open-source efforts.

          Re: Games.

          Here it's not just proprietary vs open source. Compare KSP and Moonbase Alpha. KSP is an amazingly rich open world simulator that inspires actual "play" and exploration and trial and error. And as you master it, you accidentally learn more about orbital mechanics than by actually studying orbital mechanics. (As former NASA engineer, XKCD cartoonist noted [xkcd.com].)

          OTOH, Moonbase Alpha is the

          • Thanks for the amusingly accurate XKCD link and insightful game comparison! I agree. However, it can be tricky to get a good game balance and have a good "microworld" framework for open-ended exploration. KSP pulls it off, whereas, say, our FOSS garden simulator from around 1997 does not.
            http://www.gardenwithinsight.c... [gardenwithinsight.com]

            That gardening simulator was written in part as a first step towards a space habitat simulator -- since you need to grow food even in space. Unfortunately, funding it ourselves for years (mu

  • Mad Men (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lonboder (3630313) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:13PM (#47679041)

    NASA came into its maturity during the Mad Men era of skinny ties and big business. William Shockley had only just left Bell Labs to invent Silicon Valley. Bureaucracy was king. IBM was king of the castle. And NASA still has, I think (I never worked for NASA, but have several friends who did), very much of an IBM-era culture. Many really talented programmers and engineers would rather work for a Silicon Valley startup than get a rank-and-file job at IBM or Microsoft. Riskier, sure, but things get built. Today. Your input can be valuable, or even essential, to the shape of the product that hits the market, and there aren't so many layers of management above you that you don't get seen and respected for your contribution.

    It's hardly surprising that talented young space engineers want to work for Silicon Valley-era companies. I'm sure many young automotive engineers would rather work for Tesla or Lit than GM. The era of the tie-wearing commuting suburbanite is coming to a conclusion. I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

    • by Noble713 (3516573)
      Interesting observation on the "IBM Bureacracy era" metastasizing across government agencies. I've had similar thoughts about the inefficiencies inherent in the Department of Defense. Procedures were introduced in the mid-1940's to manage a globe-spanning total war effort coordinating tens of millions of men. The war went away, the gigantic military (partially) went away.....but the bureaucracy didn't. And now, in the 21st century, it's a hindrance rather than a help.
    • Re:Mad Men (Score:5, Interesting)

      by linuxwrangler (582055) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:06PM (#47679579)

      I grew up at Naval Air Weapons Station (nee Naval Weapons Center nee Naval Ordnance Test Station - bureaucracy at work) China Lake where my father was a top engineer. The base in those days operated much like the private space companies of today. Much of that culture is captured in the book "Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake" which describes the freedom to tinker, rebuild and test things from what would have been scrap (radar antenna motors would be resued as the proof-of-concept drive motors for prototype missile seekers, for instance) and to, er, "repurpose" new equipment as necessary. Engineers might not expect to have a desk, carpet or file-cabinet but every one had their own fully equipped workbench chock full of signal generators, scopes, meters and whatever else they needed and they attracted a group of incredible engineers from Cal, Stanford, MIT, CalTech and the like who developed weapons like the Sidewinder, Walleye, HARM, Shrike and more - many of which the top brass hadn't even conceived of but the engineers knew were needed. Sidewinder was originally described as a "local fuse project" and developed skunkworks-style in-house with a variety of volunteer efforts and budget shuffling. It didn't become an official program until 5-years after it was started and was mature enough to demonstrate to Admiral Parsons at the Bureau of Ordnance. Nowdays that would result in congressional investigations and charges instead of praise.

      Sadly China Lake, too, has devolved into knee-deep carpeted program-management offices overseeing outsourced contractors and no longer has the same attraction for the freewheeling inventor that it once did. Fortunately there are still places where the workbench-first ethos still thrives.

  • Wow. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twistedcubic (577194) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:16PM (#47679075)

    In Hoffman's three years at NASA, she worked on only one or two projects that would ever see space, which she considers a very poor rate.

    A student who, in three years, has worked on a couple of projects which will possibly see space? To me, that sounds like the stuff that makes parents proud.
    • Indeed. There are principal investigators who have spent their whole 30-year careers on a single project.
      • Seriously. A fast cradle-to-grave spacecraft is 2-3 years. We built Pegsat faster, but it was really just a quickie so that the maiden flight of Pegasus (which failed) has something to carry. Even with all the principal investigator work done, it was a solid 18 months to complete reviews, assembly, and testing to fly a secondary payload in the shuttle.

        Even college projects which are more than a half-baked demo last most of a year, and real college research projects stretch through multiple years. She will p

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Then again, look at SpaceX--they got maybe 6 things in space this year. Military, maybe 12, NASA, maybe 4, orbital, maybe 5.

      Grass is greener on the other side folks--SpaceX is on par with everyone else.

      The only think SpaceX has going for it is risk-management: their funder (Musk) doesn't care and has made his decision to spend the funds on their mission. NASA has the gov't to deal with and those congressman want zero risk and all profit in most cases and that's a conflict hence the bureaucracy & red tap

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The only think SpaceX has going for it is risk-management

        Sure, if you ignore the minor things like launching satellites for a fraction of the cost of existing companies, thereby opening up new markets in space, and developing technologies like returning used rocket stages to the launch site to reduce those costs even further.

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      The implication is that as a student, they moved her around to many different projects in many different areas to get a wider breadth of experience, but only a couple of them were ever likely to come to fruition.
  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:17PM (#47679089)
    So you're saying that it's NASA engineers' job to write the specs and certifications and come up with the checklists and training and contingency and mission plans, and it's up to outside contractors to actually build the shit? So, like it's always been and designed to be then.
    • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WinterSolstice (223271) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:35PM (#47679247)

      Exactly. This has been the goal of NASA from day 1. To inspire people to actually go *DO* this stuff.

      NASA was ever only a way to encourage private industry to make these leaps themselves. Well, and probably to be the FAA for LEO

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Exactly. This has been the goal of NASA from day 1. To inspire people to actually go *DO* this stuff.

        Really? 'Cause I don't see that in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The word 'inspire' doesn't appear there once.

        • It's there though. To be fair, NASA does have a fair amount of in house engineering although a hell of a lot less than in the glory days. But the big projects have always been through contractors.

          NASA was more like the general contractor on a construction site - an architect designed things, structural engineers designed things, construction crews built it - but somebody had to organize it. And, with the Saturn V / Apollo stack, they had to organize the most complex device ever created. Took some work,

  • by Anonymous Coward

    SpaceX pays below comps, works engineers like dogs http://www.reddit.com/r/engineering/comments/26k4b0/why_is_pay_at_spacex_so_low/ [reddit.com] and is even bent sued over blocking employees from taking lunch breaks.

    This has got to be the most blatent white-washing of an advertorial I've seen in a while (even worse than Timothy's posts).

    Take that garbage back to the dice.com job boards where it should have stayed.

    • by alen (225700)

      google, apple, MS and others do the same

      take a bunch of people fresh out of college
      wow them with awesome bennies like food, beds in the office, free bus service, etc
      give them 6 months to figure out the benefits are there to keep you in the office and working almost 24x7 and so you can sleep on the bus instead of driving home tired so you can work longer

      • by stoploss (2842505)

        give them 6 months to figure out the benefits are there to keep you in the office and working almost 24x7 and so you can sleep on the bus instead of driving home tired so you can work longer

        Okay? When I was fresh out of college I *wanted* to work until I dropped. I just made sure I got paid for it... started my own consulting business.

        If you're working on a project you find intellectually stimulating and inspiring, and have no family attachments, and are being well compensated, then why not? Of course, when a client really wanted me to take a salaried job with them, I told them I wouldn't work over 40 hours a week... and so I didn't.

        If you don't want to work that much, fine, but don't let your

  • They've always wanted to fly. Now they want to flee!

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:35PM (#47679245) Journal

    I co-oped at NASA Goddard, and we actually built stuff. At Johnson and in most of the Government offices at Kennedy and JPL it's all contractor management. Marshall had some real space work going on at the time. Ames does more aeronautical, iirc.

    I lucked out and landed in a small division that built and flew small expendable payloads and secondary shuttle payloads. We were housed in half of a building that had been converted from a high-bay shop. The other half was still a shop - an actual machine shop - and optical facility. You designed stuff, and then could walk over and talk to a machinist about the project. Finalize a drawing and it might be fabbed on site or sent out, but it came back and got assembled in a clean room that was at the end of a hall of engineers offices. The controls group had benches full of electronics and components - they even did basic balancing and testing of momentum wheels in the same pod as where the offices were.

    It was, possibly, one of the coolest jobs on the planet - and I was there for almost 9 years in all. But there was precious little of that in the agency as a whole. We had been moving more and more to contractors over the years - more than half of the people I worked with side by side were actually contractors. A contract would end and be re-bid, and whoever won would hire 98% of the people who worked for the old contractor and nothing would change except who the agency made out the check to each month. At JPL it's all contractors - when my life took me to LA I found out that they don't have engineers, just staff to manage the contracts with CalTech and the other contractors who do pretty much everything. At Kennedy you can be written up for holding a wrench if you're not a member of the union for one of the contractors there. We got out own cleanroom to isolate our team from the rest of those politics when we did integration at the cape.

  • My brother interned there for a summer and said he would never set foot in there again. It was corrupted by bureaucracy and innovation was frowned upon. He works in the private space sector where he makes much more and isn't hamstrung by politicians.
    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Same here - 8 years in flight design. Cool stuff at the beginning, but then you start seeing that the contractor companies care more about keeping seats warm and not making waves than progress and innovation.
  • by nimbius (983462) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:44PM (#47679327) Homepage

    young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor.

    Yes. im sorry you had to find out this way, but most engineering work is a bureaucratic rats nest. most of the meetings you're involved in are already pre-determined. That is, tens or hundreds of meetings in the past, before you were hired, determined the scope and pace of the particular project you've been tasked to work with. I dont task my young engineers with small tediums like compressor analysis or or structural meshing to torture them. New hires and college grads need to understand the fundamentals of our project before they dive into the bigger picture. the thermodynamic elements of most projects are a moebius strip of endless complexity few people under 10 years of experience with the company could ever comprehend. If you want creative freedom, pack your cube and go be a designer. Creative freedom may make you feel good, but when we're designing a thermonuclear power plant turbine, your special snowflake idea isnt being rejected because we dont like you but because our design has 40 years of in-the-field testing and functionality, and includes a fully scoped maintenance cycle that keeps america from celibrating its very own chernobyl.

    projects can and do get cancelled. deal with it, because its rarely the result of anything you did. Maybe the nation-state that wanted your new jet engines decided to spend the money on ethnic cleansing, who knows. dont take it personally. make sure you at least learned something from that project. Finally, i cant stress this enough: you are an engineer, and the pace should be slow. part of that is in your software. ansys, nastran, and fluent jobs will run for weeks at a time, wiping your ass to make sure your design or part is solid and incapable of immolating a school under normal operational parameters. you can quicken the pace by specifying realistic resources to use before you submit to the simulation cluster, and optimizing your simulations instead of queueing them up, locking your screen, and going off to lunch. monitor your checkpoints for failures in convergence. use the latest software instead of demonizing it. run it multicore, and for god sake stop being retiscent and stubborn about new shit that can help you like simulation timing blocks. and another thing, close the application so your license is returned to the pool and can be used on other projects, most of which yours depends on.

    now get off my lawn.

    • thermonuclear power plant turbine

      thermonuclear? you mean like the H-bomb, but it's a power plant? with... a turbine? you worked on that?
      then I will stay off your lawn, but maybe I could borrow your mower?

      • by cbhacking (979169)

        Well, we do have prototype fusion (thermonuclear) power plants. You need a way to actually extract power from the plant, though. one of the standard ways to do that still is, and always has been, to use the heat it generates to boil water, and use the resulting steam to drive something. As far as I know, all nuclear (fission) power plants - not to be confused with RTGs - use steam turbines. It seems like the obvious approach if you're building a fusion plant, too.

        Or the GP could just be wrong. That's possib

    • by dj245 (732906)

      Finally, i cant stress this enough: you are an engineer, and the pace should be slow. part of that is in your software. ansys, nastran, and fluent jobs will run for weeks at a time, wiping your ass to make sure your design or part is solid and incapable of immolating a school under normal operational parameters. you can quicken the pace by specifying realistic resources to use before you submit to the simulation cluster, and optimizing your simulations instead of queueing them up, locking your screen, and going off to lunch. monitor your checkpoints for failures in convergence. use the latest software instead of demonizing it. run it multicore, and for god sake stop being retiscent and stubborn about new shit that can help you like simulation timing blocks. and another thing, close the application so your license is returned to the pool and can be used on other projects, most of which yours depends on. now get off my lawn.

      It doesn't have to be. I work in energy - coal and natural gas power stations maintenance. When we open up a turbine or a boiler, from breaker open to breaker closed is somewhere between 32 and 45 days generally. The busy season is fall and spring. Typically I have worked on anywhere between 3 and 12 jobs in a season (spring or fall), depending on what my role was and what needed doing. You never know what you will find when you open the machine up either, so things can get exciting.

    • Fluent is now ANSYS.
      Probably you know this already, but I just wanted to get this out of my system: Letting ANSYS buy Fluent Inc. (they had to go through a competition committee or something of the sort) was a huge blow for the industry. Now ANSYS owns *two* of the most powerful simulation tools in the chemical engineering industry (CFX and Fluent) and has virtually no competition. The only way to bitch and whine about their high prices is to threaten them that you will switch to OpenFOAM, to which they wil

  • Is there anyone surprised that work at private companies is more successful than work in big government institutions? In other news, South Korea better off than North Korea, West Germany than East Germany, Taiwan than Mainland, Florida than Cuba,...
  • Job Security (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:51PM (#47679417)
    Working at Space X would be cool; just like Tesla, until you're part of the 6% summarily shit-canned and told it wasn't a layoff, you just suddenly weren't good enough anymore. I assume this would happen less often or at least far more slowly with far better protections at NASA.
    • Re:Job Security (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cbhacking (979169) <.moc.oohay. .ta. ... isiurc_tuo_neeb.> on Friday August 15, 2014 @02:34PM (#47680541) Homepage Journal

      I don't imagine either company has much room for dead weight. Firing the bottom N percent of the workforce every year (where N was occasionally 10%) has been standard practice at some very competitive companies in the past; it really strongly dis-incentivizes slacking off at work (like, reading /. in the middle of the day. Can you imagine?!?).

      If your goal is job security, the government (or a similarly massive and bureaucratic monstrosity) is a good bet.
      If your goal is to actually produce stuff, to get things done, then a place like SpaceX makes a lot of sense!

      Me, I work at an in-between place; small, but not a startup any more. Minimal bureaucratic overhead, but no overwhelming need to keep costs minimal. Specifically, we do information security consulting; as long as we can find work for all our people, employees are how we make money in a very direct and linear sense. On the other hand, sometimes job scheduling falls through and, for reasons I cannot personally control, I find myself on the bench for a week. Thus, /.

      • by jafac (1449)

        The point to this practice (yearly rank-n-yank) is really nothing more than a little S&M show to keep the shareholders and investors hard, and to keep them pumping. There is little actual value to this practice, and it has been shown to be actively BAD for overall performance. (don't get me wrong, you can still fire the slackers for slacking) - but in the commercial world, you have to occasionally perform these human sacrifices to the golden calf.

        Same actually goes for outsourcing and offshoring. Long

      • I don't imagine either company has much room for dead weight. Firing the bottom N percent of the workforce every year (where N was occasionally 10%) has been standard practice at some very competitive companies in the past; it really strongly dis-incentivizes slacking off at work (like, reading /. in the middle of the day. Can you imagine?!?).

        Every group no matter how good has a bottom 10%. The bottom 10% is not by definition dead weight. Firing the bottom 10% is just management smoke and mirrors to make th

  • by Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:29PM (#47679823)

    I work in an office that is packed in with three people constantly talking on the phone, with other people or just otherwise doing their business. I find it incredibly distracting. Sure I can put headphones on and try and blot it out, but depending on my mental state or particular task, music can be distracting too. Be it Metal or Minimalism music isn't always the answer to getting the best mental state for your work. Also having the music cranked means I can't hear the phone when I'm getting a call. I can't even imagine working in a larger room packed with dozens more people.

    I'd love to be in a properly lit and laid out office or cubical.

    • It's probably more like people like offices that don't look like they were built in the 60s. It can get depressing in some of those buildings.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The only reason private companies can go to space is because its easy. We still need gov't programs to do the really hard work, like building roads.

  • The next giant leap will for SpaceHypedCoX LLC.

  • by BitwizeGHC (145393) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:46PM (#47680031) Homepage

    Would you rather spend your time designing and building a spaceship or sitting in endless meetings at some Center for Excellence negotiating over a spaceship that might be designed and built decades later, if at all? If you're a good engineer, chances are you want to get to the bit where you're designing cool things that blast off into outer space, with as few bureaucratic obstacles as is practical.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and see if our heroine in this article is or has been joining in protests complaining about lack of retirement options or lack of union representation leading to exploitative conditions or where workers are "realigned" whenever the corporate heads choose.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    At the cost it takes to put anything in space, it strikes me odd that the engineer in the article thought that 2-3 things actually making in space in a 3 year period was low. I mean this engineer is just out of school. I'm not saying that newbies can't come up with good ideas as they sure can, but expecting to be able to out that much is unrealistic.

  • The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA...

    ...ended with a bang because they mixed up centimetres and inches.

  • by yayoubetcha (893774) on Friday August 15, 2014 @02:55PM (#47680755)

    I worked (VRTX kernel contractor) at Rocketdyne on a NASA contract to build a robot which welded the Space Shuttle Main Engine. Because of strict government regulations I was walked over to a building that took 15 minutes to get to; filled out a requisition form; waited 1/2 hour; received my pencil; walked back to my desk with my escort and my pencil.

    I was offered a permanent job with Rocketdyne. Although it was cool to work with rocket scientists, I declined the offer.

  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Friday August 15, 2014 @05:34PM (#47681925)

    It was lack of the political will to allow spacefarers to undertake hazardous missions. Because private space ventures are not subject to political pressure (except when they contract with NASA!) the flat-earth lobby can't touch them.

  • by Casandro (751346) on Saturday August 16, 2014 @12:09AM (#47683281)

    Eventually commercial companies will end up like Siemens. Decisions will gradually take longer and longer, causing more and more engineers to be needed. This means that more bad engineers enter the company so more rules need to be set in place so those won't mess up to much. This will make the good engineers frustrated so they leave.

    What you end up with is a company where your good engineers constantly evaporate, and you end up paying ridiculous amounts of money just to keep the rest. Those people will then feel like they actually know something since there are no better people to learn left in that company and they are paid huge amounts of money. This enforces their Krüger-Dunning-Effect and makes them toxic.

    They don't understand how things work and therefore believe their ridiculous ideas are actually good. Those ideas cause more work and more frustration for the few good people who drift into the company.

    In the end you'll end up with a huge amount of highly paid idiots bringing out inferior products. Since there rarely is competition in the real world, the company will stay in business. Should the company be in competition it is, by that point, already to big to fail and therefore will be saved by the government.

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