The end of an era

I’ve been searching for eloquent words about the end of the Shuttle Program, a program which inspired me to dream of becoming an astronaut, of leading me on the path to study Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at Purdue, and spending the past 13 years supporting the International Space Station, Constellation, and now Commercial Crew at NASA Johnson Space Center.

I simply don’t have the words.  I have tears.

And I technically only worked on the shuttle program for 6 months.  My heart goes out to the thousands who dedicated their lives to the program and the vehicle at NASA Johnson, Marshall, and Kennedy Space Centers and to the men and women who built them in California.  And of course, to the astronauts who flew them.

Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis, and Endeavour will forever be a part of our generation.

A friend of mine, Scott (@poindexterbjj on Twitter ) shared these words with me:

“…While there are new things on the (seemingly distant) horizon, the shuttle remains NASA’s (and McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing’s) greatest achievement.  It is the manifestation of genius and greatness.  It is an icon of our generation.

We grew up with the shuttle.  Perhaps as I did, you watched the launch of STS-1.  If you were like me, you wondered why the fuel tank had changed from white to orange (pretty astute for a 5-year-old).  We watched two of them leave but never return.  And yet, through it all, the shuttle always came back greater than it was before.  It was the shuttle that served as one of the first bridges between Russia and the US when Atlantis went to Mir.  It was the shuttle that allowed us, along with many others around the world, to establish the greatest technical achievement in human history, the ISS.  People would come from all around the world to watch the shuttle fly because it was the physical manifestation of hope for a brighter future for all humanity.

So, yes, a little emotion is understandable.”

Yes.  What he said.

I had the great honor of being able to view the last shuttle launch from the KSC Press Site.  I purposely stood behind the countdown clock so I could intensify the sound and the feeling of the launch.  I felt my organs shake within my body and the sound was amazing.  Here is the video I captured and it was edited with the help of my friend, Romeo (@romeoch on Twitter).

There was no “wow, oh wow” from me.  I was too busy crying.  I couldn’t stop thinking “This is it. This is the last time for perhaps 5-6 years that we launch humans into space from U.S. soil.”  I understand why we can’t keep flying the shuttle.  I’m okay with saying goodbye.  I’m not okay with such a gap in human spaceflight launch capability due to political decisions.  We could have avoided this.  But, we didn’t.  Why? Because no one pays attention until it’s too late.

After the launch I followed some friends to partake in the tradition of beans and corn bread.  Along the way, we stopped to visit the Close Out Crew and found out one member’s last day after 33 years was launch day.  What a way to go out.  If you haven’t seen this video yet from the Close Out Crew, I hope you will take the 90 seconds to watch it.  I cried my eyes out.

If you’d like to experience the past few days through my eyes, I invite you to take a look at my pictures on Flickr:  DLSR pics, iPhone pics, and Boeing’s Commercial Crew CST-100 Tent.

And I invite you to share your thoughts about the shuttle’s last flight and our future.  Please keep in mind the rules of posting on this blog: I request that we keep this civil.  We will not attack any individuals, companies, or administrations.  We will look at facts, we will question plans, talk about the unknown, offer solutions, and dream about the future.

The End.

It’s more than a Space Shuttle

I am amazed.  Simply amazed that the U.S. Government thinks politics can be played when retiring the space shuttles and determining where they should be displayed.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – the first time man left the planet. April 12th also represents the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, the first of 133 missions with only two remaining in all of history.  And this is the day our government and the NASA Administer decided to shun the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

Known as the epicenter of human spaceflight since the early days of NASA, JSC is where the astronauts are trained for their shuttle missions.  It’s where each mission is planned years prior to flying, where the mission timeline is laid out to the last detail.  This is where people sacrifice time with their families to work night shifts during missions, adjusting every time a launch has slipped a day, a month, or 6 months. Houston is what makes it all possible.  It being the dream we all had at one point in our lives-to fly and do remarkable things in space.

For NASA to select NYC and for  three of the locations to be on the east coast to receive shuttles was a slap in the face to the thousands of employees at JSC who had dedicated their lives to the space program. Or so it feels.  I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for any of the four establishments to not have a shuttle, although I do have trouble understanding the historical significance NYC has played in the space shuttle program.

They say politics did not play a role. How can that be a true statement?  Ever since this administration came to office, JSC has seen their scope and purpose significantly reduced. A message has been sent to Houston from Washington D.C. and we know hear it loud and clear.  JSC has laid out the requirements for every manned vehicle since its inception and yet the commercial crew program office goes to KSC. A center that knows everything about launching vehicles safely but very little about designing a spacecraft + integrating that vehicle with the international space station.

(For a different perspective on the shuttle announcement see Wayne Hale’s Blog)

I fear for the future of human spaceflight in our country. I see bad choices continually being made and I have to come to terms that my dreams may not become a reality no matter how dedicated I am or how hard I work.  Last night many friends sent me a link to a shuttle tribute video made by KSC employees entitled “We all do what we can do.”   I cried through the whole thing. The shuttle program is ending and this country, supposedly the greatest country on Earth failed.  We failed to fund Constellation, we failed to select the appropriate design solution, and we (the people) failed to stand up and demand more from our government. Yes, we failed. Apparently failure is an option on Earth.

And guess what, we are still failing. Congress and the Administration are bickering like 5 year olds over the future of NASA and exploration of the cosmos.  Congress believes that anything is possible even when given small amounts of money to do technological breakthroughs.  NASA believes it can forge the future with the bureaucracy that comes with government.  Changes must be made.  Leaning out processes and procedures must occur.

Feel a vicious cycle?  I do. Will we ever leave low earth orbit? Not at this pace. Why is an evolvable heavy lift a bad idea? Because if you start with 70MT you’ll never see 130MT. It simply won’t get funded down the road. Look at the track record.

Do it. Do it big. Do it now. Else don’t complain later if we don’t leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Imagine what we could do if only the capability existed. The sooner the better. Let NASA build the launch vehicle and the crew exploration vehicle. But, want to test vehicles and structures on the moon? Maybe Industry will build them using their own requirements and processes.  And in a new partnership with NASA, they can be launched on the NASA heavy lift launch vehicle at no cost to industry. That is one way way how America can think outside the box.  There are a gazillion other ways.

Think big. Dream big. Do big.

Leave LEO.

Dedication

Last week there was a tweet that came through in my stream that disturbed me and I felt it was important to say something back to this person.  It doesn’t matter who it was or why it was tweeted, what I want to focus on is the tweet itself and what it meant to me.   It evoked emotion and sadness.  I did not find it funny and it was hardly sarcastic.  The person apologized.  This post is not about them, it’s about my strong reaction to the tweet.

The tweet mentioned disgruntled shuttle workers.

I found it insulting to the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to the shuttle program and human spaceflight.  All of us, regardless of whether we support shuttle or station work day and night, even holidays, to ensure the safety of the astronauts, the ground crew, and the public.  I can’t tell you how many holidays I have worked or even volunteered to work because I believed what we do at NASA is so important to the future of our planet.  I’m not the only one that feels this way, and I’m sure many if not all of us would sacrifice our lives before that of others.  All of us who support shuttle and space station are a part of what makes it successful, we each play an integral role which allows it all to come together in successful and safe missions.

To make matters worse, on Friday not long after I saw the tweet, a mis-communication occurred that caused an unplanned drill at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH based on information that a gunman was on-site and had shot at least one person.  There was no gunman.  No one had been shot.  But, that did occur at JSC a few years back and it triggered flashbacks to that occasion.  In reality, people do get desperate and rationalize horrible solutions that are nightmares to the rest of us.

Now, as for the reality of the situation we find ourselves in regarding the end of the shuttle program, the statement “disgruntled shuttle workers” could be taken very seriously.  In 2004, the administration and NASA decided to end the Shuttle program after completion of the ISS.  Their plan was to have a new program (with a minimized gap of launch capability) in place in order to maintain the U.S. lead in human spaceflight and to transition a number of shuttle workers, many whom have specialized skills due to the existence of the space shuttle program.   Today we find ourselves with just two planned shuttle flights left (STS-133 Discovery and STS-134 Endeavour) and a possible third (STS-135 Atlantis) with no follow on program to start any time soon.  Even if the Constellation Program was not canceled, we were still years away from flying.  In my opinion the government has let down thousands of workers who have learned specialized skills to support a 30 year program.  The government failed to fund the program of record, the government canceled the program of record, the government is having trouble deciding which direction this nation should pursue in terms of human spaceflight and long term exploration goals.  Is it the government’s responsibility to take care of these workers, not necessarily, but I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to put us on a sustainable path forward for space exploration, one with meaning and one which will make a difference.

Back to the thousands of workers in the process of being laid off.  Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, I do not know a single person who would jeopardize the safety of the crew, ground crews, or the public.  Yes, we will have a hard time mentally, emotionally, and financially transitioning from the shuttle program.  But, we will not hurt the program in any way whatsoever regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.  I ask those of you who do work in the program to look out for each other and utilize your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) because it will be a tough transition.

 

Mom, I’m no longer a virgin

Over the past few days I’ve had to come to terms with a huge realization in my life.  It can be equated to

  • No longer a virgin
  • Crushed childhood dreams
  • Oh $hit! What do I do with my life now?

What am I saying all of this silly stuff about?  Why write such a title for this post?  It all goes back to Wayne Hale’s post the other day.  He is right you know.  I have been tossing words around my head for weeks now.  But, it wasn’t until he posted his thoughts that I admitted something to myself.  Something huge.

I am no longer a naive dreamer.

And this saddens me deeply.

Last week, Camilla SDO wrote this nice post about me.  As a baby, my dad would hold me in his arms while watching Star Trek.  I didn’t know this until just a few years ago but it explains so much.  I’ve always felt that space exploration was my calling, that it is something that I was meant to do.  It’s not just a passion that is excited through the unknown, engineering challenges, and scientific discoveries, but by the dream that we were really going to go out there.  To explore.  To stay.

On February 1st, 2010 and the weeks that followed I joked that I felt NASA had broken up with me.  It was partly true.

Last week when the House accepted the Senate’s version of the FY2011 Budget (Authorization) for NASA I knew it was game over.   Why?  I refer you back to Wayne Hale’s post.  It’s happened time and time again.  Plus, don’t forget the Administration wants a 5% budget cut across non-essential agencies of which NASA is included.  So the $19B that NASA may get is going to be 5% less yet they will be tasked with a tall order.

NASA is NASA and the men and women who make up that agency (civil servants and contractors) do their best to meet every tall order given to them by changing Congress’ and Administrations.

So in reality, it wasn’t NASA that broke up with me.  It was my government.  Or was it?  Hasn’t this always been my government?  Hasn’t this always been a reality?  Space Exploration is not done to explore, push our boundaries, to move mankind off or planet.  It’s politics.  Has been since Sputnik launched  in 1957 shocking and scaring a planet.  It’s war.  Has been since WWII and the V2 rocket.

*sigh*

I’ve always been the dreamer.  The one to say anything is possible if only you put your mind to it.  I was told I wasn’t going to college unless I found a way to pay for it.  I sat in front of my Congressman’s committee my senior year in high school and told him why he should send me to a Military Academy – in essence because of my passion for space exploration.  I got the nomination.  He then continued to vote against the continuation of the space station.  I felt like a double standard and left the Prep School at one of the Academies for many reasons.  One of them being I couldn’t be there because someone didn’t believe in what I believed in for our country.  Space exploration.

Where are we today?  We have a Congress that’s primary purpose is to save jobs in their districts.  An Administration that confuses me.  And we are not on a path to truly explore space.

I no longer think we can get *there* in my lifetime.  And for this I am sad.

So I mourn.  And then I write this post.

So, now that I am an adult it’s time to take matters into my own hands.  I wonder, is this what New Space did all those years ago?  Am I finally awakening?  Can it be done without the government holding our dreams back?

The Reality of NASA’s FY2011 Budget

I couldn’t have sad it better myself.  Wayne Hale simply states what is ahead for NASA.

The same old thing.

So, my question is – if the government isn’t going to change, how do WE make OUR future happen?

Positive Life Changes due to NASA’s FY2011 Budget Chaos

In past posts I have asked some questions and asked for people to share their thoughts on the topic.  I’d like to do that again with this blog post.

How has your life changed in a positive way since the announcement on Feb 1st of NASA’s FY2011 budget?

Here are some starting questions to ponder, feel free to go beyond this.

  • Are you more aware of how the US Budget process works?
  • Have you taken the opportunity to create a new future for yourself?
  • Met new people and friends through discussion of the various budget proposals?
  • Shared the benefits of space exploration and exploring with others?
  • Exploring the possibilities of Commercial Spaceflight?

I look forward to reading your responses and I’ll share mine in a few days.

**********************************************************************

Update: 9/23/10

The chaos of this past year has provided positive change to my life.   Change is good for questioning one’s purpose and trajectory and this past year offered ample opportunities to do just that.  The chaos has allowed me to create new opportunities at work that I otherwise would not have done because I’d still be going down the path I was heading (working Constellation).   While NASA was trying to chart out it’s future, I also spent time trying to figure out how I would fit into the new vision.  The future is unwritten, however I’m certainly enjoying the opportunities I helped create over the past 4 months.   Project Mongoose, an ISS participatory exploration project, was born out of submitting a Request for Information (RFI) to NASA back in June.  By the way Project Mongoose was named by Twitter followers after I asked for a code name for my super cool project I was working on.  Another project I’ve been added to recently is an amazing opportunity, and I look forward to seeing where it will lead.  But, the one I fought hardest for was to help out the business development team in capturing new business for my company.  I have long wanted to work in this area, using a mix of skills from my engineering experience and my MBA and starting October 1st I will get to do just that.   So, yes, this chaos has brought positive change to my life.  But, only because I sought it out.

Then there is the House Version of the NASA Bill

While the Senate attempted to compromise on a path forward for human spaceflight through their bill, the House decided to take a vastly different approach last week.

If you watched the open debate last week, while it was refreshing to see, it was also incredibly sad that the  issue of the day that garnered the most attention was on where the shuttles should be located post shuttle retirement rather than the direction this country should take when it comes to the future of human spaceflight.

A quick summary of the House version (with Amendments)

Adds

  • Government launch vehicle/capsule to deliver crew to ISS with initial operational goal of no later than December 31, 2015.  If a commercial vehicle is available and meets safety standards, then government system will be for
  • Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle operational by end of decade

Adds an additional Shuttle Flight in FY2011

Guts Commercial Crew yet adds Loan Guarantee Program

Appears to gut the Flagship Technology Demonstration Missions, yet funds Space Technology for lower TRL technologies.

What surprised me the most was the comment by Pete Olson (U.S. Representative that includes JSC), that help is on the way implying that he believes this bill will save JSC and NASA.  In my opinion it is a short-term solution, that while it employs people for the next few years it does not nothing to sustain human space exploration long term.

I’ve maintained through conversations and tweets that the path to success is a balanced portfolio where NASA (aka Congress and the President) invest in current exploration missions and investing in R&D for the future.  Companies do this every year.  They have a product line they sell, they invest in upgrading their product line, and they invest in R&D for future products.  This isn’t rocket science.

We shall see what happens when the House and Senate bills meet one another in conference.