(Fake) NASA Internal Email From Mike "Grinch" Griffin: The Twelve Days of Christmas and the Vision for Space Exploration


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Editor's note: Of course, folks, this is just a little bit of holiday humor - at NASA's expense. Mike Griffin didn't really write this (but he wishes that he could)

Date: 4 December 2007

To: All Personnel

From: Office of the Administrator

Subject: The Twelve Days of Christmas and the Vision for Space Exploration

With potential budget and performance challenges in implementing the Vision for Space Exploration, it will be necessary to make some changes to the traditional twelve days of Christmas. All organizations are asked to implement the following immediately:

1) The "partridge in a pear tree" is a classic example of conflicting requirements that cannot be satisfied concurrently: Either the partridge will eat the pears, rendering the tree ineffective, or it will not, and the bird will die. Ongoing continuous replacement of partridges and/or pears would be the inevitable outcome of deployment. The Constellation program is directed to deploy either a partridge or a pear tree, but not both.

2) "Two turtle doves" is an ambiguous specification. Either these are to be turtles, or they are to be doves, but they cannot be both. Studies that will reach this inevitable conclusion will be unnecessarily and unaffordably expensive. Constellation is directed to select either two turtles or two doves. One turtle and one dove is not an acceptable option as this would lack the desirable self-replication feature. (If the current requirement arises from turtles and doves being supplied by contractors in two different Congressional districts, this matter will be handled at the Headquarters level.)

3) The "three French hens" are evidently the result of an agreement with an international partner that has been interpreted as having the force of a formal treaty. Since this item comes early in the development path and is seemingly small in magnitude, it can remain as long as justification is provided.

4) The "four calling birds" are presumably part of the communications system. Since this function is required to be two-fault-tolerant, only three such birds are necessary. Delivery order for the fourth bird is to be canceled. (If the fourth bird has already been delivered, it is to be put in bonded stores for use as a replacement in the event of failure of one of the three deployed birds.)

5) "Five golden rings" seems an excessive requirement. Gold is both expensive and structurally weak. Was a study performed to determine if it is actually necessary for the application? Further work on the rings is to be stopped pending review of alternative materials.

6) "Six geese-a-laying" represent an unaffordable redundancy with the three French hens provided earlier. It appears that there is an implicit requirement for "early egg capability" that could not be met on schedule by US-provided geese, and thus the Partner-provided hens were deployed as a temporary measure. If this is the case, Constellation is directed to enter into a barter agreement with the Partner for the deployment of additional French hens, in lieu of the development of geese.

7) It is unclear how "seven swans-a-swimming" could be feasibly deployed in exploration missions: In the microgravity environment experienced during transit to the Moon and/or Mars, there is no defined free-surface interface between water and air upon which the swans can swim. The technological risk of developing microgravity-capable swans represents a significant cost threat. Upon arrival at the Moon and/or Mars, water will be too valuable a resource to be used for avian aquatics. Constellation is directed to cease work in this area unless a clear justification for the requirement, and credible cost containment strategy, can be provided.

8) Deployment of "eight maids-a-milking" implies that there be cows (or similar) to be milked, yet this requirement is not defined. The cost of the required habitat/holding facilities for a fleet of cows large enough to productively occupy eight maids creates an unacceptably high lien against the Constellation program. Even if a biological research activity provides these facilities, their impact on the life support system needs to be carefully assessed. Constellation is directed to cease deployment of the eight maids pending a thorough review of their impact. This review must also determine how to make the requirement non-gender-specific, as NASA will not be party to such discrimination.

9) "Nine ladies dancing" necessarily implies that there be music, but the acoustic environment on CEV and other vehicles is expected to be near the tolerable limit for human exposure. To add an additional noise source will have either have detrimental effects on crew health, or require additional--and costly--noise abatement measures elsewhere. Constellation is directed to suspend implementation of this requirement until a thorough study of these matters is performed. (This requirement must also be made gender-inclusive if it is to be retained.)

10) The requirement for "ten lords-a-leaping" apparently refers to ten members of the Astronaut Corps. A culture shift away from regarding flight crew as a royal caste is long overdue within the Agency. Furthermore, their leaping activity is to be suppressed, as this would have a detrimental effect on any microgravity research being performed.

11) The "eleven pipers piping" and "twelve drummers drumming" would seem to be the source of the music needed by the "nine ladies dancing." Even if the acoustic control issues identified above can be satisfactorily addressed, live music is a luxury that we cannot afford until it is clear that all other basic requirements can be satisfied within budget. Constellation is directed to consider upgrades to the existing caution and warning audio announcement system to enable its use as a means to play recorded music for the nine persons dancing, should they be deployed. The Agency will provide outplacement services to the pipers and drummers.

While I realize that these modifications will involve a change to the traditional concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas, all of us are aware of the significant technical and budget challenges we face. We must continue to examine carefully not only every requirement, but the means by which requirements are implemented.

We should note that while this memorandum has addressed Christmas, NASA is an inclusive Agency that seeks to benefit from a variety of diverse cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions. In the near future, we will consider other perspectives on this problem. For example, keeping a fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan would significantly reduce the requirement for food (and consequent waste management) for 8% of each year. Means of adapting this approach to the CEV will be investigated.

Finally, we will explore the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, which celebrates an occasion wherein one day's supply of oil was able to fuel a lamp for eight days. This efficient approach to the management of a consumable resource offers great promise for Constellation, and will be examined thoroughly. Initial study of this process suggests that the enabling technology here is called "divine miracle." This has often been identified as the most effective--if not the only--way that the VSE could be implemented.

I thank you in advance for your cooperation and wish you and your families a happy holiday.

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