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Wayne Hale's NASA Blog: Curmudgeon thoughts

Status Report From: NASA Blogs
Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

image It may just be that my recent superannuated birthday is weighing on my mind, but I have been having curmudgeon thoughts a lot lately.

First curmudgeon though: why do prices continually go up?

For as long as I can remember, coffee in the Mission Control Center cost 10 cents. Best coffee around, too. For more than 20 years, the price hasn't changed. Its not subsidized, there is an informal "club" that manages the coffee. Nothing fancy, plain joe accompanied by powered creamer and sugar if you must.

A few months ago, I was floored when the sign said the price was now 15 cents! Highway robbery. Of course, they also have added a bunch of foo-foo creamer options (hazelnut, amaretto, yech) that no real flight controller would touch. I can remember when men were men and flight controllers . . . .well, I guess it must be my advanced age which is leading to this rant.

Why is this important? Because, if you want to know the truth, all the real decisions in the MCC are made at the coffee pot. I know, the flight control team is all tied in on console with all the information displayed on multicolored interactive computer screens. But the real management decisions all get made when the flight director comes by the coffee pot and all the senior managers sitting in the viewing room converge there too.

Second curmudgeon topic: grown children being contrary.

In case you caught my blog post comparing Star Trek to our current space program, I would point out that my son has written a similar blog post comparing Star Trek to his work -- in a very favorable light. Aren't children supposed to follow their parent's lead instead of taking the opposite tack? http://www.umportal.com/article.asp?id=5588

Third curmudgeon topic: stupid comments about launch weather scrubs.

I have been to KSC and I have waited for the weather to clear enough for it to be safe to launch our astronauts. I have even taken my family down there and had their vacation plans disrupted due to launch delays. So I can somewhat understand disappointment about launch delays. But anybody with a brain should realize that launching into a thunderstorm is just plain stupid. In the bigger picture, delaying a day or three will never be remembered. Having the shuttle struck by lightning would haunt us for a long time. So pipe down. It is Florida in the summer time. What did you expect. Pack more . . . clothes . . . next time.

Fourth curmudgeon topic: blog-o-sphere confusion over who sets national space policy.

Recently the ISS program manager had to tell the media that NASA is developing plans to deorbit the ISS in 2016. Everybody on the internet jumped on that as the stupidest thing ever heard. Why would NASA want to eliminate a hugely expensive project just as it is becoming useful? Short answer -- NASA doesn't want to do that. Congress and the OMB have indicated that they will not give us the money to keep it operating. By international treaty we must dispose of orbital objects when their lifetime is complete. This is not a stupid decision on the part of NASA, it is, as the Gehman report said, "a failure of national leadership." Time will tell if we continued to be directed down this course or if we will be given operating funds to use the ISS as a national research laboratory as it was intended.

Final curmudgeon topic: the more things change the more they stay the same.

During our recent office move, one of my co-workers cleaning out his files came across an ABC Radio transcript by Jim Slade made on August 12, 1991. He was at KSC and after talking for a few minutes about the activity at KSC he got to the gist of his commentary which I will excerpt for your reading pleasure:

"There is a cynical tendency to jeer whenever a big, visible program doesn't work right. Impatience, leavened with the idea that lots of money ought to mean perfection. . . . If you want to know what's wrong with NASA, you will have to dig back in your history books ten to fifteen years ago when neither the White House nor the Congress could decide if the space program was fish, fowl, or tinker toy. Funding was inadequate to do the job . . . More importantly, though, the space agency was getting no direction. No political leader had the interest or the courage to say "this is what we ought to do with the things we have learned," and, as a result NASA drifted . . . there has been one commission after another making a study of what the US should be doing in space in the next fifty years. Usually, they say the say the same thing: go back to the moon and on to Mars. And so far, there has been a lot of political talk about it . . . ."

OK, after this, no more curmudgeon thoughts. I promise. Really.

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