Lean Six Sigma NASA Style

This week I attended, along with managers representing offices from I&A, CFO, PA&E, and HCMO, a training session on how to realize better efficiencies within the internal NASA processes using the Lean Six Sigma process.  The exercise was lead by Patty Fundum from Marshall Space Flight Center and Mark Adrian with Adrian Technologies Incorporated.  Below is a brief explanation of Lean Six Sigma that I hope you find useful.  Many Centers and programs have already fully embraced Lean Six Sigma.  I look forward to the implementation of this management tool across NASA.

Lean and Six Sigma are widely used in industry as continuous improvement best practices.  They are also very complementary in nature and, if performed properly, can produce unprecedented results.  Lean focuses on eliminating non-value added activities in a process and Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation from the remaining value-added steps.  Lean provides speed ensuring products and services flow without interruption while Six Sigma ensures that critical product / service characteristics are completed correctly the very first time we do them.

Typical product service flow six sigma

NASA is using Lean Six Sigma (LSS) as an approach that combines Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma from a global perspective to take both suppliers and customers into account.  This approach tells us how to improve our processes in a way that considers both the costs of poor quality and issues critical to customer requirements. In addition to manufacturing processes, we have had great success in applying LSS to operational, transactional, and service processes.  Recognizing that the greatest value of LSS can be obtained during Pre-Proposal, Proposal Evaluation and Program Evaluation activities we are currently evaluating where best to begin this application of LSS.

Committed leadership, education, and institutionalization are essential to successful application of Lean Six Sigma.  Together, with Adrian Technologies Incorporated, we have developed our own training and deployment program to create “in house” Lean Six Sigma experts otherwise known as “Champions, Green Belts and Black Belts” who have successfully lead over 200 strategically aligned projects.

We are using LSS as a defined approach to synthesize the use of established tools and methods.  Its methods are divided into two approaches.  One approach is called Design For Six Sigma, and generally used when designing new systems or processes.  The other approach, used for process improvement, is called the Vision-Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control approach.

To date, nine Centers have personnel who have attended NASA’s Lean Six Sigma training program and three field Centers are actively engaging broad scale deployment.  Once again, I would like to thank Patty and Mark for their efforts.  If you would like additional information please contact Patty directly at the NASA Lean Six Sigma Management Office at 256.544.8436 or by e-mail at patricia.s.fundum@nasa.gov.

LaunchFest at Goddard Space Flight Center

Also, this week I wanted to briefly mention LaunchFest which will be held Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).  LaunchFest will celebrate Goddard’s upcoming missions as well as highlight NASA’s 50th Anniversary.  The Center will be open to the public and they anticipate that more than 10,000 people will attend.  LaunchFest will be another great outreach effort to the Center’s community.

How NASA Helped Olympic Swimmers in Beijing

Many of us have been glued to the TV set, watching the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  Many may be unaware that NASA technology has been used to help the U.S. Olympic swim team.  As we watched U.S. swimmers shatter world record after world record, and win Olympic medal after Olympic medal, we take special pride in the fact that they were wearing swimsuits with NASA-tested fabrics.  

Researchers from Speedo’s Aqualab, its global research and development facility, and Warnaco, Inc., the U.S. licensee of the Speedo brand, approached NASA Langley Research Center to conduct research on drag reduction of swimsuits because of the center’s long history of wind tunnel testing on drag reduction for aircrafts and boats.  Aqualab worked with NASA aerospace engineer Steve Wilkinson, other U.S. and foreign research organizations, as well as U.S. Olympic swimmers, to develop the LZR Racer swimsuit.
Member of the US swiming team
As explained by Mr. Wilkinson, “Speedo’s Aqualab approached us after the 2004 Summer Olympics for help in evaluating the viscous drag and roughness characteristics of candidate fabrics for a new competition swimsuit for elite swimmers.  Working with Aqualab researchers, we developed a wind tunnel test protocol to assess fabric performance, based on extensive work done by NASA on drag reduction in the mid-1980s.  We entered into a Space Act Agreement whereby Speedo would deliver fabric samples and we would evaluate the viscous drag and surface roughness.  In all, more than 60 fabrics were tested in one of Langely’s small low speed wind tunnels to assess which fabrics and weaves had the lowest drag.  With computational studies indicating that drag or skin friction is about one third of the total restraining force on a swimmer, any reduction in drag should help swimmers go faster.”  

Michael Phelps with LZR Racer swimsuit
Obviously, wearing this swimsuit will not make everyone an Olympic champion – such a reward comes from the complete dedication and exceptional efforts of these men and women.  Nevertheless, NASA’s participation is an interesting story about how our testing can help reduce water resistance and may help swimmers go faster.  

All U.S. swimmers wore the LZR Racer. The U.S. won medals in 31 events, winning gold in 12 of them.  For 23 out of 25 of the world records broken at the Beijing games, the swimmers were wearing the Speedo LZR Racer.  Americans broke 11 of those records or 44 percent of the world records broken.  94 % of all gold medals and 89 % of all the medals were won by swimmers wearing the suit. Additionally, every men’s swimming event was won by an athlete wearing the LZR Racer.

Pretty Amazing.


On a previous blog regarding the proposed Agency commercial space policy, I received a number of excellent comments.  Any comments on that blog should be directed to Ken Davidian, and I have forwarded your reactions and suggestions to him for review as we develop the agency-level version of this policy.  I especially appreciate the clarification on point (5) regarding long-term “financial” government support.  Another comment concerned the potential for the federal government to take someone’s idea and pass it on without compensation.  I am in complete agreement with you.  It would not be fair for someone in the federal government to take someone’s unique idea and bid it with the sole intention of giving it to a favored contractor.  That’s why we have the unsolicited proposal process and procedures to protect company’s proprietary data.  Thank you again for your comments.  
Michael Phelps with LZR Racer swimsuit
When that blog was posted, comments were posted automatically without any prior check on content.  On a Federal website, we are obligated to screen for inappropriate language etc., before something gets posted.  We simply don’t have the manpower to screen incoming comments (real-time) for inappropriate language etc.  We are resource-constrained at HQ and that situation will not be alleviated any time in the near future.

NASA Legislative Update

On June 25, 2008, the House Appropriations Committee marked up the FY 2009 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Appropriations Bill, which provides annual funding for NASA. As reported, the bill includes a total of $17.769B, an increase of $155.0M above the President’s request. Within this total, the Committee has included full funding for Exploration Systems ($3.5B) and Space Operations ($5.8B). The bill increases Science by $76.5M ($4.5B), Aeronautics by $68.5M ($515.0M), and Education by $71.6M ($187.2M). The bill also reduces Cross-Agency Support (CAS) by $55.1M ($3.2B), and includes within CAS a reduction of $58.2M in Agency Management and Operations and a total of $30.0M for congressionally-directed projects (earmarks).

On June 19, 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the FY 2009 CJS bill. As reported, the Senate bill includes a total of $17.912B for NASA, an increase of $200.0M above the President’s request. Within the Senate total, the Committee included full funding for Space Operations ($5.8B). The bill increases Science by $81.4M ($4.5B), Aeronautics by $53.5M ($500.0M), Exploration Systems by $30.0M ($3.5B), Education by $14.4M ($130.0M), and CAS by $20.0M ($3.3B). Within the Senate mark for CAS is a reduction of $40.3M in Agency Management and Operations and a total of $80.0M for congressionally-directed projects (earmarks).

In July, the Congress cleared for the President’s signature a FY 2009 Defense Supplemental Appropriations bill, which included supplemental appropriations for NASA totaling $62.5M. NASA has submitted a plan to the Appropriation Committees to allocate this funding equally between Science and Exploration Systems.

Neither the House nor the Senate FY 2009 CJS bill will likely go to the floor for consideration. In fact, to date, the FY 2009 Military Construction/VA bill is the only appropriations bill that has been considered by the full House. It is expected that the FY 2009 Defense Appropriations and the Military Construction/VA bills will be the only appropriations bills to see floor action, and that they will likely be wrapped into a FY 2009 Continuing Resolution (CR) to be taken up by the House and Senate in September. At this time, it is anticipated that this CR will last six months, until March 2009.

On the authorization front, the House of Representatives passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6063) by a vote of 409-15 on June 19. This measure reaffirms the existing U.S. Space Exploration Policy, including completion of the ISS, retirement of the Shuttle, and human exploration of the Moon and Mars. This bill also authorizes a total of $19.2B for NASA for FY 2009, an increase of $1.8B above the President’s request, with increases of $500M for Science, $407M for Aeronautics, $386M for Exploration, $13M for Education, $300M for Space Operations, and $1B to reduce the human space flight gap. The bill also directs the addition of another Shuttle mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the ISS, before retirement of the Shuttle.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved its version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2008 on June 24. Although it differs somewhat from the House measure, it, too, continues congressional support for the U.S. Space Exploration Policy, authorizes the same funding levels as the House bill, and requires the addition of one more Shuttle mission to include the AMS. House and Senate Committee staff are now negotiating a compromise bill with the goal of bringing that compromise to the Senate floor in September.

In the meantime, there has been some progress on moving legislation to extend the exception to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) to allow NASA to negotiate a contract with Russia for continued Soyuz services beyond 2011 (the current expiration of that exception). On July 24, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.R. 6574, the United States-Russian Federation Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Act of 2008. This bill includes an extension of the current exception to INKSNA from December 31, 2011, to July 1, 2016. House floor action is uncertain.

In the Senate, on June 9, Senators Biden and Lugar, chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, introduced S. 3103, the legislation that NASA had submitted to Congress, for consideration by their Committee. The Committee is expected to consider the legislation when it meets in September. Final passage in the Senate and House remains uncertain, but NASA is working to find a way to get this crucial extension enacted.

I would like to thank the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for preparing this week’s blog.

Exploration Update

As you know, NASA is preparing for a return to the moon by 2020.  To accomplish this goal, NASA’s Constellation Program (www.nasa.gov/constellation) is designing and building the spacecraft and systems to once again propel us beyond low Earth orbit.  At NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, a mock-up of the next full-size capsule to send humans to the Moon can be seen and also will be used in early testing. Click here, to see the photo of the Orion space capsule as it heads to its temporary home in a hangar at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

In 2006 and 2007, NASA awarded the major contracts to build the crew capsule, called Orion, and its launch vehicle, Ares I. Engineers from the NASA centers and aerospace companies around the country are designing the spacecraft, launch vehicle and systems. For example, earlier this month on July 17, Aerojet completed the second of two firings of full scale jettison motors for Orion’s launch abort system at their facility in California And, engineers from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center worked with Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne to complete engine power pack testing in Mississippi at Stennis Space Center in May. This work is essential for development of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stage of the Ares I rocket.

On the return trip from missions to the International Space Station and the Moon, the crew and crew capsule will be protected during re-entry to Earth by the heat shield. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California are testing competing materials for the Orion heat shield, while assisting the NASA Science Mission Directorate and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the application of the heat shield for the Mars Science Lab. Click here to see a photo of the Orion crew capsule heat shield.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia is leading the way for the first test flight in development of the Ares I rocket.  The Ares I-X project engineers are working toward a launch next spring.  Inert upper stage sections for Ares I-X are being manufactured onsite at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio and ATK is manufacturing segments and other components of the first stage.  Parachutes for recovery of the rocket’s first stage — the largest parachutes of this type — are being tested.  The most recent test was a test of the drogue chute on July 24th.  Click here, to read the NASA press release.

In addition to development of the flight hardware, significant construction work is underway.  Several construction events are taking place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  The Operations and Checkout Building is being refurbished to prepare it for the final assembly of the Orion spacecraft.  Firing Room 1 at KSC Launch Control has been transferred to the Constellation Program.  And construction of a new lightning protection system for the launch pad is about 25 percent complete.  Later this fall, more significant modifications to the structure will begin in support of the Ares 1-X launch. In Louisiana, work has been initiated on the Michoud Assembly Facility for preparation of the manufacturing hardware for the Ares I upper stage and Orion capsule.  While in Ohio, major renovation of test facilities is progressing at the Glenn Research Center’s Plumbrook facility where vibration, acoustic and thermal vacuum testing of the Orion capsule will take place. 

While the near-term development work is progressing, Constellation also is taking steps to prepare for lunar missions.  The Constellation Program recently held the very first program milestone for lunar capabilities.  A very thorough analysis calculated the performance required to define the transportation systems needed for lunar missions.  This information was used to define the initial designs for the Altair lunar lander and the Ares V heavy-lift vehicle to launch it.

Separately, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is preparing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite for missions to the Moon early next year. These spacecraft will provide information about the Moon that will be vital to preparing for human missions to establish a lunar outpost in the coming years. Additionally, NASA is testing several concepts for lunar rovers and technology; check out the photos (flash) from Moses Lake to find out more about the concepts and technology that we may use

These are just a few examples of the real progress we’re making in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Constellation Program. NASA is building on our solid 50-year foundation to develop the future robotic and human spaceflight. I would like to thank Doug Cooke for his contributions to this blog. For additional information on NASA’s exploration efforts please go to https://www.nasa.gov/exploration