Curmudgeon thoughts

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?

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.



17 thoughts on “Curmudgeon thoughts”

  1. I read these blogs often, but I hardly ever comment. I really enjoyed this one: witty and informative with a timely message at the end. And it mentioned coffee. The perfect post!

  2. I completely agree with coffeelover’s post. Excellent rant and I hope the money people read it too. From another coffeelover.

  3. NASA is in a very difficult place. No matter what you do, someone will be upset. Deorbit the ISS to save money and people will scream about the waste, keep it up there for 10 years and people will scream about the waste of money that the ISS is…. Sorry Wayne, you can’t win that one.

    Where I work people know I’m a shuttle fan and time and again they come up to me to ask why the Shuttle has been delayed AGAIN! (normally with an exasperated look on their faces). The last time someone asked this I pointed out to them that a recent project they ran was completed in a highly compressed timeline, was accepted to be a failure and never achieved it goals. I then added “NASA doesn’t work that way”.. I doubt they will ask that question again and I think it got the point across!

    ohh and tea here is 50p (70cents?). Coffee?! pah! 🙂

  4. Calling the MCC coffee the best around is, well, a BIT of a stretch. I still drink it though. And last time I checked, I’m a real flight controller…but have to admit that the foo-foo creamers make it taste better. 😉

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

    Oh, no, Wayne. You go right ahead with those “curmudgeonly” thoughts.

    Jim Slade had the date wrong…you needed to go back to the heady days of the Nixon administration to see exactly where the momentum was not merely lost, but squandered. “The Moon is ours!”, patriotic Americans thundered with pride, but “why should we spend any more money on it?” became attached to the first statement.

    “…NASA is developing plans to deorbit the ISS in 2016.”

    Living in Pittsburgh, which got its start as a frontier fort, all I can do is say that abandoning this tenuous toehold on the “final frontier” is STUPID! Do this, and our generation will have succeded in reprising our parents’ generation’s mistake.
    The explorers who founded our nation didn’t stop at Pittsburgh…they pushed it west to Cincinnati, then St. Louis, then beyond to the Pacific Ocean.

    “By international treaty we must dispose of orbital objects when their lifetime is complete.”

    To my eyes, this looks like the perfect opportunity for either the United Nations or “private enterprise” to step up to the bar.
    But we all know that the UN has no interest in space, and private enterprise is the proverbial paper tiger here.
    All talk and no action!

  6. Mr. Hale:

    I am a huge fan of your blogs and EAGERLY await the next installment immediately upon finishing the latest. My favorite posts are your anecdota of events during missions and your perspective and explainations of how they were handled. For those of us with a keen interest in our manned space program but usually held hostage by those ‘reporting’ the news, these tales provide a rare insite into NASA and even some of the fascinating engineering that makes it all possible.

    My comment on this post concerns the deorbit planning of ISS that you mentioned in yoru latest post. With luck, forsight, and proper maintenance, hopefully the ISS will still be fully or at least mostly functional in the 2016. If this is indeed the case, then my hope is that NASA and its international partners will receive funding and political direction to keep this international treasure in operation. In a way, this reminds me of the Hubble Space Telescope: In many ways, Hubble received a 23rd hour reprieve from death and, if appropriate, I hope that ISS will share the same good fortune.

    Again, Mr. Hale, I sincrely thank your for your blogging efforts!

    Steve Timmons
    Estherville, IA

  7. Curmudgeonize all you want. This is exactly what we need. Only I must admit, your boy’s analysis of the Trek movie has its merits — I, too, was drawn in by the opening sequence.

  8. Dear Mr Hale

    The ISS modules post whenever a decision is made to “abandon” the ISS should be used as parts for a Lunar Base, I mean the hard work has been done getting them into Earth Orbit, take them apart put them on an EDS/Altair cargo lander and send them on their way. What a waste to send them into the Pacific (or Western Australia like you did with Skylab…..but lets not go there !) From what I know the limiting technical age factor are the seals between ISS modules – so replace the seals when their on the Moon. Strip out an unnecessary equipment or aged equipment prior to lunar landing. Use the ISS robotic arms to transfer to the Atair lander.

    As for Shuttle launches in storms can’t you just flick the “SCE TO AUX” switch like Apollo 12……..or maybe STS doesn’t have that switch?……where’s John Aaron when you need him?? !!!!! If I was on a Rocket I wouldn’t want a storm within a 100 miles let alone 20.

    When Orion 14/Altair 2 land in 2019 no one will remember the Augustine Committee, or DIRECT2, or HLV, or… get my drift.

  9. My local paper ran a poll today entitled Should the U.S. continue to explore space? See

    The answers possible are.

    Yes. We must keep exploring unknown areas. You never know what you may find.
    No. There are more critical priorities to focus on here on Earth.

    Currently there are 34 votes yes, 49 votes no. Apparently as a mistake or intentionally the paper also had listed blank questions 3, 4, and 5, each of which has received 3 votes apiece. (go figure)

    I’ve always thought a major failing of leadership was to allow the agency’s programs to be compared in these false dialectics. It is not a guns and butter race for the money as the media likes to portray it, rather it is a fight for the hearts and minds of the American people. (In fact NASA’s budget is so small compared to the others that it doesn’t even get its own slice when the federal budget pie chart is divvied up! See chart for 2009 at

    Right around the time NASA got into trouble (after the end of the Kennedy Johnson era) certain politicians found out they could make a lot of hay by creating whipping boys. (Unjustifiably in my humble opinion.) Although NASA does a great outreach and PAO job it just has to do a better job in the arena of public opinion.

    On a side note, didn’t you mean to say “Aren’t children NOT supposed to follow their parent’s lead AND TAKE the opposite tack?” The other way around like you wrote it doesn’t make any sense to me since your son seems like wise young man and a chip off the old block. You’re complaining he follows your lead?

    About the thunderstorms, a check of the weather for the layover days looks like the observed launch conditions were good those days even though the forecast was for bad weather. As you said, Florida weather!

  10. Maybe if people paid more attention to the curmudgeons we wouldn’t be drifting as it were.

    As to Wayne Hale’s rants…stay the course.


  11. This FDO loves the vanilla creamer for the coffee. Helps take the acidy-stomach-eating burn away from that coffee…

  12. Oh, wait, I forgot. You used to be INCO group lead.

    Now I know where your coffee bias comes from!

  13. Perhaps you could explain the meaning of “International” in ISS. NASA is unilaterally developing plans to deorbit an “international” space station. How do the Japanese and the Russians and the Europeans fit into the picture and do they concur in the plan?

  14. Wayne,
    First: Go to Starbucks. Then enjoy the 15 cent coffee.
    Second: I watch NASA TV alone. My daughter dislikes science but is her best grade academically. Go figure.
    Third: Launch here in California! It never rains. Never. Ever. Don’t look at me, I favored the 52 degree ISS inclination.
    Fourth: Consider the source.
    Final: Panels are intended to give someone an “I told you so”. Thats why we are still flying what was announced while John Young was on the Descartes Highlands.

    And I know you know all of the above.

  15. prices don’t go up, the value of money goes down, so it takes more of it. Your government at work.
    Thanks for the great posts.

  16. Let’s see… 2016, about nine years from now…

    The next Presidential election is in 2012, or a little over three years from now.

    I hope our next President will see to it that the ISS is saved.

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