Legal Notice

I’ve always gotten really good advice from the NASA legal office.  We have had many difficult problems with contracts, lawsuits, workplace issues, and the like.  My request to them was that I wanted to end my career without going to Leavenworth and their advice has always been good enough to keep me out of there.

As a senior government employee, the NASA legal office has given me quite a bit of legal advice and opinion about post-government employment restrictions and what the law and ethics restrict me from doing after I leave.  Since I’m not trained in the law, I have a lot of questions that they have patiently answered for me and explained down to the kindergarten level of understanding that I have about legal matters.  Anyway, the subject of continuing this NASA blog has come up.  Yep, as my old boss once told me, don’t ask the lawyers if you don’t want to know the answer.  But I really do want to know what is right and ethical and legal, so I did ask . . .

For the record, today – July 31 – as I write this, I am still, officially, a NASA employee.  Today being a Saturday, I had to check out yesterday, turn in my badges, blackberry, and everything, but legally I am a NASA employee until midnight tonight.  Just for the record.

So the answer from the legal office was that to continue this blog on the NASA web page, I would have to become a Special Government Employee (unpaid).  This would cause several complications:  having to get ethics training, having to continue to file personal financial disclosures, and having certain potential affects on any future employment I might choose to undertake.  This is just all too complicated and too much trouble for an old retired guy to contemplate.  I am really looking forward to decluttering my life.

Don’t complain to the lawyers – they are doing a great job.  And I really do believe that the nation’s ethics laws serve us well, so I have no complaints.

So, it looks like this is my last post on the NASA web page.  That is probably just as well.  I have always been mindful that speaking here is in effect representing NASA.  Therefore I have not addressed certain topics, nor provided opinions that are contrary to NASA policy.  I would feel duty bound to continue those restrictions if I blog here.

But I am rather enjoying blogging, so I guess I’ll have to find a new venue. 

Its been a great conversation!  And I wish the very best to those of you who are still in the trenches, fighting the good fight to explore the universe.  My hat is off to you.  And if I can be of any assistance in the future, please don’t hesitate to contact me; I’ll do whatever the law allows to help.

Wayne Hale – over and out

P. S.  No comments allowed for this post – a first – because  I won’t be around to moderate them!

Coming Soon

Shortly after the Bush administration decided to end the shuttle program (no later than 2010), we decided that it would be a good idea to have the people who actually worked in the shuttle program write a book detailing our shared experience.  Heaven knows that there are enough books on the shuttle already, and no doubt more to come.  But by and large these books have been written by people who are external to the program:  historians, journalists, and the like.  Several individuals, most of them former astronauts, have written books, but they are necessarily the point of view of a single individual, and therefore can tell only part of the story.

So we decided to write a book on the breadth of the shuttle program, from beginning to end, the good, the bad, and the ugly, with only a couple of rules:  (1) it had to be totally honest, (2) it had to be technically accurate, (3) it had to fit in one volume, and (4) it had to be written by insiders.

Tuesday we had the final editorial board meeting which put a seal on the contents.  From this point on the book is in the hands of the proof readers, the indexers, the graphics designers, and the printer.  We expect the Government Printing Office to have copies on the shelf for sale in January 2011.  Sections will subsequently be posted on the NASA web pages, including any updates from the last couple of flights which exceeded the Bush closing date by maybe as much as a year.

The toughest part of the job was cutting material.  Once our folks got started writing, they couldn’t hold back.  We could have written a 5 volume mini-encyclopedia; or probably a 30 volume real encyclopedia.  But we stuck with our rule to have one volume, approximately 700 pages.

So what is in there?  We tried to tell the “so what” of the shuttle.  What did it accomplish, what did it fail to do, why was it so complex, and why did it cost so much.  Future spacecraft designers may find some instruction here; both what to do and what not to do.

About one third of the book is devoted to the engineering innovations that were required to bring this unique vehicle – and its support systems – into being.  Some of those innovations have now pervaded aerospace engineering as new standards.  About a third of the book is the province of the scientists who used the shuttle to study the universe and smaller things as well.  And the remaining third of the book is all the other stuff; history of the development and operations of the shuttle, a long description of the accidents, an obligatory description of the shuttle and its systems, and some contemplation of the social impact that the shuttle program had on America and the world.

We have quotations or sections written by over 30 astronauts, Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, scientists, program managers, NASA administrators, and flight directors.  More importantly, the vast majority of the book was written by over 100 of the folks who actually did the work: designed, built, maintained, and operated the space shuttle; civil servants and contractors alike.

I think you will find it interesting.  Some of the engineers cannot write coherently but we hired a few English majors to try to translate their jargon into something understandable by non-experts.  We tried to hit the level of Scientific American or National Geographic text, so this is not going to be very simplistic, but perhaps thought provoking.  The illustrations are outstanding.  And there will be a comprehensive appendix for all those who desire statistics and details.

There should be something for everybody interested in the shuttle.  I hope you like it.  We’ve been working on it in our spare time for over four years now.  Or maybe that should really say we’ve been working on it for our whole careers.

Information on how to pre-order the book will appear on the NASA web page in a month or so.

Trip Reports

The last couple of weeks have been very busy for me, so pardon my lack of blog posts.  I have been on travel for several days and you should have a report on three trips.


MAF – the dirge


The first report is on a trip I did not make.  There was a big celebration last week at the Michoud Assembly Facility on the east side of New Orleans as the “last” shuttle external tank was shipped.  Of course there is the potential to need a rescue flight and at this writing Congress is debating adding one more flight to the shuttle manifest, so ET-122 will probably be shipped out in a few months.  ET-122 was in processing when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and part of the roof of the building – concrete blocks to be exact – fell onto the tank, damaging it.  Repairs have been completed and ET-122 is on track to be pronounced “safe for flight” – no small feat.  After ET-122, there is only ET-95 left at MAF.  ET-95 was the last Light Weight Tank (as opposed to the current Super Light Weight Tanks).  We dissected it heavily during all the post-Columbia investigations and it will probably be a museum piece.   Anybody want a relic?


You can read all about the MAF celebration on the NASA home page, so I won’t write any more about it.  Except I didn’t go.  The place is a ghost town.  After years of a work force that ran about 2,500 people, it is down to a skeleton crew, most of the construction jigs are mothballed or removed, there is very little to see, just an empty building.  Depressing.  Maybe someday this will change.  But not now.  I get to go to enough funerals; I didn’t need to go to MAF.  Sorry to be depressing but ‘it is what it is.’


KSC – the children’s hour


Travel to Florida is always good; this time I got to hand over a bunch of work.  In particular, the responsibility for the Columbia debris repository will transition from the Space Shuttle Program to NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.  If you are a researcher and want to obtain some of the Columbia debris to study the effects of re-entry on materials and structures, you should contact the repository caretaker, Mike Ciannilli at the Kennedy Space Center.  Mike works in the NTD office which is located up on the 4th floor of the Launch Control Center building.  That building is an architectural award winner as well as on the national register of historic places, and holds the Firing Rooms where all the Saturn and Shuttle launches was controlled. 


The 4th floor of the LCC has a wide and spacious hall, and the entire floor was especially quiet the day I visited.  It has been a very intense time for the folks who work in shuttle, almost 8 launch flows in just over a year; there is a breather until the next flight so many people have taken a well deserved vacation.  As I walked down the echoing hallway, the graphic reminders of shuttle flights past covered the walls.  During the shuttle countdowns, the crew families are hosted up there; the Launch Director’s office has a superb view of the pads, and there is roof access for the actual launch.  But kids are kids and it is always a challenge to keep them from being bored with the countdown progresses.  Some genius of the past told the astronauts children to color one of the white erasable marker boards on one of the walls.  After the launch, the firing room crew found the art work so moving that the marker board was carefully removed, covered with plexiglas to preserve the image, and reinstalled in the hallway for all to see.  After many shuttle flights, these decorated markerboards line the broad and long hallway of the 4th floor of the LCC.  The art is intense, the colors are primary, the style is primitive as most children’s drawings are.  And hugely meaningful: renderings of crew patches, visions of launches, lists of relatives in attendance, caricatures of parents embarking on heroic feats, even pictures of family pets can be found on these masterpieces.  Although the 4th floor hallway is quite long, after so many shuttle flights, they have run out of room and some of these markerboards are showing up in the first floor lobby of the LCC building.  It is a moving experience to walk down the hall and contemplate what these children were thinking, and what the experience meant to them.  Each one is a mute testimony to pride and fear, wisdom and innocence.  Maybe someday this art will be on public display.  For me, it as moving an experience as you can have in any art gallery.


Hemphill, Texas – Columbia memorial groundbreaking


The last census showed the population of Hemphill was 1,100 people.  When pieces of Columbia rained down on them, they turned out do to far beyond what duty would normally require in such a situation.  Now, with a generous gift from a native son, the people of that small east Texas town is adding a wing to the public library which will be a museum and memorial to the Columbia astronauts.  I am reminded of what Roger Mellot told me after visiting there in the spring of 2003:  “The people of east Texas love their country, and they love their country’s space program.”  It is still true.  I was asked by the JSC public affairs office to accompany the official delegation and make some appropriate remarks at the groundbreaking.  It was a joy to do so.  The speechifying was held in the high school cafeteria where over 125 people were present.  That may not sound like a lot, but it was over 10% of the population of the town, in the middle of a work day.  So I think that is a lot.  Several speeches were made; the best was given by Evelyn Husband-Thompson.  I wish I could include her remarks, they were moving.  The best I can do is to paste in my not-as-memorable talk:



 We are gathered here to do something that is not often done, I think, these days.  We are celebrating the work of a group of civic leaders, volunteers, and a generous benefactor.  The work that they have accomplished is to start the construction of a facility, a building, a place where our children can learn about the true meaning of what it is to be a real hero.

The future of any people or nation depends on their children and how they live out the values they have learned.  That is what is so important about this day, and so uncommon about this event:  that here you are teaching your children something very important; because the men and women who sacrificed their lives were heroes of the truest kind. 


Nowadays the term hero is most commonly applied to sports figures, or successful entertainers like singers and actors.  Our children might think that they should emulate those people and model their lives after those examples.  This is not, in fact, what we know that our children should learn.


Now, I love my sports teams, and I love my music and those who make it, and I enjoy entertainment as much as anyone.  But success in those endeavors does not make one a hero.  And we need to be very clear about that.


We are gathered here today to honor real heroes.  We are here to describe why they were heroes in terms so plain that our children, no matter how young, can understand what it means to be a true hero.


Those we honor here showed by the example of their lives what being a real hero means: hard work surely, but not hard work alone; sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice, but not sacrifice alone, rather sacrifice in the pursuit of the betterment of all people.    


Our heroes were about the business of making our lives better, more prosperous, more free.  It has been said that the exploration of space is the noblest activity of our time, and so history may record it.  But their lives were devoted to making a better life not just in the distant future but for those of us here and now.  Because their efforts made discoveries and advancements that have improved our lives, made our nation more prosperous, and made the world a better place, and increased our awe of creation.


That, then, is the purpose for being here.  To commit ourselves to teach our children that they, too, must become heroes, that they must devote themselves to the improvement of life here on earth, and the exploration of the universe, to work hard, and to sacrifice in the service of their community, their nation, and indeed the whole world.


In a very real way, we are the beneficiaries of generations of heroes who have gone before us; who have made our nation strong, prosperous, and free because they were willing to sacrifice themselves to make it so.


So finally, this teaching burden falls on us, those living here today, because, in the words of the biblical injunction ‘To whom much has been given, much will be required.’





I have one more official trip to make.  Next week we have the final editorial board meeting for the GPO shuttle history book ‘Wings in Orbit.’  This will be at MSFC in Huntsville, Alabama.  I expect to write you a report on that as well.


Finally, the agency has asked me to continue writing my NASA blog in retirement.  I plan to do that, but realize that it will mostly be a retrospective – as retirees are wont to do – rather than a commentary on current events.  Plenty of other folks keep the internet warm on that!


All Good Things



A personal note today. 


After long consideration I have filed my retirement papers and will be leaving NASA and the US Civil Service on July 31.  Let me hasten to add that this is a personal decision based mainly on family considerations – which I needn’t enumerate here today.


Working at NASA has been a lifelong dream; I often tell people that I would have paid them to let me in the door rather than the other way around.  It has been a privilege and an honor to work in this place and with these people.  The achievements that we have made together will have lasting significance for all humankind.  I want to especially thank my many wonderful co-workers who are so dedicated, innovative, and hard working.  I wish them every success in the future with all my heart.


I have a few days left, I may even post another blog or two.  But for today I leave you with a passage that summarizes feelings so similar to my own that it is uncanny.  Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote a wonderful book about his favorite career as a steamboat pilot, “Life on the Mississippi.”  It is enormously funny, but taking a reflective turn this serious passage summarizes – far better than I could – the feelings of any professional at the end of a long and wonderful career.  So make the translation from rockets to steamboats and read all the way to the end.



Chapter 9:


            The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book – a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice.  And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.  Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing.  There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparklingly renewed with every re-perusal.  The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on its surface (on the rare occasions when he did not overlook it altogether); but to the pilot that was an italicized passage; indeed, it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals, with a string of shouting exclamation points at the end of it; for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that ever floated.  It is the faintest and simplest expression the water ever makes, and the most hideous to the pilot’s eye.  In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it, painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.

            Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition.  But I had lost something, too.  I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived.  All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!  I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me.  A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with the graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed  splendor that was flowing from the sun.  There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.

            I stood like one bewitched.  I drank it in, in a speechless rapture.  The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home.  But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them.  Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion:  This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling “boils” show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the “break” from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with the single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark?

            No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river.  All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.  Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart.  What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a “break” that ripples above some deadly disease?  Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay?  Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself?  And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?

Prima Donnas and Ice Cream Socials



STS-3 marked the first “long duration” shuttle flight of eight days.  One of the major objectives was thermal testing of the orbiter.  This was not exciting work, the test consisted of pointed the orbiter in a certain attitude and holding for a period of time, measuring the temperature response and correlating the response to computer models, then moving to another attitude. 


Two significant “human factors” events made this flight memorable to those of us in mission control.


Factor number one was that two of the senior flight directors assigned had, well, no love lost for each other.  The rivalry had gone back years, apparently.  Both of them were known as “prima donnas” in an office full of Type A personalities.  Barely civil to each other most of the time, during the stresses of the flight this turned into full bore warfare. 


Factor number two was a rookie flight director with a team that did not have a lot to do and the very limited communications we had with the shuttle in those days.  This lead to . . . interesting situations. 


To review the bidding; in those early shuttle days, there were three mission control teams supposedly set to cover the three approximately 8 hour shifts each day.  The Lead Flight Director was generally set to cover the lion’s share of the crew work day, from just before crew awake until well into their “afternoon” period.   Generally the most complicated activities on the flight took part during this time.  At that time, the orbit 2 shift (which covered the remainder of the crew day and ‘put the crew to bed’) was also the Entry team; responsible at the end of the flight for returning the crew safely.  (Lead Flight Directors were considered to be incapable of also serving as an Ascent or Entry flight director during the same flight – too many responsibilities, too many training and proficiency objectives, etc.).  The Ascent team that launched the crew performed a “whifferdill” on the first day – handed over post ascent to the Orbit 2 team, hurried home to catch a short nap – and returned in about 8 hours to receive handover from the Orbit 2 team and transform themselves from the Ascent team to the Planning Team.  The planning team always works while the crew is asleep to review, revise, and polish the crew activity plan for the next day.


I was working the Ascent/Planning team as the Propulsion systems officer.


The shift schedule is controlled by the Lead Flight Director and he can (and generally does) shift it to suit the activities of the day; sometimes teams have longer or shorter shifts depending on what is happening, handover times are changed to accommodate activities that one or the other of the flight control teams had specifically trained to monitor. 


On the very first day, the Orbit 2 (/Entry) team Flight Director did something that ticked off the Lead (Orbit 1) team Flight Director.  As we handed over to the very first shift of the Orbit 2 team, we could hear a loud conversation wafting over the consoles from the back row of Mission Control.  As we were leaving, our flight director said it would be good to call in the recorded number to find out when we were to be back on console.  After working 16 out of the last 24 hours, we all hurried home to bed. 


Awakening later, the recording had a greatly revised shift schedule from the pre-flight published one.  The Orbit 2 team was not on it at all.  Seems the Lead Flight Director (Orbit 1 team) had determined that his team should be on for almost the entire crew day (10 hours or so) and that the Planning team (my team) would cover the rest of the day (about 14 hours) and the Orbit 2 team was . . . not required.  Wow.  To this day, I don’t know how that happened.


This started a very long stretch of very long days. Fortunately, the sleep shift was pretty quiet.  Not to say that the thermal testing was going well; just the opposite.  Seems that the computer models were pretty bad and we were learning a lot.  Which means there was a significant amount of replanning going on.


In the days before the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites were launched, communications with the shuttle, like communications with the Mercury and Gemini astronauts before us, depending on the spacecraft flying overhead a ground tracking station.  These passes were short, about 8 minutes maximum, and there could be significant periods of Loss Of Signal (LOS) between stations.  Nowadays we have almost continuous communications with crews in earth orbit, but that was not the case then. 


During the wee hours of the night shift, the orbit lined up in such a way that the spacecraft would be in communication with only one tracking station each orbit; generally the one in Santiago, Chile.  The AGO to AGO passes were notorious.   Try to stay awake at 3 or so in the morning when you get to watch telemetry for 8 minutes every 90 minutes . . . no talking to the crew since they are asleep.  We were desperate to do something to break the monotony.


I don’t know who suggested the ice cream social.  But we thought it was a great idea.  So on one particular night, dozens of gallons of ice cream, fruit, syrups, paper plates and bowls made their appearance in the MCC.  We cleared all the paperwork off the consoles in the front row – the ‘trench’  – and stuffed ourselves on the goodies.  At the next AGO pass, the front consoles were too sticky and covered with goo to use; but all was well, so no big deal.  We slowly cleaned up and then got down to the business of planning the next crew day’s activities.  Except that it was a big day for changes.  The engineers in the Mission Evaluation room wanted lots of new attitudes, lots of changes.  We started working through a sugar induced fog.  Then the clock ran out. 


The Orbit 1 team and their now infamous Lead Flight Director showed up early because they had been forewarned it would be a busy day.  And what did they find?  The Planning team had not completed the plan!!!!  Uh oh.  Even worse, when we got the plan finalized (with the Orb 1 team hunched over our shoulders) the tracking station that we needed to send the plan up had a maintenance problem, and another 20 minutes elapsed before we could tell the crew the changes.


The shift recording had more changes that day.  When we got back on the planning shift – and well after the Orbit 1 team left – we made a big sign and hung it in the back of the MCC (where it wouldn’t show on TV):  “Welcome Back Orbit 2 Team”. 


I don’t actually know if they ever saw that sign since we handed over to Orbit 1.


After STS-3 landing, the Flight Operations management team had a “retreat” where new rules about shift changes, shift durations, etc., were written down.  And some folks got “promotions” out of the flight director office.


And we never had another ice cream social in the front room of the MCC again. 


That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Moral Hazard


“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  (April 5, 1881) John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton



Everybody who quotes Lord Acton seems to concentrate on the second half of his famous line; I’d like to consider the first half today: “power tends to corrupt”  – even in small doses.  Let me tell you about my experience in this regard.


First of all, don’t call the cops.  This is not big time corruption where people pay money to government officials so that they award contracts as payback; nothing that violates Federal or state laws or regulations.  No, this is about a different kind of corruption, the kind that works on your soul.  Come to think of it, that is the really big time corruption.


My move from the Flight Director office to the Space Shuttle Program happened suddenly and unexpectedly.  Flight Directors are generally well respected and command a modicum of respect, but they have no budget, they sign no contracts, they do not have direct supervisory control over anybody.  All things considered, Flight Directors have very little in the way of power and influence.


In the Space Shuttle Program office, the first thing handed to me was control of the Infrastructure Revitalization work, about $100 Million per year to be spent trying to correct years of neglect of NASA’s facilities.  The bean counters in Washington had starved the agency so that basic maintenance was not being performed.  Just before I arrived, the Shuttle Program was authorized to spend a significant amount of money doing important facilities work.  For example, the roof of the VAB was leaking, about to cave in, and putting a new roof up there costs multiple millions of dollars.  So all of a sudden, Center Directors and facility managers all around the agency became my best friend.  In my control was something they very much needed and wanted:  money and the ability to let contracts to do much needed work.  Good thing I had a competent and grounded staff that really did all the work of prioritizing and preparing the decision packages. 


That was my first whiff.  People were oh-so-nice.  And I just thought they wanted to be my friend.  Well, yes and no. 


Later on when I became Deputy Program Manager and later Program Manager, people went out of their way to be nice.  It is really intoxicating to think you are that well liked just because you are a good guy and so pleasant to be with.  Not.


Don’t get me wrong, those were tough times and I made many good and solid friendships that continue to this day.  I have many colleagues that I respect and keep in close contact.  But two years after I was relieved of the Shuttle Program Managership, it is easy to look back and see who was true and who was faux.


When Winston Churchill was voted out of office in 1945, someone told him that it was a blessing in disguise.  To that, the great man replied, ‘then it is very well disguised.’  That was certainly how I felt in early 2008.  But with the space of over two years now, I can report leaving a position of high authority which controlled so much money has turned out to be really good for me.  For two years now, I have not controlled any budget, have only one subordinate employee (my secretary), have very limited influence, and the time to think about things.


As Program Manager, I controlled a budget in the multiple billions of dollars, had thousands working under my direction.  We made contract performance awards on a regular basis which doled out millions to the primary contractors based on how I perceived their performance.  Is there any wonder that they were nice to me?


And as Program Manager, you are the ultimate “decider”.  Yes, everybody has a boss and sometimes decisions are appealed and you have to justify your decision, but those are rare occurrences and 99% of the time what the Program Manager decides is the way it is.  After a while you begin to think you are god-like in your judgment and decision making.


And since Program Managers are very senior officials in the Federal service, all kinds of little benefits come your way; all your travel arrangements are taken care of; close in parking spaces are reserved for you; a seat either at the head or near the head of the table always bears your name; there is a special IT representative to come fix your computer on a moment’s notice, and on and on.  All of this in the name of making your time more efficient, to “free” you to make the important decisions.


Everybody knows your name, and starts calling you “sir”.  The most ridiculous circus happens on military bases where they equate your civil service rank to that of a military general and full military protocol comes into play when you arrive.


It was especially bad when they announced things like “Space Shuttle Program Arriving” as if I personally embodied that huge organization.  It makes your ego think that it is really your program.  The truth is that it is the taxpayer’s program and you have been entrusted with its stewardship for a season only. 


This is not limited to Program Managers but extends to other high ranking federal officials.  I once heard an ex-head of the Astronaut office complain because he no longer had access to his T-38 and had to fly commercial and thus had to wait in line with everybody else.  Sad.


My wife is still laughing about a high school reunion that I attended during my tenure as Program Manager.  All the most popular girls in high school, the ones who wouldn’t give a nerd like me the time of day when we were 17, came clambering around me.  As one of my (divorced) classmates said:  “Wayne is a chick magnet”.  He hung close for the weekend activities trying to strike up conversations of his own.  And in other settings it has not escaped my notice that younger, attractive women, pay a lot of attention to guys who have power, authority, and money in their hands. 


Speaking of airports and high federal officials; I’ve had the interesting experience of watching a Congressman explode at the airline gate agent in National airport because a plane was delayed due to weather.  Did the airline not know who he was?  Why didn’t they just roll out another airplane to suit his schedule?  As if, like King Chanute, it were possible to change the tides. 


So there you have it; people surrounding you, pampering you, adoring you, wanting to be groupies, admiring your brilliant decisions.  At times you get a little tingle as something – your conscience?- reminds you that this is just not right.  But at the time it feels oh-so-good.


And it’s oh-so-bad for you.


So it is really good to get out of that situation.  To remember that you are not as smart as you think you are, nor nearly as brilliant as the sycophants lead you to believe.  Nor as attractive to young women as your libido would like. 


In fact, almost all of us are ordinary guys and gals and have to go home to cut the grass, balance the checkbook, and fix the drier.  And that is as it should be. 


And it is also very good to remember that there really are smarter people than yourself – a lot of them.  (Like the drier repairman who can really put it back together after you botched the repair attempt)>


And finally, to know that you really do have good friends that care about you whether you are rich and famous or not.


Don’t stay too long in the seat of power and authority because it will corrode your soul.

Meeting the Great Bird of the Galaxy

Long before I came to work at NASA, I was enamored with space travel.  On flickering black and white television we watched the Ranger shots, the Mariner 4 pictures of Mars roll in, Alan Shepard on the skinny Redstone, John Glenn, all the Gemini/Titan launches and even the puppeteers that were the special effects of the day as they mimicked the early space walks.  Science Fiction was the largest component of my reading material, much to my teacher’s dismay, and I avidly watched all the great movies of the time:  Destination Moon, Forbidden Planet, the Day the Earth Stood Still, and many more.


Television influenced all our thinking about space travel.  Not only were there the wonderful Disney shows about mounting expeditions to the moon and beyond, but there were dreadful science fiction series like Lost In Space.  But the most important show of all time, at least for us space cadets, was Star Trek.


Gene Roddenberry was the creator and initiator of that famous and influential fictional universe which echoes down to our current time.  As many commentators have noted, the issues that his characters faced were not really issues of aliens and space but the issues facing each of us in America in the 1960.  And there was a basic foundation of hope:  hope that the future would be better, where everyone had a chance at fulfillment, where all sorts of folks had learned to work and live together.  In the 1960’s that did not seem like a certain outcome; over 40 years later we are much closer to that universe than many thought possible.


As any good fan knows, the original Star Trek series was cancelled after only three years and it took nearly a decade before the first Star Trek movie was made and another decade before the series was revived with the “next generation.”  So the early 1970’s was a disappointing era for science fiction fans.  But that “gap” gave me the opportunity to meet Gene Roddenberry in person.


While I was an undergraduate at Rice University in Houston, one of my extracurricular activities was as chairman of a committee which was to bring different speakers to the university.  We were able to bring Congresswoman Barbara Jordan to speak; what a moving experience that was!


In those long ago days, different companies that provided speakers would send out picture catalogs of various folks that you could contract to speak at your event for a fee.  While leafing through the catalog, one picture jumped out at me:  Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek was on the speaker’s circuit – and the price was well within our budget. 


With warp speed, we made the arrangements for him to come.  On the fateful day, I drove my roommate and his girlfriend to Houston’s big airport and we met Mr. Roddenberry at the gate.   He turned out to be a really interesting guy with a lot of stories and very gregarious.  It was at lunch we learned how he got his nickname (Great Bird of the Galaxy).  It was a magical afternoon.  We took him to lunch at the nicest place the student associate could afford (at the Galleria) and then to his hotel for some rest.  That evening I had pressed several classmates into service to collect money at the door (we had to pay for it somehow!) and the main auditorium of the student center was packed to capacity.


Roddenberry had brought a film real of outtakes (“bloopers”) from the TV show and we started the program with that film.  After the film ended, applause echoed in the hall and I got to make the introduction.  The next hour and a half was filled with a discussion of his philosophy, the entertainment business, and everything under the sun.  Ending the program I escorted the great man to one of the college professor’s house where a reception was held in his honor. 


At this point, things started going awry.  First of all, my college buddies wanted to know what to do with the cash box filled with over $1,000 in small bills.  I hadn’t thought about that – it was a lot of money to a college kid in 1974!  We hid it in my dorm room since the bursar’s office was closed.  Then the ‘blooper’ reel had disappeared.  I had to hunt all over campus until I found it being projected in another theater on campus.  Confiscating the film, I headed back to the reception where Mr. Roddenberry was ready to leave.  A female student begged me to let her ride with me while I delivered him to the hotel.  That was a mistake.  Let’s just say that she gave every indication that she wanted to be dropped off there as well!  Nevertheless, I got him to his hotel room and her back to campus. 


The following morning I collected Mr. Roddenberry and whisked him to the airport.  Quite a busy 24 hours!  Not one I will forget soon.  Then the long wait until Monday morning and I could turn the money into the campus business office.  Nobody guarded their dorm room more closely than I did until 8:00 Monday morning.  Whew.


So that is my story.  After a couple of weeks, I got an envelope in the mail from Mr. Roddenberry’s secretary.  The note said how much he had enjoyed the trip and there was a certificate:  I was named a Star Fleet Officer with the signature endorsements (which looked strikingly similar) of Captain James T. Kirk and Admiral Eugene Roddenberry.  Needless to say it is one of my most prized possessions!


And that is the story of how I met the Great Bird of the Galaxy and learned how the future would be filled with wonders, optimism, and the exploration of the universe!


And you wonder why I always wanted to work in space.

Guest Writer Today

This note from my successor as Shuttle Program Manager was too good not to post:

Did you know that in the year from May 11, 2009 to May 14, 2010, the Shuttle and ISS teams launched seven Space Shuttle flights?
If you add STS-119 in March of 2009, we have launched eight flights in 14 months (15 March 2009 to 14 May 2010)…Early in 2009, independent studies showed less than a 20% likelihood we could achieve this flight rate.

This was accomplished due to many different contractor and government organizations working as a team.

During this high-flight rate period Shuttle Processing has set and reset records for the lowest number of IPR’s during processing, multiple projects and the integration teams are responsible for new records for the lowest number of debris releases and the lowest number of TPS damages on the Orbiter, and all of the projects have set records for the lowest number of in-flight anomalies.

The production teams have met or significantly beat all processing milestones for hardware delivery to KSC.

The institutional organizations have successfully integrated the governance model into our everyday processes, providing fully independent engineering and safety ownership of risk decisions for the first time in the history of the Program. This smooth process was demonstrated clearly in last flight’s MMT meetings.

Even more amazing is that all of this was accomplished while necessarily reducing the total workforce by 32%, to the lowest numbers in Program history (from 14,577 in 2005 to 9878 today).
These government/contractor teams are unquestionably performing at an incredibly high level.  I am extremely proud of how all of you are maintaining your focus and completing the incredible legacy of the Space Shuttle Program.

John P. Shannon

My congratulations to the entire Space Shuttle team on their continuing accomplishments!

My Favorite Shuttle Flight



Today seems like an appropriate day to start reminiscing about the ol’ shuttle program, so here goes.


Sooner or later everybody is going to get to pick their favorite shuttle flight. 


There is a lot to choose from; the boldest test flight in history (STS-1), launching the Hubble (STS-31), or servicing the Hubble (several flights), or assembling the space station (STS-88 and many more), or . . . well, you name it.


My favorite flight was STS-77.  This is partly personal, it was the first time I was Lead Flight Director, in charge of the planning and development for the flight as well as the actual execution.  


Other than that personal reason, STS-77 may seem an odd choice for favorite flight, but after I tell you about it, you may change your mind.  On that flight we carried a double SpaceHab module with many science experiments on board.  Doing microgravity science on short term (approximately two weeks) shuttle flights is tough, but some good science was done by the crew.  But the other payloads that captured most of our interest and had the potential to yield the most significant results. 


One experiment consisted of a small cylindrical sub satellite (shown in the following picture) which was covered by reflective material.  It was ejected from the shuttle payload bay early in the flight.  The cylinder also included a couple of permanent magnets.  The entire experiment consisted of using those magnets to align the satellite with the earth’s magnetic field; a very passive way to provide attitude control for small satellites.  The plan was to kick the satellite out, with a lot of wobble – clearly out of control, fly away for a day, come back, and observe how stable the satellite had become. 


Test Satellite ejected from Shuttle Payload Bay



In actual practice, . . . well. 


The shuttle rendezvoused with the satellite 24 hours later, and it was still wobbling all over the sky, so we went away.   We came back another 24 hours later, and it was still wobbling significantly, so we went away again.  We then waited 48 hours and came back and it was nearly stable, but not completely.  End of experiment.  Nice idea, came close to working, but took too long and never quite did what it was supposed to do.




Did I tell you that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous operations of any space flight?  The crew got really good at those procedures.


Even more impressive was the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE).  The Spartan free flyer was originally designed to be a platform for astronomical experiments (one of the A’s in Spartan is for astronomy).  On this flight, a box with a tightly packaged balloon was mounted on the Spartan.  We put the Spartan/IAE out with the shuttle arm, let it go, flew a few hundred feet away, and watched the sequence.  The box was to pop open and pressurized gas at just a few psi would inflate a huge antenna.  If the antenna were stable and the geometry was right, we could have a new way of building light weight, inexpensive radio antennas in orbit.  What a great concept!  The Spartan had cold gas thrusters to maintain attitude control and would point this test antenna in a direction where we could observe whether or not it performed as expected. 


IAE & Spartan over the Grand Canyon


Things did not go as planned. 


Rather than a straightforward inflation of the balloon, the antenna looked at first like an octopus with multiple entangling arms.  After several minutes it achieved a stable shape as we had expected, but the entire Spartan/IAE package was tumbling end over end. 


Clearly the inflation had set up a motion that the Spartan’s attitude control system could not overcome. 


Even worse, when the “lens” part of the antenna came clearly into view, the surface was not smooth but wrinkled and those wrinkles fluttered across the surface of the lens in constant motion.  This would not provide the smooth, stable surface necessary for radio transmission. 


After observing at a close distance for the planned time; the shuttle crew backed off to a safe distance, the balloon was jettisoned, and the Spartan bus stabilized itself. 


A day later the shuttle rendezvoused with the Spartan bus, grappled it with the arm,  and stowed the Spartan safely in the payload bay.


Did I mention that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous executed by any single space mission?


So here is the scorecard:  several of the SpaceHab science experiments provided interesting results.  The Passive Attitude Control sub-satellite using magnets and the earth’s magnetic field did not achieve the expected results.  The Inflatable Antenna Experiment was, in that configuration, a failure.  And of course, the record number of rendezvous!


So, what do we say about this flight?


Both of these showy free flying experiments were radical, even revolutionary ways of doing business in space.  They were bold in their conception and execution.  If successful, those technologies would have been “game-changing” to use a phrase in current vogue.  But they failed.  That happens sometimes when you test radical innovative technologies.  On the other hand, sometimes you actually succeed.  You always learn.  If we were to try those experiments again, with the knowledge of what didn’t work last time, they might just work.  The revolution may still be just out there. 


I recently heard a radio program discussing what makes America so successful, how we have built such an innovative, creative society.  Part of the reason, it was stated, is that we are not afraid to try something and fail.  In fact, it expected that we will encounter failure. You cannot be innovative and not have failures.  Being paralyzed at the prospect of a potential failure is the greatest failure of all.


Try something.  Be bold, revolutionary, even game changing.  Just don’t be surprised if you have to pick yourself up off the ground and dust off your pants from time to time.  It’s the American way.

Psalm 46



God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of  the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Memory is a funny thing; some days I cannot find where I put my car keys; but everywhere and anytime my memory is crystal clear as I remember January 31, 1986.  On a very slight rise beside two sapling trees just outside building 16 at Johnson Space Center, I was standing with hundreds of my co-workers for the Challenger memorial service.   The President was there, and spoke; there was a lengthy program and other speakers.  But what I remember most vividly was a young astronaut by the name of Charlie Bolden at the podium reading the 46th Psalm.

There was not a doubt in my body that he meant every word that he read.

These days there seems to be some debate about some things Charlie says.  

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; . . .  the earth melts.

Isn’t it interesting how the psalmist’s imagery can apply to many situations, even the current one?

When I say there is debate, I don’t just mean about the content, althought there is that.  Whether you agree with the plan, vision, change, whatever, or not, is your business.  The debate I am referencing is the question:  Does Charlie really believe all this, or is he just a pawn in the political process saying what they tell him to say?

You would never ask that question about the Charlie Bolden that I worked when he was on the crew and I was in Mission Control.   A straight shooting Marine Aviator, he was direct, to the point, and always, always, always honest to a fault.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day

Years later when Charlie served on various review boards and we interacted, he had not changed.  Always enthusiastic, ready to ask questions, astute in his observations, Charlie was still the Marine; integrity covered him like a mantle.

I am fortunate in that I can still talk with Charlie.  In fact, it was my privilege to spend one-on-one time with him after work recently.   We talked about many things but mostly about the future path for NASA – the plan which he has been speaking about. 

Here is my conclusion:  what Charlie says is what Charlie believes.  Do not be mistaken.  If he doesn’t believe it, he doesn’t say it.

Now you may still disagree with Charlie – that’s OK – but at least you should know that Charlie maintains his integrity.

That’s a role model we all can follow.

The Lord makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bows and shatters the spear.