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NASA’s safety panel claims management expertise in ’21 annual report, demanding that NASA run Artemis using a “top-down” approach

NASA’s safety panel today issued its 2021 annual report, and rather than review issues of safety in the operations of the agency’s various manned programs, the panel focused on proposing a redesign of the management structure of NASA manned programs, demanding that NASA run Artemis using a “top-down” approach, taking power and control away from private commercial space and putting it in the hands of NASA’s bureaucracy. From the press release:

Specifically, the report recommends that NASA should develop a strategic vision for the future of space exploration and operations; establish and provide leadership through a “board of directors” that includes agency center directors and other key officials, with the emphasis on providing benefit to the agency’s mission as a cohesive whole; and manage Artemis as an integrated program with top-down alignment. The panel also reiterated a recommendation from its 2020 report that Congress designate a lead federal agency for civil space traffic management.

This summary captures nicely the substance of the entire report [pdf]. Rather than review the specific safety issues in each of NASA’s manned programs — the panel’s actual job — the panel decided it would look at how Congress, the White House, and NASA’s leadership have organized the management of its manned program, and tell them all how to do things.

None of this is the safety panel’s business. Such recommendations should come from Congress or the White House, or from a specific panel created by those elected officials or NASA’s top management, tasked with the specific job.

The panel meanwhile ignored its real job, to review the engineering of NASA’s manned program and spot areas where such work might need to be revised or fixed. While the panel spent its time in 2020 putting together this inappropriate report, it apparently missed entirely the valve problem in Boeing’s Starliner capsule that has caused an additional year delay in its launch.

This panel continues to demonstrate its corrupt and power-hungry attitude about how the U.S. should explore space. For years it did whatever it could to stymie NASA’s efforts to transfer ownership to the private sector, putting up false barriers to the launch of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule that made no sense and were really designed to keep all control within the government bureaucracy.

Now this panel has decided its job is no longer to review the specific technical and engineering issues that could cause a manned spacecraft failure, such as with Boeing’s Starliner. Instead it now believes it should be the designer of NASA’s entire management.

It is long past time that this panel is shut down. It isn’t doing its actual job, and is instead interfering with everyone else’s.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

One comment

  • Richard M

    I don’t want to reduce this to an age thing, but I can’t help but notice how old the ASAP panel membership skews.

    More to the point, except for David West (an old SAIC guy) they all hail from NASA or the military.

    Not that they don’t know a lot about spacecraft safety, but reading this report, I can’t help but feel there’s some epistemic closure at work.

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