Webb Space Telescope Takes Flight

Jolly_Green_Giant

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despite employees generally receive only 70% the pay they would in the private sector.
Yeah but the government benefits are top notch. The downside is that senior officials have an incentive to sit on their ass and ride the rest of their days out on easy mode until retirement. Not disparaging their jobs and their achievements, just pointing out things I've been told by a NASA intern.

However for comparison's sake, NASA is about a decade and a half behind schedule on this, and 970% over budget; compared to companies like SpaceX when working without cost plus contacts, consistently land inside schedule and budget. The private sector is really where the US aerospace performance is. NASA is anything but top shelf.

Although NASA is greatly admired, it definitely still is a jobs program at the mercy of the federal government. As you stated, legacy contracts, way over budget, etc.. all not a coincidence. However, without NASA doing all the heavy lifting going back decades, companies like SpaceX wouldn't exist.


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Shadow Reaper

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I think you have all that exactly right. The problem is that when we developed the Cost Plus system for complex project development, we removed all the risk from the private companies and moved it to an unaccountable government. That totally broke the system. People were noting this for decades until Musk came along and decided to carry the risk himself, and if you're familiar with the antics of SpaceX's earliest days with Falcon 1; you know he bet everything and nearly lost it all. That is the kind of thing we saw during the 30's, 40's and 50's from Hughes, Consolidated, Republic, Fairchild, McDonald, Douglas, Northrup, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, Marietta, Boeing, Bell, etc., etc., etc. All of this went away when we allowed all these early innovators to be bought by their competitors and then invented Cost Plus contracting--all to benefit the private companies by reducing the natural competition of a free market.

During the 30's, 40's and 50's, companies designed and built planes on their own dime trying to win contracts. It wasn't until the 60's USAF started paying for the development, whether it succeeded or failed. The epitome of failure of this system is the F-35 which was sold as a cheap replacement for the F-18, and ended up becoming the most expensive defense procurement in history. Exceptions to this rule include the development of the B-29 during WWII, which at its time was also the most expensive defense project in history, even eclipsing the Manhattan Project. It was built on Cost Plus at a time when other copanies were building designs at their own expense. BTW, though the B-29 was a wonder to behold, it did not work well. Its cutting-edge remote turrets were ineffective against enemy fighters, and its super-bombsite still allowed bombs to drift so much from wind when dropped at height, that the plane was later forced to fly in low in order to actually hit targets like factories. USG stipulated what they wanted, and after record setting expenses, found what they wanted did not work. Crazy.

Had we actually enforced the proper, existing, anti-trust laws, none of this would have happened. BTW, the company that supported shuttle was ULA, which was the cooperative between the only two rocket launch companies left at the time--Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. That was an illegal cooperation that was allowed by Congress in violation of national interest and constitutional law, one supposes because of graft. The Military Industrial Complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about bought the necessary Senators and Congressman to do as they liked. We still have this problem. It is no surprise that SpaceX was able to create a launch system more than 10X the value given ULA was skimming every part of the procurement process.

As to NASA employees making 70% what private industry does, yeah. It's true they get great benefits, but the best in the field never work at NASA, nor at USAF. They're virtually always private consultants who make many times what any NASA employee does. Top shelf NASA engineers make maybe $125k/year. Top shelf Lockheed Martin or solo contractor for NASA or USAF make five times that. The average puts NASA employees at 70% the market median. Top shelf engineers virtually never work directly for NASA. They work at places like Boeing, who builds stuff for NASA.
 
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Jolly_Green_Giant

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I think you have all that exactly right. The problem is that when we developed the Cost Plus system for complex project development, we removed all the risk from the private companies and moved it to an unaccountable government. That totally broke the system. People were noting this for decades until Musk came along and decided to carry the risk himself, and if you're familiar with the antics of SpaceX's earliest days with Falcon 1; you know he bet everything and nearly lost it all. That is the kind of thing we saw during the 30's, 40's and 50's from Hughes, Consolidated, Republic, Fairchild, McDonald, Douglas, Northrup, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, Marietta, Boeing, Bell, etc., etc., etc. All of this went away when we allowed all these early innovators to be bought by their competitors and then invented Cost Plus contracting--all to benefit the private companies by reducing the natural competition of a free market.

During the 30's, 40's and 50's, companies designed and built planes on their own dime trying to win contracts. It wasn't until the 60's USAF started paying for the development, whether it succeeded or failed. The epitome of failure of this system is the F-35 which was sold as a cheap replacement for the F-18, and ended up becoming the most expensive defense procurement in history. Exceptions to this rule include the development of the B-29 during WWII, which at its time was also the most expensive defense project in history, even eclipsing the Manhattan Project. It was built on Cost Plus at a time when other copanies were building designs at their own expense. BTW, though the B-29 was a wonder to behold, it did not work well. Its cutting-edge remote turrets were ineffective against enemy fighters, and its super-bombsite still allowed bombs to drift so much from wind when dropped at height, that the plane was later forced to fly in low in order to actually hit targets like factories. USG stipulated what they wanted, and after record setting expenses, found what they wanted did not work. Crazy.

Had we actually enforced the proper, existing, anti-trust laws, none of this would have happened. BTW, the company that supported shuttle was ULA, which was the cooperative between the only two rocket launch companies left at the time--Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. That was an illegal cooperation that was allowed by Congress in violation of national interest and constitutional law, one supposes because of graft. The Military Industrial Complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about bought the necessary Senators and Congressman to do as they liked. We still have this problem. It is no surprise that SpaceX was able to create a launch system more than 10X the value given ULA was skimming every part of the procurement process.

As to NASA employees making 70% what private industry does, yeah. It's true they get great benefits, but the best in the field never work at NASA, nor at USAF. They're virtually always private consultants who make many times what any NASA employee does. Top shelf NASA engineers make maybe $125k/year. Top shelf Lockheed Martin or solo contractor for NASA or USAF make five times that. The average puts NASA employees at 70% the market median. Top shelf engineers virtually never work directly for NASA. They work at places like Boeing, who builds stuff for NASA.
Thanks for the lengthy response. You're right. ULA is a joke compared to SpaceX as far as their innovation goes. They were so mad when SpaceX came to town and pissed in their kool-aid. Its why there were so many lawsuits that were brought on by SpaceX, challenging the government's decision to award ULA certain contracts when SpaceX was clearly the cheaper deal. I like how you pointed out that all of these NASA projects are actually contracted out to companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, Sierra Nevada, etc... because a lot of people don't realize that. They think NASA does all of it and boeing just makes 747's. There are VERY talented people at NASA so I wouldn't say it doesn't attract the top talent. Money isn't always the determining factor in jobs like this. NASA is still the one doing the research and making the rules, and I know some people just like saying they work for NASA. It's pretty prestigious IMO. I had friends / family just say I worked for NASA because they didn't really know much about SpaceX but they knew i worked at kennedy space center. When you're in the industry and around a lot of like minded space nerds, everyone knows about SpaceX. Outside that circle not so much.
 

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NASA has the highest public approval rating of any federal agency. It has for decades, despite employees generally receive only 70% the pay they would in the private sector.

However for comparison's sake, NASA is about a decade and a half behind schedule on this, and 970% over budget; compared to companies like SpaceX when working without cost plus contacts, consistently land inside schedule and budget. The private sector is really where the US aerospace performance is. NASA is anything but top shelf.
Well, I'll let the king of Space Pork, Senator Shelby from Alabama answer that question for you...this is from 2013, so it doesn't have anything to do with current politics (and he retired anyway, thank god) :
Shelby: NASA Must Focus on SLS
For Immediate Release: May 2, 2013

Shelby: NASA Must Focus on SLS

WASHINGTON, D.C., Thursday, April 25, 2013, - U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the top Republican on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's FY14 budget request.
Click here to view the webcast of the hearing.
***
"Thank you, Madam Chair.
"NASA is one of the most publicly-recognized agencies in the federal government and an inspiration to young people around the world motivating them to become scientists, engineers, and explorers. I look forward to hearing from Administrator Bolden about this budget and NASA's plans for the future.

"The fiscal year 2014 budget aspires to do many new, innovative, and exciting things, yet it proposes no additional funding. In essence, NASA is proposing to do more with less. I strongly believe that this country must continue to push the science and engineering envelope while maintaining focus on current investments in order to reap tangible benefits.

"I am concerned that the budget before us however, is an example of chasing the next great idea while sacrificing current investments. This country has finite resources to invest and while we are committed to NASA's mission, subjecting mission critical activities to shoestring budgets because a more exciting idea has come along is not wise.

"Based on the proposed budget, as well as previous budgets, I have serious doubts about NASA's dedication to truly developing a heavy launch capability. While your testimony Administrator Bolden, points out that NASA is building the world's most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, the budget does not reflect NASA's commitment to that goal. Instead, it shows cuts to SLS vehicle development as far as the eye can see.

"This budget focuses too heavily on maintaining the fiction of privately funded commercial cargo and crew vehicles which diverts critical resources from NASA's goal of developing human space flight capabilities with the SLS. Administrator Bolden, I have long been a supporter of public-private partnerships that use federal dollars to leverage private resources. In this case however, NASA has provided $1.5 billion dollars through Space Act Agreements to for-profit companies to develop low earth orbit launch capabilities but has no idea how much money these companies are investing themselves, and according to NASA's budget office, has no authority to ask. In addition, NASA has no ability to keep the projects on budget or on schedule because of the nature of the contract that was executed.

"It is troubling that NASA paid the companies developing cargo capability in spite of delayed milestones, shifting completion dates, and an altered final delivery schedule and then had to provide additional payments in excess of $200 million so these projects could be successful. This sounds like a great arrangement for the companies but I don?t believe it is a great arrangement for the taxpayer.

"There are many unanswered questions about NASA's vision for the future and how it plans to achieve that vision. With this budget proposal, we have a significant challenge ahead of us but I believe that with some direction and greater accountability, NASA's endeavors can be successful and inspire future generations.

"I look forward to working with the Chair and you, Mr. Administrator in the coming months."
In case you are wondering, SLS, probably the biggest space boondoggle in history, STILL HAS NOT FLOWN, but don't worry, Boeing and every other defense contractor has gotten rich off our tax-payer dollars while delivering .... crap. Thanks Senator Shelby!
 
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Shadow Reaper

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That's a great example of how wrong the system has gone. Most of NASA wanted to cancel the SLS program in the first year of the OBama administration, but Shelby and Nelson pushed back hard and kept those dollars flowing. That's why SLS is often called the "Senate Launch System". The rocket is planned to cost over a billion dollars per flight, compared to Falcon 9 which is less than sixty million. It will thus never be cost effective to fly, but it provides huge numbers of high paying jobs in Shelby's home state of Alabama, where NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is. Rocket City (Huntsville) is where NASA does all the big engine testing for SLS. Kennedy Space Center in FL is home for Senator Nelson, who was the other senator that stood against OBama and forced their shitty agenda onto the American public, 12 years and about $210B ago. Think about how fucking BIG that number is. For that much money, SpaceX could launch about 3,500 rockets.
 
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Shadow Reaper

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The thing that bothers me most about NASA is certainly the lack of vision. In its early years, the space program flourished because Werner Von Braun had a vision of going to the Moon. NASA has been visionless ever since. Whether you like him or not, Trump at least tried to instill a sense of vision and goals by pushing NASA to return to the Moon during his presidency. Each President will want to see that happen on his shift. Just IMHO, the return to the Moon is way too tame a goal to excite the masses and fill them with a sense of adventure. What I have suggested back when the Augustine Commission was a thing, was that NASA needs to develop nuclear propulsion and wait to see what kinds of missions come on the table. Let SpaceX build bigger and better and provide them with a generational leap in propulsion.

BTW, DARPA very recently awarded Geneal Atomics $22M to develop nuclear thermal propulsion based upon NASA's designs of the past, in order to provide cislunar flight in the future. This is huge big stuff. General Atomics just came off some NASA contracting to design and build space reactors for use on the Moon, Mars and in future craft for power, and combining that with nuclear propulsion could finally get us out of Cislunar space. However, the lack of vision that has us building Gateway on Lunar orbit will likely stall us for a decade or more from going to Mars and onward.

Of course Musk is not waylaid. He's goiing to Mars and I think he has it right. The Moon is a distraction. Again just FYI, had we had real leadership at NASA these last 20+ years, they had available to them studies that showed what to pursue to build combined thruster/reactors that provided both power and propulsion. NASA commissioned a lot of work for this starting in the 80's. Look at just this one from 18 years ago. This is what NASA should have built back then and if they had, we'd have been on Mars long ago. This was BTW, my recommendation to the Augustine Commission in 2009. That commission met to advise the President in both 1990 and 2009, and both times failed miserably. Shitty leadership. The TRITON design provides huge amounts of electrical power aboard ship while thrusting super-efficiently over very long periods of time, as well as providing fantastric amounts of thrust for short periods of time. Hence "Tri-modal". Look at how tiny the thing is, about 12' long for everything including the reactor shielding, yet puts out 45k pounds thrust. There is nothing else like it and even better, since it is fueled by hydrogen and oxygen and carries its own bountiful power source, we could break down ice in space to refuel it. We know there is water ice on both the Moon and Mars. This is where the NASA Human Spaceflight bucks ought to have gone these last 20+ years, instead of SLS.

 
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Shadow Reaper

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Just some last thoughts in case people are interested why US human spaceflight is in the shitty place it is right now.

During the Clinton era, NASA decided the replacement for the Space Shuttle needed to be more efficient and cheaper, and decided on the X-33/Venturestar program, which was headed up by Al Gore. Gore is an idiot moron with no experience in aerospace, and totally fucked up the program. His crony Capitalism saw the funds to develop a composite tank for the X-33 go to a company with zero experience in composites and the tanks all delaminated and failed. How did that happen? Well that's the cost of allowing criminal behavior in our government. Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites were the easy choice for that project and had Gore not been so fucking busy filling his own pockets with graft, Shuttle would have had a worthy replacement.

Bush came to office in the sad situation that Shuttle was going to retire without a replacement. He commissioned the Constellation program which NASA also fucked up. They wanted to launch people atop solid rockets in order to keep ATK alive (who had been building the Shuttle solid rocket boosters.) Again, crony capitalism butt fucked the country when the engineers discovered that solid boosters shake so much the rocket would have turned any astronaut's brain into grey goo. They added literally tons of springs to compensate and suddenly the entire program was fucked. More shitty leaderdship wasting hundreds of billions of dollars, all because some douchbag in the Military Industrial Complex lobbied a corrupt government official to use their company's solid boosters instead of liquids. No one with a clue would have chosen solid boosters. They get only a tiny fraction of the thrust that liquids get. NASA sold out to corruption again.

OBama came onboard, saw all the shit with the Constellation program, reconvened the Augustine Commission and promptly replaced the shitty Constellation program with the shittier SLS. Again, the best interests of NASA's Human Spaceflight mandate was not the deciding factor, but rather proping up Shelby and Nelson's constituencies with billions of US dollars.

What's the lesson to be learned here? IMHO, when you decide to allow criminal activity in your governance, you have sold your soul. You deserve what you get. Think on this every time you're tempted to ignore the criminal activity of your political "team" whichever it is. We have been continually fucked over for decades because the people in power we elected, do not care about human spaceflight. They care about money.
 
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I failed to explain to Mrs Intruder why this is the most important event in my life at the moment.
Sorry, a bit late to this! Just curious, 'Mrs' implies a wedding and are there any little (or not so little) Intruders running around? If so that might have something to do with it.

But I'm still so excited to see what the JWT finds out there, even if it will take 20 days to focus after the big Christmas party. We can all relate to that.
 
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