Watch out for NASA claims of 'faster, better, cheaper'

I am writing concerning John Rhea's Report from Washington and Elsewhere column entitled, "Faster, Better, Cheaper" in the January issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics.

Mar 1st, 2000

To The Editor:
I am writing concerning John Rhea's Report from Washington and Elsewhere column entitled, "Faster, Better, Cheaper" in the January issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics.

You are definitely "Elsewhere," John Rhea. Better, Faster, Cheaper is the oxymoron to the thid power. The terms are not only operationally exclusive; they are proven - by NASA itself - contradictory! Using the records and uncomplicated logic, here are some of the outstanding NASA results - to present.

Challenger

There were 15 (count 'em fifteen) engineers who said, "Do not launch." This was published sequentially in the Huntsville Times during the post disaster investigation. Here are some quotes from NASA personnel:
- "Do you want us to wait until May, Thiokol?" - NASA, MSFC, Larry Mulloy.
- "Only if it's warm enough." - McDonald, lead engineer of SRB joint design at Thiokol - with his designer, Roger Bojoulais.

As a result of no failure investigation initiation on the part of NASA, a U.S. Senate panel was put in charge of the failure investigation. They did a good job. From that incident, Congress decided it could design/engineer space programs.

In a "cheaper" emphasis, the Space Station was cut from $38 billion to $30 billion and the size halved. The Space Station had just completed Critical Design Review, so design ($38 billion version) was "in concrete." The design to $30 billion was "costly." Now the Space Station is marginal to meet the size requirements for biological experiments, and meeting microgravity.

Hubble Space Telescope

Ever heard of a multi-billion-dollar chunk ($3 billion-plus "corrective actions") of optical hardware NEVER undergoing an end-to-end test? Our Air Force has a chamber to perform such a test - in a vacuum (its operational space environment). NASA relied solely on computer programming to determine perscription/figure and manufacture of the lenses). NO TEST happened until Hubble reached its orbit.

Faster? It took 2.x years to rectify. Cheaper? Add the modifications. Better? It is NOW. Without the other two conditions. I won't mention the loss of $1 billion Mars Observer in 1993.

Mars Polar Lander

Total loss due to - DID YOU KNOW THIS? - NASA did not furnish their MAP of the Mars surface to the contractor responsible for landing the craft! Hence, Lockheed Martin was totally surprised to learn there is a 1-mile-wide, maybe 1.5 mile deep "rut" where they probably (30-plus percent, according to failure analyses) landed the Probe intentionally.

Lets' REALLY examine [Nasa Administrator Daniel] Goldin:
He consented to "team" with Russia - TO SAVE MONEY/COSTS! Surely you know of the BILLIONS we have poured into the Russian space machinery with NOT FASTER (always late) NOT CHEAPER (always our money - up to $5 billion - my estimate and bailout), NOT BETTER.

One year after they were given the total job of design and delivery of the Water Recovery System (supposedly their expertise), the Russian space agency management wrote a letter to NASA saying they could not design, nor fabricate it. The contract - previously let to an American firm - had to be reinstated. NOT FASTER, NOT CHEAPER, but BETTER - yup.

"Darlin' Dan"

Your reason for Goldin's tenure security - he does what he is told by an inept White House. In a cynical "gesture," NASA was told to "team" with the Russians. Those poor people are in Chapter 7. You say the problem is management. And who the Hell do you think Dan Goldin is? And who the Hell in "Disgraceland" is HIS manager?
Better - sure
Faster - sure
Cheaper - sure

Only a Greek tragedy where all die terminally tries for all three simultaneously.

On the Space Station project, Boeing tried four (count 'em, FOUR) forms of integrated product team (IPT). All four failed, setting us back money, schedule, and product worthiness.

THE NASA CUSTOMER, Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., AND Johnson Space Center in Houston MANDATED WE REVERT TO MATRIX MANAGEMENT, OUR STANDARD, PROVEN METHODOLOGY. If you want to know, a single-item program CANNOT work under IPT. I can define the main weaknesses of IPT having been through Space Station.

For 2.5 years of my Boeing career, AVENGER (U.S. Army) missile system, functioned nominally as an IPT. We were only 220 people, who communicated and documented decisions, without encumberment of IPT. We produced and delivered 650 units (first lot). I say nominally because I think we called ourselves IPT to needle the SS guys, and we were so successful. Never, never lose your excellently exhibited engineer bearings - which you have shown every issue - with this exception: circa the 1920's, Bill Boeing was queried by a leading publication of the day, the New York Times.

"To what do you owe the success of The Boeing Company in this new and tumultuous environment of aircraft business?" (paraphrase) Boeing had just landed a large government contract and an even larger commercial acquisition. Quote: "The Boeing Company is a planetary system. And Engineering is 'the Sun."

Keep up your good work. Watch carefully where you critique the heirarchy of military and aerospace management.
Hugh E. Manning
Huntsville, Ala.

More in Test