The crash of NASA's culture

From "A. Autino - TdF" <adriano.autino@xxxxxx>
Date Mon, 25 Apr 2005 11:40:57 +0200
Disposition-notification-to "A. Autino - TdF" <adriano.autino@xxxxxx>

In July 2004, I put online a small paper titled "The ideological failure of the Space Agencies"

In that work I compared the gigantic NASA's project management system with the lean and targeted_to_the_goal one of Scaled Composites. For mounths I asked to myself if I was too hard, speaking about 'ideological failure'. But now, well inside the year zero A.S. (After SpaceShipOne) a series of articles seem to state that I was right. NASA seems to be in the middle of a devastating ideological crisis. Does someone understand whether some new strategic lines are emerging? Nowadays someone could be attempted to react with an overdose of procedures, rules, and bureaucracy.

In other environments, someone started to think that a concept of 'maturity' of the project design processes is better than the old concepts of 'quality', 'total quality', 'excellence', etc... X33 could be called in some way an 'excellent' project, full of futurist technologies, but it never could really fly... The concept of Maturity includes human experience, and capability to assess, case by case, what is really needed, in terms of requirements tracing, testing, etc... to reach the specific goal. Something very different from the maniac focus on documents details of the '80s and '90s quality standards. A focus on processes, more than on procedures. And a capability to assess case by case everything: skills, technologies, methodologies, machines, procedures, taking what is really relevant, in the measure it can be useful, discarding what is a useless burden.

The success of SpaceShipOne was also the success of skilled and experienced people, of the human intelligence vs. machines, automated procedures, gigantic quality systems and bureaucracy. We were maybe not yet able to pull all the lessons, embedded in the success of Burt Rutan and his friends.

Maybe the NASA's big chiefs should be humble enough to invite Burt to teach, provided that he has time and thinks it's a worth work.

Aim high!
Adriano Autino

Read on USA today:
From bad to worse? NASA in culture conflict since Columbia
HOUSTON (AP) - In the years leading up to the Columbia tragedy, the habit of NASA managers was to hammer employees into agreement at meetings or get them so exasperated they walked out, creating a last-stand consensus. It was just as brutal during Columbia's doomed flight: Managers dismissed engineers' concerns about the now infamous piece of foam insulation that flew off and knocked a hole in the shuttle's wing; they downplayed the problem at meetings and, from beginning to grisly end, insisted nothing could be done. What about after Columbia? Has NASA's safety culture changed since the spacecraft and seven astronauts crashed over Texas?
The whole article at:

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