Posts Tagged ‘United Space Alliance’

'This Week In Space' – July 11, 2010

July 11, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available for your viewing pleasure.  Please give us a look…

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ET-138 rolls out at the Michoud Assemby Facility. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. We begin with a big orange caboose – if you will. The last space shuttle external fuel tank on the manifest made its way out of the barn at  Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank  is known affectionately as ET-138…but you can can call her “E” if you like. Tank builder Lockheed Martin pulled out all the stops for this one – hundreds of workers were on hand while a brass band played. The tank will ride on its custom barge to the Kennedy Space Center where it will be mated with Endeavour, now slated to fly the final shuttle mission N-E-T – or no earlier than – February 26th, 2011. Now there is one more tank that will be shipped from Michoud – it will be used by Atlantis should the Endeavour crew get in a jam – and need a lift home. And this is where I get to put in my plug for flying that tank – with Atlantis – one more time. Why not? And this is also where I get to nag you: if you have not seen a shuttle ride the fire to orbit – you are assigned to be at one of the last launches. No excuses. There will be a test later.

Tanks for the memories – I guess – prime shuttle contractor United Space Alliance announced its largest layoff to date –  15 percent of its workforce.  Most of those employees are in Florida – since that is where most of their employees live.  Somewhere between 800 to a thousand wrench turners and pad rats will be getting pink slips.   Another 400 or so will be sacked from other USA operations. More cuts, are expected of course as the program winds down.

And that would explain the turnout at recent job fairs at KSC – somewhere between 2 and three thousand shuttlers showed up to press the flesh and hand deliver some resumes. About 60 public and private sector employers showed up. Can you guess which company had the most popular booth? Why that would be a certain California based launch company called SpaceX.  Better SpaceX than ex-space I suppose.

If any of those jobless USAers are space history buffs – and I know there are more than a few you – you may want to consider this job: official NASA historian. apply at USAjobs.gov by the 13th. Also in the comings and goings department – NASA’s Wayne Hale is hanging up his headset but we hope not his keyboard – the veteran flight director, shuttle program manager – and eloquent blogger says its a personal decision. I sure hope he keeps sharing his pearls of wisdom with us. And the Hubble repairman just added another line to his long resume – John Grunsfeld is now a research professor at Johns Hopkins. he will keep his gig down the road as the number two man at the space telescope science institute – which is Hubble Science Central. Hey if he can’t multi task – who can?

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Shuttle Extension?

February 13, 2010
Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

Once the shuttle are in the museums – NASA’s only ticket to ride to the space station will be on Russian built Soyuz rockets. NASA has already bought six seats at about 50 million a pop – no frequent flier discounts – But now it appears the head of the Russian Space Agency – Roskosmos – is spoiling to drive a hard bargain for any tickets beyond those flights. Anatoly Perminov told Interfax “Excuse me but the prices should be absolutely different then!”

Seems like they are better at turning space into a business than the U-S. Oh the irony there… All of this is more fodder for a persistent group of people who say it is not too late to save the shuttle – or at least fly it a lot longer than four more missions. One of them is one of the top people at the prime shuttle contractor the United Space Alliance. Howard DeCastro spoke with me at the Cape before he watched Endeavour take flight for her 24th voyage.

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Some Stories are too Good to Check Out…

June 19, 2009
pad-rat

I wish I had a T-shirt like this (yes, that is a hint).

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — WESH 2 News struck a nerve with an exclusive report as NASA actively works to prevent shuttle sabotage from within its ranks.

While there is no indication that sabotage has ever or will ever happen, officials said it is on the space agency’s radar as the shuttle program winds down.

While the deputy manager of the space shuttle program has said publicly that NASA has had many discussions about the possibility of intentional damage to the shuttle, officials emphasized on Thursday that there is no evidence it has happened.

via NASA: Sabotage Possibility Investigated For Years – Space News Story – WESH Orlando.

It’s getting pretty ugly out there, Space Cadet Nation.

We all know every reporter worth his notebook wants to score a scoop – a big “exclusive” that will make him a newsroom hero – but sometimes the pressure to produce will lead a good scribe down a dark alley.

This item from WESH-TV in Orlando is a good example of how a rumor mixed with a hunch leads to some pointed, loaded questions, which in turn prompts some unclear, easily-misconstrued answers.  Voila – an Action News Sensation! Too bad it is not “sweeps” month…

But sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story. I suppose the “exclusive” has a little truthiness to it: a program in its autumn years, thousands of jobs about to disappear…surely the workers are desperate to do anything to keep the paychecks coming. Surely.

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Site of the Hydrogen Leak that has caused three shuttle scrubs.

But I am not talking about the workers who make the shuttle fly (men and women who proudly call themselves “Pad Rats”) – I am referring to the local TV reporters who are facing the imminent demise of their business. Might they be tempted to engage in a little sabotage of the truth to keep their jobs? Perhaps we should ask their managers about this?

Here is what I know to be a fact: The Pad Rats – and all the other shuttle workers at the Kennedy Space Center –  are the most committed, conscientious, diligent people on the planet. They take their risky business very personally – and are constantly focused on the safety of the men and women who strap themselves to the rockets they prepare for launch. It is inconceivable to me that they would do anything that would put them – or their fellow workers – in (greater) harm’s way.

And then there are a few practical things to consider:

First, the shuttle is set to retire at the end of 2010 – no matter how many flights are in the history books. Even if workers were adding delays by busting valves, crossing wires or siccing a woodpecker on the fuel tank foam, they would not be changing the date of that last paycheck one iota.

And no one does anything at or near a space shuttle alone. Ever. It takes a village to tighten a bolt on a booster. Every step is considered and approved by a safety guy. The work is watched by a quality control expert to insure it is done to spec. And the customer is present as well: a NASA civil servant is there to add his/her imprimatur and “buy the paper” documenting the work (remember, the wrench-turners who work on the shuttle are employed by the United Space Alliance and its subcontractors).

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Astronaut Susan Still shaking some "Pad Rat" hands after landing in 1997.

And finally, there are the people actually doing the work. They also don’t do much of anything alone. So it is quite a gaggle at the site of every piece of important work aimed at getting a shuttle ready to fly. Might there be an unhappy camper in the bunch? No doubt. These days the mood is pretty sour in the Space Cadet Nation – especially in the Province of Shuttledom. It is never fun when the party is over. But any sabotage campaign would require a fairly large conspiracy by some people who are not wired to think that way at all.

Of course reporters are wired just the opposite way.