Broadcast 1427 (Special Edition)

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Guest: Don Nelson. Topics: NASA management problems and resolutions. We welcomes Don Nelson of Nelson Aerospace Consulting to the program. You can learn more about what Don Nelson spoke about on this show by visiting his website, In addition, please note that you are invited to comment, ask questions, and rate this program on the new Space Show blog, In our first segment, Mr. Nelson introduced us to NASA management problems, their origins, and provided us with many examples of what he was talking about. One of the recurring themes throughout today's program focused on the need for accountability and oversight. He shared with us his experience with his shuttle work where his signoff signature needed to be reviewed by 22 oversight individuals who just rubber stamped his signature. He talked about growing the shuttle program to 24,000 people and why the larger number created more problems. This led us to a discussion about our national aerospace workforce and he said that the workforce was regarded as a national treasure. He defined that in a way that may surprise many of you so listen to what he said. During this segment, Don had much to say about Ares 1, Constellation, and Orion. He challenged the safety, especially with Orion, and said that to meet the changing flight characteristics of Ares 1 to solve those problem, NASA took out safety features in Orion to lighten the mass. He then talked about the static margin for Orion. About midway through this discussion, I asked Don to define static margin which refers to center of gravity. He said the static margin was very sensitive and every time a change came in, the static margin had to be redesigned. Don talked about the idea that NASA centers were not so team oriented and often individually focused for the center only, not for NASA as a whole. He said this was part of the management set of issues. In the second segment, he again stressed accountability and oversight. One of the listener questions dealt with the younger engineers and employees at NASA having a say in things and Don suggested no, they typically go along and don't rock the boat. In returning to the oversight issue, he said it needed to be independent with clout. I suggested this was needed across the board with government today and that pointing only to NASA was unrealistic since NASA is reflecting problems throughout government and today's society and culture. Jim in Alabama sent in a note asking why he was targeting Marshall in his comments. Don replied that he was not targeting Marshall but did say Marshall and JSC are the biggest contributors to the problems he was talking about, followed by KSC. Don was asked if he had any conflict of interest or financial interest in any outcome for NASA or any of its centers. Don said no to both. Don is supportive of keeping shuttle flying but as an unmanned robotic vehicle to hold the costs down. He said shuttle already has that capability. It would reduce about 2,000 lbs of mass in the front end, freeing that up for payload and adding crew escape to shuttle. Don then said we would be unable to solve the launch cost problem using expendable rockets. When asked about transitioning to commercial rockets, he said as long as they were expendable, the launch costs would remain very high. Near the end of the program, we talked about media reporting and suggested that the general interest news media would need to report a story such as NASA management issues. Listen to hear why. Our guest made it clear he was not NASA bashing, but was in fact a strong supporter of NASA, but one who wants to get it on track in solving the problems he highlights. He says he talks to top NASA people all the time and frequently goes to Congress with his message. If you have questions or comments for Don Nelson, you can email him through his website or by using



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19 Sep 2010 Don A. Nelson
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