Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The NASA Toaster. For more, see here
Space exploration and exploitation is slowly but surely going on a new trajectory, one of NASA leaving some pieces of the puzzle to the private market including design. For example, through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX fot getting cargo to the International Space Station without designing the rocket or capsule at NASA, thus allowing SpaceX to design and build the hardware, letting it do more than space contractors did in the past.

This shift is not easy, especially when human life is at stake, as the existing model where NASA has very close control over the design and manufacturing of space hardware, especially manned spacecraft, was put in place for crew safety reasons. Instead, NASA will have to trust private companies to design the hardware, which will have to pass a safety standard (for example, NPR 8705.2B, "Human-Rating Requirements for Space Systems").

In the following years, there will be cases of inertia and fall-back on how things have been done in the past 50 years. Even in software companies I worked for, a lot younger than NASA, inertia and resistance to new ideas occasionally manifested in the form of the statement "but that's how we've been doing it for the last 5 years". Yes, old-and-comfortable is as cozy an environment as a 3 year old favorite blanket.

My request to our elected government officials and those who will be designing and building space hardware in the upcoming years - for every decision, every design, every expense - ask yourself and honestly answer the following question from the perspective of benefiting humanity progress into space: Is this really necessary to be done within NASA and the old controlled way or should this be a commodity NASA buys as a shelf product from someone else?

In short - Is this really NASAssary?

1 comment:

PillowNaut said...

Awesome toaster and good point all around. "...but that's how we've been doing it for the last X years".

OH MY GOD I HATE THAT ATTITUDE. Serious pet peeve. With that mode of thinking, FIRE never would have been invented. "...but we've always just tossed these animal skins over our shoulder when it snows. Come back into the cave and stop making trouble. You and your flint sparks. Sheesh."