Monday, March 30, 2009

Ares/Orion Slip and Classic Mistake

The latest news about the new NASA Constellation program indicates that they are having cost and schedule problems, this is no surprise, everyone has cost and schedule problems. The surprising thing is that they are deleting tests from the planned program development.

CxP attempted to protect the schedule and budgetary pressures by offsetting these additional strains by deleting test items - notably on the Upper Stage. However, this only proved to cause further disconnects throughout the program.

I suppose it should not be too surprising, this is a classic program management mistake. When the schedule gets tight and the costs get too high above estimates, cut testing. Why? Because it is at the end of the program, and program managers have a bit of hubris that leads them to think that the design is sound because they worked so hard on it up-front. Which is obviously the case because they had to spend more time than they thought in that stage of the program, right? Maybe, but also maybe not, that's why the tests are critically important: to validate the design performance. No slide-show, CAD drawing, CFD or FEA simulation can provide that sort of knowledge.

I can't understand why someone would think that under-testing a new product that is probably delayed and expensive because of its new technology and complexity would produce a good result. Rather than removing unneeded technology or complexity, rather than simplifying or reducing the requirements, they are rushing to field a fragile system. It is unfortunate that the burden of this foolishness is borne by the astronaut corps and not the program managers responsible for these short-sited expediencies. The program manager will probably get a reward, move to a new job, and then astronauts will be at undue risk in an already risky business.

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