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23 July 2012 @ 12:03 am
Days 51-56: California, Here We Come  

Just when you thought it's been quiet around here at Michelle In Space, look out! A big old California post with pics and all :D

Tuesday: Tuesday was a normal day at work, although we were all pretty stressed out about finishing our posters before the trip. We had a fireside chat with the director of engineering at Marshall - Chris Singer. Chris was like a less pepped up Marty Kress, heh. He was very friendly and knowledgeable. I think the best thing he informed us about is the PIP program - a way for new hires to move up from GS-7 to GS-11 in a couple of short years. Seems like a pretty sweet deal!

At night we had an early evening speaker - Tim Pickens. Tim was a particularly fascinating guy. He's like a living Tony Stark. He spent all of his upbringing building rockets, and turned that passion into a career. Eventually he formed his own propulsion company - Orion - which was later sold to Dynetics for millions of dollars. Now, Tim uses his fortune to work on pet projects in his "man cave", a house that he's converted into a workshop. He now spends his time inventing many things that belong in many different fields - not just space - and remains sharp, witty, and humble about the entire experience. Like I said - a real life Tony Stark.

After that, there was packing and a lot of Steve Shark trying to drag me into a game of Betrayal. Steve Shark won. As usual.

Wednesday: The crew met up not-so-early to embark on a two hour journey to Nashville airport. The airport is deceptively large. We had to take a bus just to get from the parking lot to the front gate. We were flying Southwest, so there were no assigned seats, and we all got to sit next to our buds on the nonstop flight to LAX. I wanted to go Eoin Colfer hunting, because he was in Nashville for a book signing that day, but I never ran into the Irish wonder.

We arrived in LA around 2:30 local time. Zach and Dean - the other mentor who was chaperoning - met us at the car rental place and we headed off to Hollywood. Our van ended up in a sketchy overpriced lot where they tried to make our van park in a space made for Tonka Trucks, but it worked out alright. Then, we walked through Hollywood Blvd. It's still as crazy as I remember it being when I was 15...although, you do kind of get used to it after you walk around for awhile and learn to ignore the fifteen people trying to sell Star Maps. The Kodak Theater is now the Dolby Theatre and houses a Cirque De Solei show. A few people got crepes at the Dolby mall. I resisted because I knew we'd be eating later, but that turned out to be a bad idea because In-N-Out burger literally only sells burgers. So, I only got fries and a shake, but they were darn good fries and a shake.

After that, we headed off for a two hour drive to Lancaster. It was a very scenic drive. Before dropping off at Hotel Number One, we went to a Wal-Mart to pick up supplies. For most, that included granola bars. For me and Dan, it included candy. Nom.

Once at the hotel, a few of us headed down to soak in the hot tub. Andrew and I chatted in the lobby over Sprees afterward (which would become a nightly ritual).

Thursday: 7:15 leave call for Dryden Flight Center! Actually, our first stop was a local one to a hanger which houses SOFIA - Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. Basically, it's a really big telescope on a really big plane, and I believe the only observatory of its kind.


They're pretty proud about capturing the shadow of Pluto with it. Also, they did a lot of instrumentation inventing with it, which was interesting for me to hear about. The first thing we saw in the parking lot was a bunny, and we were warned about snakes in the hanger. Welcome to the desert.

Our next stop was the real Edwards Air Force Base in the REAL Mojave. Our van got a bit confuzzled about how to get past the gate, but once we were on base, we saw all kinds of jets whizzing by. We stopped at the Test Flight Museum and picked up an awesome amount of free air force swag. Hosek and I took pictures by the B-52 bomber, we saw an SR-71 Blackbird, and Zach impressed us with his knowledge of airplanes. Which is one time of a dozen that Zach impressed us with knowledge of something, because I learned a new rule on this trip - Rule #53: Zach knows everything. It's a little funny how being confined to one topic (ECLSS) with someone all summer can cover-up the fact that they're basically a jack of all trades genius, heh.

From here, we headed to Dryden proper. Andrew informed me of a prank performed on Kevin, a Robo, in which they hid his Stow-And-Go seat and convinced him that someone stole it. We ate lunch in the surprisingly expensive cafeteria and toured various facilities of the flight center. The desert is hot and dry.  Really. I kind of missed humidity. Among the things we saw were the GloboHawk - an unmanned drone used solely for science; the operating trailer for the predator drones, we got to take pictures in the cockpit of a working jet (which resulted in Kevin almost accidentally hitting a live ejector seat - thank God that didn't happen. Kid was having a hard day already).


Andrew strikes a model pose, and Zach wonders why he's in this picture, lol.

We visited a flight simulation lab where Josh did some barrel rolls, Alex landed the plane upside down, and Zach flied the plane like a boss (Rule #53). We also visited an abort simulation lab, where Zach volunteered to be strung up in a virtual reality skydiving/canopy experience. His landing was...splat, but the computer simulation was a little spotty :P

We finished with Dryden and made another two hour journey back to the LA area. We ate dinner in Pasadena at a place called the Yard House. I played up the happy hour specials and got an entree and dessert for $11. One of the tables wasn't so lucky and had to find a way to split a $280 check. On TV was some very strange chariot style horse racing. Then, we headed to Griffith Observatory. Traffic was packed to get up the mountain. Hosek was super excited that everyone was so interested in astronomy...but it turns out they were all there to see Al Green at a Greek Theatre up there. Cue dissapointed Hosek. Parking was maddening and we had to walk about a mile around a gorge to actually get to the museum. Once there, we didn't have much time, but the view over LA was quite impressive and lovely. It was nice to visit, even if briefly.

The gang headed to Hotel Number Two - the Holiday Inn at Pasadena. Most people went to bed early to prepare for the crazy packed day ahead.

Friday: Early morning wake up call to head to Honeybee Robotics. It was a brief tour, but neat to see a very small company working on drills for the Mars Rovers. I was pretty miserable with fatigue, deydration, a headache, and a whole number of things making me feel crappy. After that, we trekked to Jet Propulsion Lab. What a hip place. It was hard to tell it was a NASA center, cause it felt more like an arts campus. Our tour guide showed us a 3D movie, some cool Earth climate visualizations, and information about the new Mars Curiosity rover. JPL is the main center for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, so there was a lot of excitement and advertisement for that. We saw Curiosity's model twin and her robotic twin. That's a biggun! No wonder it has to have such a complicated landing maneuver. Curiosity touches down on Martian soil on August 5th or 6th, so the buzz is high. Fingers crossed it works.




We also saw some various workshop rooms at JPL, including a room full of tinker toys and other fun engineering past times. JPL definetly has the cool California vibe to it. Pasadena is a gorgeous area, although the cost of living is surely outrageous. Gas itself was $4.00 a gallon everywhere. We ate lunch at the wicked good JPL cafeteria, made better by free lollipops! At the JPL gift shop, I sucked it up and bought a NASA bomber jacket to put my mission patches on. The adult ones were $110, the youths were $45, and the youth large fit, so I saved a whole lot of money ^_^

Finally, it was the long haul to Space X. Traffic didn't get us too badly, but it still took nearly two hours to get across town to Hawthorne, where Space X and Boeing Satellite Systems were located. It is a surprisingly mundane part of town. Our tour of Space X got some mixed results, with people either loving it or hating it. I think I can't talk about specifics, but I can give you a general gist of the place. Most of my peers will scoff at me for my blasphemy, but I honestly hated it. There was a disgusting level of unprofessionalism displayed (I lost count of the amount of F-bombs dropped by our orientation presenter and our tour guides - I'm not a prude, but even a monkey knows to keep it out of the workplace), a lack of anyone there over age 30 (aka, lack of any experienced wisdom and mentoring), and the sheer negligence that was being displayed with flight hardware. I mean, absolute negligence. I had more than a few raised eyebrows watching people work carelessly on stuff that is supposed to fly into space.

I love that the space industry has gone private, and I can certainly understand why someone would want to avoid the government-style red tape that comes with working at NASA proper. But this is the one company I've seen this summer which openly admits to skirting the edge of safety to save a buck, and then puffs out their chests in arrogance because of it. It actually baffles me how anyone could ignore that, especially since no one who fell in love with Space X has actually explained to me why they do - they've just looked at me like I'm psychotic. Personally, I am heavily dissapointed, and even a bit heartbroken by what I saw there. I was expecting amazement and a glimpse of the future, and instead I walked out with dread. Of course, I am happy we went, because it was very eye-opening and informative to see - I merely think the Dragon may as well be named the Icarus.

At least our day finished with something to brighten my spirits in private industry - Boeing Satellite Systems. I actually did sign a non-disclosure for this one, but I think it's pretty obvious we saw some satellites being built, which were all beautiful and awesome sights. I didn't think construction of a satellite would be that interesting, but I think it was one of my favorite tours of the whole summer. Our guide was lovely and knowledgeable, and everything was very clean and carefully controlled. It was what I expected a space contractor should be, and I was glad to have my support for Boeing confirmed. The environment reminded me a little of ULA (another Boeing company), which was also an awesome place, even though it had been exhausting to tour, heh.

We went to Hotel Number Three - La Quinta at LAX - for a quick-change, and I ended up losing a shoe from two different pairs in the process. Yes, I had two pairs of shoes and I lost a shoe from each of them, essentially ruining TWO pairs of my shoes. Including the ones I bought at Wal-mart on Wednesday. We're still not sure how this happened. We headed off to Yankee Doodle's VIP Lounge where we played some pool and waited way too long for food and drinks. The pool was fun and the food was good but the management wasn't so great. I can't really blame our waitress because she was the only one down there with a group of 30, but that could have been easily modified by the manager.

Back to the hotel an hour later than expected. Andrew's van "supposedly" ran out of gas in a bad neighborhood and had to be pushed (this later turned out to be a prank on Josh, their navigator, for abandoning them). We got to sleep in the next day, so we all had time to chill and hang out with each other. Andrew somehow managed to find a bag of Sour Patch Berries for me, which we've hunted for for weeks now.

Saturday: Sleeping in and then University of Southern California Aeronautics lab! Turns out to be a wicked garage with a vacuum chamber, a solar furnace, and an undergraduate rocket club. A couple of the Ph.Ds (one a former ECLSS alum) talked to us about their projects and what it's like to study Astronautical Engineering at USC. The campus is quite lovely and the food court of all Asian food was particularly awesome too. Dan, Zach, and I got some Korean BBQ that defeated our best efforts, but man I wish we had that stuff in the South. On the way back to the parking garage, some of the bored guys attempted to do human flag poles with varying degrees of success.


Zach! (Rule 53!)


Ford! (lol he looks like he's just holding the pole and we took the picture sideways)

Next, we headed out to La Brea Tar Pits, which was a surprisingly not-remote park in the middle of the city. We saw some skeletons and played in some tar, haha. Forget the wooly mammoth - the most awesome thing I saw was a traffic cone that had quite obviously been shoved into one of the miniature tar deposits on a daily basis, and we speculated about how many times the security guards had to pull that thing out of there.

After another quick change at the hotel, we headed out to the Santa Monica pier. Cue another parking nightmare.


The pier was also crowded as all getout, so Zach, Andrew and I snuck off to get some food away from the beach. We ate at a British pub which was quite good. I was a bit envious of Zach's awesome looking curry and Andrew's pork chops, but my chicken sandwich was good for a chicken sandwich. Then, we passed a British store, where I wishy-washed about twenty minutes over what to buy from there, with a few nudges from Zach, who is British by marriage. He handed me a hippo cookie filled with nutella so I was like "okay, I'll buy this", but the main thing I bought was a surprise for the boyfraan ;)

I really wanted to get some Vegemite but it was ridic expensive for something that probably tastes terrible and over 3oz, so I couldn't take it on the plane. Alas. I really wanted to buy some sticky toffee pudding, but I dunno what I even would have done with that, since we didn't have a fridge. Or forks.

The crowd met back up and headed to the hotel for packing and hanging out. We got up early Sunday morning and shuttled off to LAX. The plane ride was long and dry but we were glad to be home eventually. Posters are due tommorrow at 9am, so we're all bustling around and trying to finish those. One more "real" week of work before all the deliverables have to be...delivered :P On the plane home, I sat next to a woman who lives on Daniel Island and whose children go to Divine Redeemer. I said, "I live on that street". Small world, and it made me miss home a bit. The gate next to the one we exited from was going to Charleston, and although I've had fun this summer, I think I'll be quite happy to return to the real world at the end of next week. Dad is visiting this week, and I have the rest of the fam and Austin coming next week, so at least a bit of home is coming to me before I have to pack up and say goodbye.

Now that our California trip is over, it really is downhill from here.

Mood: amusedamused
(Anonymous) on July 23rd, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
Age of employees at SpaceX
Well this post is sure to fire up some people =p I don't intend to argue with you on the internet about SpaceX, but there is an error in your post you and your readers should be know about. a lack of anyone there over age 30 (aka, lack of any experienced wisdom and mentoring) It was stated during the tour that the average age of the SpaceX employee is 30 years. Math dictates that either every SpaceX employee is 30 (which we know to be false), or there is a mix of employees between 22ish and above. Because I follow private space closely, and spaceX in particular, I can confirm that the "aka a lack of any experienced mentoring and wisdom" statement, is false. Not only are there many experienced Aerospace employees at SpaceX, there is at least one former astronaut. Even if you discount the spacex employees, there is a lot of mentoring and advice given by NASA. NASA has a lot of oversight into spaceX, and have helped them develop their technology from the start. As a part of the COTS program NASA has been reviewing SpaceX's designs, planning, and manufacturing. Anyway, I respect your opinion even if I disagree. -Jonathan
michelleinspacemichelleinspace on July 23rd, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
I know I just told you this, but I'm posting it anyway for the benefit of my readers :P I think this was taken a bit too literally. There are over 1800 employees at Space X. Obviously some of them are going to be over 30. Elon Musk himself is in his early forties. I'm merely recounting what I personally witnessed in the high bay and the workplace - lots and lots of people in their twenties and early thirties, especially when compared to other places we've seen - Dryden, ULA, Boeing, or here at Marshall. I believe the internship coordinator said something like 40% of their work force are fresh-outs as well, which is pretty high.

The main reason I'm worried about the lack of mentoring is not about who is there currently, but because of the quick burn-out rate they will experience with their employees. Someone cannot work 70-90 hours a week for decades and expect to settle down, raise a family, and retire like that. It seems like, in general, it's a place people will go for a few years after college, work hard, make connections, and jet off somewhere else. With such a quick turnover rate, you aren't going to see a ton of people saying "Yeah, I've been at Space X for fifteen years, here's how it goes," unless they get into a tried-and-true production groove and figure out how to properly distribute the work. It looks like they're bringing in hundreds of new employees each year, so they're at least moving towards that goal. I once heard the phrase, "If anyone is working overtime, you need more employees"!

Because Space X is a private company, I'm honestly not sure how much they have to listen to NASA about quality control. I'm assuming that they have to listen quite a lot, with NASA's money behind them, but the visual evidence strangely does not suggest that. It's all pretty baffling to me, mostly because I'm poorly versed on the interface between NASA and Space X and how much interaction/control they have with each other. All I can really talk about is my own visual and kinestetic experiences with the tour.

Heh, I dunno why people get so fired up about my opinions on this. People are quite protective over Space X. I've disagreed with plenty of things with the other Academites before, but this time evoked some very dirty looks. My only hope is that people don't think I'm hating on private industry in general. I actually love private industry, and NASA isn't God either - they're on the other extreme of risk adversion and not everyone wants to work for the government. I've enjoyed visiting all of the other private companies this summer - ULA, Boeing, Dynetics - but this one place did leave something to be desired, for me. It's fabulous that they're getting so much done and making such tremendous progress - and the competition that Space X evokes with other companies will bring prices down, hopefully - I just hope that they're careful and don't get too cheap and risky with their manufacturing.

Edited at 2012-07-23 03:52 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on July 23rd, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
Michelle, you are more than welcome to have your opinion. This blog is your opinion and NOT "the official" opinion of the NASA Academy so people shouldn't get all upset about it! The truth has no agenda. I know as well as others how much you looked forward to visiting SpaceX and I also know it took a great deal of insight and maturity to speak out about what you saw and how you felt after the visit. Sometimes being a visionary and a realist at the same time makes you the lone voice crying in the wilderness. Working for a defense contractor, what I read rings true. Sometimes the with the pressures of deadlines and budget cuts, corners are cut and quality is not always the way anyone would like it.---even with government money and oversight. It happens everyday in business. It is naive to think that it doesn't.

michelleinspacemichelleinspace on July 23rd, 2012 05:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
Thanks. I wouldn't call myself a visionary, but I agree that my blog represents my thoughts. If I was writing the weekly summaries for the Academy website, I would be more muted, but I feel like this is an outlet where I get to be honest about the good and the bad things I experience through the summer. Luckily, it's mostly been good!

Also lucky, I'm not a lone voice. Zach and Andrew were both uncomfortable with Space X, and Andreea was too. I did find it interesting that it didn't sit well with any of the older members of our party (although admittedly, I'm not sure about what the other mentor - Dean - thought of it. I've heard mixed things). It was just an observation which made me go "hmmm".

Quality control is always a tricky issue, even here at NASA. I mean, our high bay at ECLSS is terribly scattered and unorganized - but we aren't building flight hardware either. I only know that when I toured ULA, I didn't take one look at the rocket parts and think "well that looks flimsy."
(Anonymous) on July 23rd, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
Hey! Nice post, thought I'd join the conversation =P

I actually agree on several points you make concerning SpaceX, especially those concerning professionalism. If anything is for certain its that the culture SpaceX encourages is a polarizing one, albeit intentionally so- they admit to modeling themselves after a Silicon Valley start-up, and I think they have taken that and run with it. It has its pros and cons for sure. Your opinions on that are certainly warranted, and I even agree to a point!

What I do disagree with is your assertion that SpaceX is in the business to cut corners. They absolutely never admitted to "skirting the edge of safety to save a buck" and I don't know where you got that from. The arrogance... I'll give you that one =P haha

SpaceX's strategy for cutting cost is almost 100% bureaucratic and business structure, and Elon Musk has been extremely explicit on this topic in interviews. NASA produces expensive hardware largely because they test everything into the ground in order to build a statistically sound model to allow them minimal material. Tim Pickens said himself that NASA typically engineers hardware with a safety factor of 1.25. In Industry (he specifically used The Space Ship Company as an example), they save money by choosing to make things MORE safe, often with a safety factor of 3 or more.

Similarly, if you remember our ULA tour guide commented on the cost difference between US and Russian engines. She said that the Russian engine is heavier, but far cheaper due to the higher safety factor. It is a tri-point trade off between safety, weight, and testing strategy. The only one that demands man-hours, ie the single most expensive resource required to build rockets, is testing / quality assurance. SpaceX achieves its goal of reducing cost by building on research already performed by NASA and incorporating a HIGHER safety factor.

It is also part of SpaceX's ideology to use only tried-and-tested methods. They do not engage in R&D, specifically to avoid taking the risks associated with using technology that has unknown performance. This is another strategy to keep cost down, and it is one that again does not trade in safety for dollars.

Sacrificing safety for $ is honestly the absolute last risk a private space company would take, and they are likely even more motivated to avoid taking these risks than a government agency. NASA chugs along and continues to produce science and exploration, despite several tragic failures. If SpaceX were to suffer a loss of life event, even a mission failure in space in the near-term, the company goes away. Period. Game over. The engineers and leaders at SpaceX are not only motivated to keep astronauts safe for the same ideological reasons that NASA is, it is additionally motivated by the survival of the company and their jobs (how often have we heard that civil servitude comes with near complete job safety?)

As for what "negligence" you saw on the shop floor, what Yancey said. And there is no precedent for how long people will choose to stay at SpaceX, chances are good that some people are willing to put in more hours at work than you are. Even the contractors I work with here at msfc put in 10+ hours on a consistent daily basis. Most industries are full of hard-working people putting in overtime, whether it gets officially counted or not. For example, I know my mom puts in a comparable number of hours as a 7th grade math teacher haha, and all I ever hear about education is that teachers suck and aren't doing enough to help kids get A+'s on everything lolwut. I commend the guys at spacex for being willing to bring a healthy urgency back to the space industry. I for one would jump at the opportunity to work someplace that has high expectations for every employee.

You put up some good, valid assertions, I just wanted to throw in my 2cents!


ps- your approach comes across much better in writing than it did in person the other day when you scoffed and said "SpaceX is gonna get people killed, if you want to be a part of that, go right ahead." I'd be happy to be part of the solution to overcome the monumental challenge that is space exploration, Thank you!

Janet Iannantuono on July 23rd, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
Great write up Jacob. I think you hit the nail on allot of things. If the are not doing R and D work, then yes they are saving a ton of money. Unfortunately, they won't have allot of innovation. But short term, it's not a bad business model. However, when ever you start messing with the good old $, there is always the risk of shortcuts--even when your dealing with human life. I'm not so sure that even an accident involving human life would close them down--unless negligence is involve, would shut them down. If that was the case, most of the major airline manufactures wouldn't exist. When your young, working 10-12 hours a day doesn't seem that big of a deal when your trying to make your way in the world and it's a job you are passionate about. However, it does wear down on you after awhile. Motivation weakens, job satisfaction declines, people get apathetic and that is where the mistakes start happening. That is not directly SpaceX's fault, humans make mistakes, but it is their responsibility for creating the environment. I think Michelle is right about one thing. It's probably a great place for people to work for a few years, get a good resume' item and then move on to something else. This is common practice really anywhere these days. Nobody stays at the same job anymore. Ok, I've been at my job over 10 years, but I'm old ;-)

Edited at 2012-07-23 10:49 pm (UTC)
michelleinspacemichelleinspace on July 24th, 2012 03:36 am (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
They absolutely never admitted to "skirting the edge of safety to save a buck" and I don't know where you got that from.

Well, they didn't "absolutely never" admit to it, because our tour guide admitted it, lol. I can't remember if we had the same guide, but he was describing how the Falcon's shell width, and said something along the lines of "It's just thin enough to get the job done while still being a tenth of the cost". This is the part where I formed the opinion about them skirting the line of safety.

No business sets out to make a crappy product. But when you have a largely inexperienced work force, coupled with fierce deadlines and sky high egos, it happens. When you have less time to be careful, and overconfidence, you perform less carefully. Also, as a side note, I got the impression that if you weren't an arrogant bigshot who went to the right school, you'd never have a shot at getting an interview there, so it alienates a lot of really intelligent and capable engineers who actually have humility, lol.

My concern with quality assurance is almost entirely at the manufacturing and construction level, not a the research one. They definetly do save money in all the ways you mentioned, but you're forgetting that they also save money by using alternate materials, or remodeling non-flight hardware into flight hardware, which our tour guides openly described multiple times. I'm not sure why they proclaim to use "tried and tested" methods, because a lot of what they described doing appears experimental.

Because I'm not certain of the non-disclosure which may or may not be hovering over our heads, I'd prefer not to go into detail online about the workmanship, but I'm happy to discuss it in person if you'd like. Zach was the one who pointed some of them out, and although he is also young, he's a fairly well-versed aerospace engineer who is fiercely passionate about learning things correctly. I know that he is far better informed about flight hardware construction and quality control than either of us are, and I trust his judgement. I feel like if I walk into a space manufacturer with a aerospace engineer who works for NASA, and an intern who's still in undergrad, I'm probably going to give the engineer's opinions more salt.

chances are good that some people are willing to put in more hours at work than you are.

I'm perfectly willing to work hard, if I know the product I'm creating is a sound one. Space X hasn't been in the business long enough for us to know. I do hope they keep it up, because if they figure out how to be sustainable and reliable, that's a fantastic thing for the space industry.

If SpaceX were to suffer a loss of life event, even a mission failure in space in the near-term, the company goes away.

Of course, because no one would buy their product anymore. The logic is perfect, but here's the rub - the people at Space X show a level of arrogance that suggests they don't realize a mistake can happen. It's like Dragon is the unsinkable Titanic. If you were to tell me any of this before visiting the plant, I would be completely with you, because all of it makes perfect sense with how a company should be run. But...after actually being there, and seeing how people behave, the hubris there is pretty unsettling IMO. Almost every NASA tragedy has been the result of compliance. If Space X hasn't been humbled by a failure yet, coupled with their already sky-high egos, it's only natural to slip into a false sense of security. NASA was guilty of it multiple times. When Jen talked about Grasshopper, she said "some people don't think we should do it, but we're doing it anyway." I'm not sure how literally I should take her unprofessionalism as the voice of Space X, but it made me curious to know why people don't think they should do Grasshopper and if those concerns are maybe valid?

I am glad to hear about why you actually like Space X though, because you're the first person to give me a reason why they're worth defending, instead of jumping to their aid like it's just a personal affront. At the end of the day, we all want progress, and there's different routes to get there.

Edited at 2012-07-24 03:43 am (UTC)
(Anonymous) on July 24th, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
Y'know, You put up one of the most solid cases against SpaceX I've ever heard lol, just have to say (I reallly respect that btw). Most of the people I've talked with even here at Marshall have more of a "They don' got no experience 'n ah don' lahk 'em, they gonna fail, it'll never work" argument. But you don’t appear to be riding on the hipster devils advocate bash-SpaceX train. So thank you for holding us fans accountable!

That said, NASA has also bragged about how thin their fuselage shell width is, and the aluminum can analogy has been made at several other places, so I think that's more of a surprising fun fact meant to impress than anything. I'd be willing to bet that Falcon's shell is relatively thicker when compared to a comparable nasa vehicle (just for fun, bec I really have no idea, and could be totally wrong). Again, the material and even additional weight / fuel required isn't what costs big, it's mostly procedural things. Its cheaper bec spacex builds it all in-house, so there's none of the non-compete vendor contract overhead, middleman markups, etc that nasa gets bogged done with.

Their recruiting views are harsh, I’m 100% with you on that one. They are arrogant and I'm sure that alienates a certain type of humble engineer. Then again, it's nice that they're upfront about it enough to chase away the type of engineer that would probably hate working there anyway.

Yes the remodeling of non-flight hardware into extremely unforgiving space hardware is concerning. I'm with you on that one too! I think [hope] that what they mean by that is that they cut out a bit of the eye-roll-inducing steps currently taken before anything can get used by nasa. Stuff like the $10,000 specially-nasa-certified-for-use-in-space hammer. When we went on the SOPHIA tour, the guy was complaining about how they couldn't get a table in the plane for a microwave, fridge, coffee maker etc because it was going to cost thousands to get everything flight-approved. Instead they all pack lunches and carry on a cooler as cargo. They splurged to get a coffee pot flight-approved for something like 40,000 bucks lol... And it's not just the stuff that actually flies. Every single piece of equipment used for research, manufacture, and quality assurance has to go through a nightmarish procurement procedure just to get the machines on site at nasa. SpaceX can simply buy direct for a fraction of the cost. It's the compounded impact of expensive step after expensive step that spacex has the freedom as a private company to remove from the equation that enables them to build things cheaper than anyone has ever done before. Part of any sustainable industry demands that at some point you just gotta use the hammer and coffee pot that everyone else is using.

I'm completely with you on trusting Zach, since he's got an impressively deep understanding of...really everything. But keep in mind that he is technically one of those "under 30 guys with no experience" you attacked earlier, and what experience he does have is in chem related research in ECLSS, which isn't exactly a production floor environment. I'm willing to give the guys at spacex and the nasa guys currently intimately involved in overseeing spacex's process the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making sure that blatant negligence isn't a problem.

The ego stuff, you're right. But its all speculation at this point and history will just have to play out. It unsettles you, it inspires me, most people couldn't care less, its all a wash. It occurs to me that one's reaction to SpaceX is almost a litmus test for personality type. I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting psychological conclusions you could make about me for being so enamored by SpaceX and their arrogant business model D:
In the end though, I think this discussion has been a really great exercise. In a strange way I've had fun disagreeing with someone who puts up a [frustratingly] solid argument against something of which I hadn't really taken the time to think about why I'm such a strong supporter. Thank you for disagreeing with me. I hereby bestow upon you my official recognition of you to be a strong independent thinker, and a healthy headache of a debate opponent =P

(Anonymous) on July 24th, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Age of employees at SpaceX
One thing about Michelle is she isn't wishy washy :-) She'll argue you to death--should have been a lawer, at least that is what we say. It sounds to me that in reality, SpaceX has some PR issues. Perhaps they misread their audience when you toured and figured for young college students, they had to portrait the young, hip, attitude -including the F bombs to keep you interested. I think they totally missed the mark as you are all much more mature, and informed than your average engineering or science students. You guys are highly motivated, and talented individuals. I think in the effort to be "cool" for you guys this may have made them appear more reckless than they actually are. But time will tell.
Lauracosmic_reverie on July 23rd, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
Ha! I've never heard Tim called Tony Stark before but it fits. He's a fun guy; I see his name pop up everywhere. Speaking of SpaceX, he once offered to call them up for me to get a job there but I don't know if he was serious and I didn't take him up on the offer. He's a good man to know.

So cool that you got to go to Dryden, Honeybee, and SpaceX! I've only been to JPL in that area. I am pressurized by your account of SpaceX. I knew that they do things on the quick and cheap and that they like a young workforce, but I didn't realize it was that bad. They succeeded in their last mission so they must be doing something right. We will see whether they continue to succeed. I hope for the best but I'm a skeptic until I see it happen.

As someone who poles, it takes a lot of strength to do a flag pose! I haven't been able to do it yet. Kudos to the men!

Also, Vegemite tastes disgusting and you weren't missing a thing.
michelleinspacemichelleinspace on July 24th, 2012 03:59 am (UTC)
My Aussie friends say you have to eat it with butter :P

Wow, that's awesome that you've interacted with Tim so much. He is kind of a household name in this industry, and I didn't expect him to be so young and down to Earth. Very friendly and funny guy.

My thoughts exactly about Space X. Hopefully they will continue to succeed.
Jonathan YanceyJonathan Yancey on July 25th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
Why I like SpaceX, and what I dont like
That was a nice debate =)

You mentioned that no one had really said outright why they liked SpaceX, so I took the time to say why I like the company.

1. They have done the impossible: Since the company was founded, critics have consistently predicted their failure. Almost as consistently, SpaceX has succeeded. I suppose I like it when the little guy wins against expectations.

2. They have a lot of energy: From my experiences at ULA and Boeing, I feel that SpaceX definitely had a lot more excitement and energy. I find that environment stimulating.

3. They are willing to try new ideas:
SpaceX is constantly improving on design, fixing flaws, and making their own processes for manufacturing. They move past roadblocks (like suppliers trying to triple costs) quickly.

4. Now that they are successful, they are still attempting the impossible. The concept of a fully and quickly reusable rocket has been decreed impossible, but spaceX is trying it anyway with the grasshopper. It exciting that they haven't become complacent now that they have been successful.

5. SpaceX's main goal isn't to make money. Their goal is to make spaceflight affordable, quick, and common. Also, they want to go to Mars. Profit is necessary for that to happen, just as the airlines must be profitable if we are to continue flying. Elon Musk has always said that SpaceX's goal is to expand human life beyond earth. I believe him.

6.Elon Musk is the CEO: What can I say, the guy is cool! He started an electric car company, SpaceX, Paypal, and is a part of Solar City. Talk about impressive!

What I dislike:
The cockiness. It doesn't bother me, but I am afraid it could cause problems in the future. It is important to be confident that you can succeed while remaining aware that mistakes can happen.

Well, that's my two cents. I'm sure I could think of more things but this will do.
If you want to talk more about it you know where to find me, if I am not sick haha.

Jacob KeithJacob Keith on July 26th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
Mike Griffin is a boss. An absolute genius and without a doubt the wisest person we have talked to the whole summer. He commands a room with poise and eloquence, deeply understands the way the world works from small detail to enormous societal impact, and deserves every bit of respect he receives.

I just hope he's wrong about the commercial space industry.
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