NASA and Arrogance: Old Space at Its Worst

written by David Mixson

Of all the things that I write about, this topic flusters me as much as any. Private sector space companies have been kicking NASA’s butt for years. Yet, there’s an arrogance that permeates the agency like a deadly poison. I simply don’t get it.

Maybe it’s because management, from the administrator all the way down, is constantly preaching to us that we do amazing stuff, that we’re overworked, and that we’re the best employees on the planet.

What performance metrics are they using?

Am I the only one who sees through the smoke and mirrors?

We’ve spent billions of dollars on canceled programs. We don’t have an Old Space launch vehicle that can launch humans—even though we promised it would be ready years ago. And our Old Space launch vehicle being designed now uses rocket motors that flew on the Shuttle over a decade ago and have been in dry storage since—probably because the agency knew it couldn’t develop engines in time any other way.

And even worse, NASA never does what we say we will do for the money we say it will cost. Am I the only one who reads the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports reaming NASA for its performance?

The arrogance goes even deeper. Far too many folks inside NASA look down on New Space as subpar—less than an equal. This is true even though New Space is building and flying launch vehicles that actually go into space—for a fraction of the time and money.

Has Old Space NASA lost its ability to think rationally?

Perhaps the engineers and managers inside NASA, who are still arrogant, haven’t taken the time to notice that SpaceX lands their first stage boosters back on Earth close to where they took off.

Maybe that’s where the arrogance inside NASA is coming from—ignorance.

A True Story

One afternoon at work, I was riding up in the freight elevator because the main bank of elevators was out of service.

It was crowded, and to break the awkwardness, folks started talking about the main elevators being broken.

All of a sudden, a lady spoke up in a loud, agitated voice.

“It’s apparent the broken elevators weren’t designed by NASA.” 

Several politely nodded their heads in agreement.

I was so stunned that I started laughing. She looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care. Later, I thought, someday, I’m going to share this story.

The Rest of the Story. The lady who got upset in the elevator was one of the building managers. I wrote about building managers in NASA’s Obsession With Cube Safety.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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