Friday, March 23, 2007

Space Access ‘07 - Friday evening - Jerry Pournelle on living with bureaucracy

Jerry Pournelle asked why he was here and qualified to speak. He is here because of experience - long experience and many horror stories. NASA offered a get away special. Jerry proposed putting ashes in space. NASA was surprised and upset. He was also involved with DC-X. Learned a lot from it. Jerry was involved in space suit development. He was at Boeing. Jerry was on the Citizen’s Advisory Council for incoming President Reagan.

Why is he here? To get out of Hell. His next book is about Dante's Inferno. Technically this trip is justified as preselling for his upcoming book.

He asked What Do We Want NASA To Do? Then said well that isn’t going to happen.

Jerry is here to give us a hard dose a reality.

Pournelle’s Iron Rule of Bureaucracy. In a Bureaucracy there are two types of people. Those dedicated to the mission of the organization. And those dedicated to further their power and keep the bureaucracy strong. The second group is always in control.

He asked who looks after our grandchildren? Kings, Great Aristocratic Failures, The Church, Bell labs. These are all gone. What is left? The Government. The one exception is the military. If there have been wars then the leaders have survived being in front of troops without being killed.

If we have to depend on the government, and the government always messes things up, are we doomed? We have done things with good things with government.

Jerry has been making a call to have Congress pass a law that Congress would pay $10 billion, tax free, to an organization which kept a colony on the moon for three years and a day. He has been making this call since something like 1980.

Jerry said that during the development of air NACA helped. The government built air wind tunnels. He said then McNamera canceled X programs because the United States didn’t want to have an arms race. X programs worked too well.

X Projects were typically 4 years. There was no new technologies. They would get build with present state of the art. Their purpose was to push the envelope, to see what we can do with existing technologies. John Carmack is basically doing X Projects. Jerry says there is no reason we can’t do X Projects again. Congress thinks they are romantic.

Jerry asks “What should NASA be?” It will be a bureaucracy. We have several models: NACA, NSF and BPH. Jerry says we need to figure out what type of bureaucracy we want NASA to be. If we work at cross purposes, nothing is going to happen.

He said Parkinson’s Law is true. Bureaucracy grows fairly steady, irregardless of the work they do. The big companies have a different view on bureaucracies.

He says we need to work together. He is afraid most of us are ignoring politics. If we can get public attention then Congress will pay attention. It will be more effective if we had a united message. If Congress had large projects, then the big guys would dominate. Need to have some projects.

We don’t want to fight with bureaucracy. Give them a reason to change their behavior. The secret of lobbying is the same secret of salesmanship: “I have a problem, can you help me?”

He wanted to end on some positive notes:

It looks like the Nuclear Industry expects to expand. With the current education system we are running technically qualified workers.

We can do it. In World War II we turned uneducated teenagers into qualified mechanics. We built the P-51 from drawing board to shipping the first one to Europe in 91 days.

What’s the best way?

Clearly Prizes are a superior way. Politically difficult in large amounts. Budgeting structures are not ready for authorizations without appropriations.

Jerry ends with “What Man Has Done, Man Can Aspire to.” We have done X-Prizes. We can do them again.

Clark's report on Jerry's talk.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Tim Bendel of Frontier Astronautics
Next: Andrew Tubbiolo, Misuzu Onuki, Kevin Sagis

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