Bureaucracy in Space


NASA last month issued a set of loose conceptual rules for private companies that might take over from its own space shuttles in moving astronauts to the international space station. (At only 39 pages, it's very loose indeed for government regulatory work). Some of the points of the certification requirements:

The LOC probability distribution for the ascent phase of a 210 day ISS mission shall have a
mean value no greater than 1 in 1000
b.  The LOC probability distribution for the entry phase of a 210 day ISS mission shall have a
mean value no greater than 1 in 1000

"LOC" is the polite bureaucratese for "loss of crew," that is, killing the astronauts.

The CCTS [Commercial Crew Transportation System] shall provide the capability to isolate and/or recover from faults identified during system development that would result in a catastrophic event….

The CCTS shall provide the capability for autonomous operation of system  and subsystem functions, which, if lost, would result in a catastrophic  event.
Rationale: This capability means that the crewed system does not depend on communication with Earth  (e.g., mission control) to perform functions that are required to keep the crew alive.

The CCTS shall provide the capability for the crew to readily access equipment involved in the response to emergency situations and the capability to gain access to equipment needed for follow-up/recovery operations.
Rationale: Fire extinguishers are one example of the type of equipment needed for immediate response to a fire emergency.  "Ready access" means that the crew is able to access the equipment in the time required without the use of tools.  The ready access time will depend on the phase of flight and the time to effect of the hazard.  Ready access also accounts for suited crewmembers if the equipment could be needed during a mission phase or operation where the crew is suited.  A contamination clean-up kit is an example of equipment needed for follow up/recovery operations.

It's all refreshingly everyday, like the most convincing science fiction. The era of the space taxi is dawning. Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote last month on NASA's efforts to make room for private space flight companies.

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  1. LOC for the space shuttle was ~1 in 75. They seem to be harshening up the standard a good bit.

    1. Actually, I guess more like 1 in 150 each way.

      1. They designed it to be 1 in 1000.

        Ah, the magic of paper.

        1. The first safety analysis said 1 in 75 flights would have LOC accidents. NASA said that wasnt good enough, they needed to redo the analysis. They came back with “Oh we were wrong, actually 1 in 1000 (or whatever it was).”

          They were right the first time around.

          1. Did I say “designed”? I meant “declared”.

            1. Yeah. IIRC from Feynman’s account of the Challenger investigation, he polled a roomful of various types on the LOC guess. Rocket engineers said 1 in 50-75. Managers said 1 in 1000-10000.

          2. Challenger was flight 51, Columbia was flight 107, so maybe the original number was 1 in 50. I remember it being really accurate for the two disasters.

            1. Challenger’s mission number was 51, but it was the 25th flight.

              1. That makes it even worse.

      2. Including Columbia and Challenger? I didn’t realize there had been so many missions.

        Also, don’t forget Apollo 1, although that might not count since they hadn’t even ascended yet.

        1. There have been just over 150 missions, forget the exact number.

          1. Last planned flight is #135.

            1. robc, the STS number doesn’t indicate the actual number of the flight, taken sequentially from the beginning.

              I don’t know the actual number of flights either, but I’m almost positive that Challenger was not the 51st flight and Columbia was not the 107th either.

    2. To date there have been 130 flights in the STS program. So the overall program rate of LOC (and LOV) is 1:65.

      STS-51L (Challenger) was only the 23rd STS flight, and the 10th flight of OV-099 (Challenger), so the effective rate at that point was 1:23

      STS-107 was the 103rd STS flight so effective rate then was 1:51.5

      On an individual orbiter basis,
      Challenger was lost after 10 flights,
      Columbia was lost after 28th flights
      Discovery completed 37 flights
      Atlantis completed 31 flights
      Endeavour completed 24 flights.

      1. wikipedia has Discovery at 38 and Atlantis at 32. 132 total flights.

        While the STS #s dont match up with the exact flight numbers, they are close enough (except for the 41/51/61 series which takes up flights 10 thru 25).

        1. I got my numbers straight from NASA so I guess they need to update their site?

          1. Normally I dont trust wikipedia fully, but on something like this, I trust it way more than NASA.

  2. When will astronauts start having to deal with the TSA?

    1. “Yeah, I’ll take the pat down. Good luck with that, asshole.”

    2. There was a time when STS orbiters did not carry common things like airworthiness certificates or customs materials, or legal manifests, nor did the astronauts carry passports.

      After G. Harry Stine (writing as Lee Correy) wrote “Shuttle Down,” in which the lack of these commonplace documents caused much international agita (in the story), suddenly NASA set about to make sure that each flight -did- carry them.

      Not the first time that Harry changed things through his fiction!

  3. The era of the space taxi is dawning.

    Don’t hold your breath. Anyway, they forgot “Click it or ticket”.

  4. You can hardly expect private enterprise to be able to keep to NASA standards giving the kind of crews they had. Look at that tough old bastard, Buzz Aldrin. Motherfucker was bouncing around the moon in a decompressed suit! He didn’t give a fuck. He just went out there on the surface of the moon like the vacuum could do no more damage to him than injuns could kill John Wayne in Stage Coach.

    All of those bastards were tough as hell. You would need two feet of concrete to deal with the radiation of the Van Allen Belt, as well as protection from cosmic rays between it and the moon. Not those tough sons of bitches. They said, ‘fuck it! Wrap that lunar module in two plies of Mylar and be done with it!”

    Hell, the Apollo 13 crew came back all the way from Lunar orbit through the Van Allen Belt in the module!

    Wussies today couldn’t possibly do that.

    1. Yopu obviously haven’t met NY taxi drivers. Talk about people that don’t give a fuck.

      1. NY taxi drivers. Now THAT would make a good crew!

        Fucking Constellation Project weenies. Did you get a look at their shit plans? Their reports that we wont have the technology to go to the moon for twenty years, spreading lies about the Apollo project just to make the task sound too difficult to do in under a decade. The only thing those goddamn bureaucrats care about is pensions. They were hoping to get thirty years of work out of that one budget fiasco. Obama did the right thing in taking them down.

  5. When will you libertards realize that the individual is irrelevant and we need centralized authority with the right people in charge in order ensure fairness. Also, read my “blog”.

  6. If we move our operations to Mexico, will that finally shut NASA up?

    1. Good luck with any freedom there…

      I’d say bribe a poor Caribbean nation to let us use one of their islands.

  7. Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, regulate. Those who can’t regulate squeal about ‘Climate Change!!!!111!!’ from their posh Manhattan office location.

    NASA – the shorter version.

  8. Interesting. So the actual standards for the shuttle were 1 in 50. The standards for private spaceflight are 1 in 1,000.

    What’s funny is that the private flights probably will blow that standard out of the water, once we have an established, low-cost manned spaceflight industry. Look at commercial airlines.

  9. So, how many of you would get aboard if it was 1 in 50 of checking out?

    That’s what I thought. Pussies.


    1. The astronauts would still have done it. But the scientists might not have. And they couldnt have sent up school teachers and politicians.

      1. Yeah, the astronauts probably would have gone up anyway.

        I don’t remember if it was in Tom Wolfe’s book, but I remember reading about an astronaut who was a Korean War pilot. He talked with contempt about pilots who refused to chase down MIGs – and this during the early part of the war when the MIGs had a tactical advantage over the jets we had.

      2. I could send up politicians. All of them.

    2. Uh, tomorrow. Well, actually I’d like to wait about 9 weeks. January and February are bad months to operate Shuttles. Environmental conditions tend to be at or below the minimum safe operating temperature.

    3. Uh, tomorrow. Well, actually I’d like to wait about 9 weeks. January and February are bad months to operate Shuttles. Environmental conditions tend to be at or below the minimum safe operating temperature.

      1. I’d send the server squirrels without p-suits.

    4. I’d sign up if the odds were only 1 in 10 of making it into orbit. I’d pay to go if the odds were 50/50.

      Nothing would compare to shouting “FU” while getting the hell out of dodge. Except actualy making it out!

  10. Half a billion here, half a billion there……..6166.story

    “Only 39 pages”? Haha! Look at page 26. I especially like:

    “Interim Requirements and Standard Practices for Mechanical Joints with Threaded Fasteners in Spaceflight Hardware”

  11. Brian,
    It’s worth noting that the document you linked to is only one of 3 or 4 documents, and that each of them references additional government standards by reference.

    Wayne Hale, a recently retired former Space Shuttle Flight Director (or at least I think that was the position he held) has a blog where he’s been discussing some of the real concerns with these new standards:

    Also there has been a bit of discussion over on the forum here:


    I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to dig into these too much (my space startup is focused on unmanned spaceflight applications), but I trust Wayne’s judgement on this. While there are some well-meaning folks at NASA trying to make something reasonable, I don’t think Shuttle or Soyuz would actually meet the requirements they’re wanting to dump on commercial companies.

    ~Jonathan Goff

  12. Brian, what you call “polite bureaucratese” is specialist talk. I was not aware of the term LOC but there is similar jargon in the aero industry, not due to being bureaucratic or presumptuous but because the only logical way to work in safety is to define what you mean by “safe” is to define a set of metrics and by extension a set of acronyms.
    LOC is not a polite term for “killing astronauts”, it is a precise definition to ensure unambiguity. Engineers will try to ensure that the LOC rate meets the requirement and the equipment is “safe”.

    1. While there is some truth to this, the fact is that you give these precise metrics acronyms because you are part of a big organization and you are going to write a report, and especially because the report will be excerpted into a bunch of PowerPoint presentations.

      That is to say, because all of this goes on in a bureaucratic context. If you’re lucky, the bureaucracy understands that it exists to serve the engineers. If you’re not lucky, you get official flacks telling the media about 1 in 10,000 odds just before the 23rd flight explodes.

      So “polite bureaucratese” is harsh and unforgiving, but defensible.

      // Works in big science (albeit, in a slightly less risky field).

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