Monday, August 31, 2009

The 118th Carnival of Space

Blog carnivals
are composed of communities of like minded bloggers who contribute their best posts to topic specific community listings, or "carnivals" which are then organized and distributed to other bloggers to provide context and some idea of the top stories of the blogosphere at any given moment.

It's sort of like the internets replacement for the traditional newspaper front page.

One of the best and longest running is the Carnival of Space, organized weekly by Fraser Cain, the publisher of Universe Today. It's focused specifically on space and astronomy and this weeks Carnival of Space (number 118 of the series) is being hosted on the Cumbrian Sky blog.

Check it out. Once in awhile, you might even find some stuff originating from here and re-posted on the Carnival.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

NASA as the Next General Motors and What That Means for Canada

British born Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, defines tipping points as "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable."

That's where we are today with space exploration, research and the development of commercial space activities. We're at their tipping point.

As an example, here are a couple of indications that NASA no longer has the right stuff and has instead become a lot like bankrupt automobile manufacturer General Motors.

  • And finally, any effort to maintain existing NASA jobs ignores the fact that the workforce is aging so quickly that NASA has recently taken action to "rebalance" the age ratio by adapting a policy "that 50% of all new civil servant hires will be fresh-out (of university)" according to the article "Rebalancing NASA's Workforce" on the Open NASA website. NASA workforce demographics are discussed in more detail in the article "Shaping the NASA Workforce for 2020" on the same site but it seems unlikely the "fresh-out" hires will be able to perform the same role as their experienced, but soon to be retired mentors (although NASA could pay the new hires a lower wage).
      So we're got an organization teetering on insolvency, with no money for new products and with an aging workforce. This could certainly describe both General Motors in 2007 and NASA today.

      Of course, we all know what happened to General Motors.

      But even if what happened to General Motors does not or cannot happen in the same way at NASA (if only because it's not a private corporation), the knowledge of the challenges facing the agency and the looming possibility of a similar type of catastrophe cannot help but hinder efforts to cooperate with the agency.

      This is especially true at the Canadian Space Agency with its traditional close relationship (as outlined in NASA Tests Neptec Vision System on STS-128" from

      At the very least, it suggests yet another good reason why there will be no formal updated Canadian space policy document from CSA President Steve Maclean anytime soon. He knows the way the wind is blowing and is likely looking for a sense of what US space focused activities will move forward before deciding if Canada can continue along for the ride.

      I bet he's also planning on maintaining the outsourcing of Canadian launches to non-US suppliers (a continuation of a pattern discussed in my June 19th post on "A Listing of Canadian Satellite Launches") plus planning for greater cooperation with other space organizations such as the ESA, the Russian Federal Space Agency and various private organizations presently developing launch capabilities. It's likely he's also expanding existing partnerships with these organizations in other areas as well.

      So what else is on the other side of this tipping point?

      Perhaps it's a movement towards smaller, more focused and less expensive missions using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies wrapped around aggressive, early prototyping and multiple testing opportunities to create ongoing, incremental improvements similar to those described by Grant Bonin (an employee at the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory) in his article "Microspace and Human Spaceflight."

      The article describes methodologies advocated by many others, including Dr. John McGowan who describes it on a recent episode of The Space Show a simple, old fashioned trial and error testing.

      This is essentially what the Wright brothers did in order to build up to their first, historic controlled flight in 1903 and it's interesting to contrast it with the methodologies of their competitors, especially Samuel Langley who was funded by the US government.

      What will happen to NASA?

      That's easy to predict. NASA employees and their subcontractors will either develop new skills, associations and capabilities to survive or the organization will become irrelevant and either slowly die or be changed into something else useful but in a different (perhaps less inspiring) way.

      As far back as the 1980's, the Toronto based SCTV comedy group was offering suggestions as to how existing NASA skills could be adapted for new activities as shown in the video below.

      Let's hope they're wrong.

      By the way, I'm still officially on vacation. I'll be back in September.

      Sunday, August 02, 2009

      Commercial Space Author "Going to the Beach."

      I'll be taking a month off from the Commercial Space blog this August in order to go to the beach, recharge my batteries and do a little work for a new marketing blog I'm starting for a company called ITerro, which focuses on marketing automation.

      Marketing automation is only one of multiple techniques used in advertising that aerospace and newspace focused organizations should be aware of in order to track clients and personalize targeted marketing messages so this is a definite opportunity to learn from experts including company owner Alek Mircovich and quite a few others knowledgable in this area.

      I'm personally interested in learning a little bit about something called FundingMatch, a Canadian web portal that matches business plans to angel investors and funding mechanisms (it's structured in a very similar matter to the US based Space Angels website which focuses specifically on aerospace).

      With a little luck, we'll get some good information on FundingMatch plus other useful case studies to pass along when I begin posting again in the fall.

      Speaking of which, the Commercial Space blog will be back September 6th with updates and coverage of the 2009 Space Canada Symposium on Solar Energy from Space, the 2009 Canadian Space Summit and the 2010 SmallSat Canada Conference plus ongoing commentary on the Canadian aerospace industry, their partnerships and the politics surrounding those partnerships.

      Until then, anyone looking for ideas for fun things to do at the beach or interested in some of our natural wonders might want to check out the video below.

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