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FY-Eye: Astronaut's NASA Spoof

By Ed O'Keefe

NPR's "Morning Edition" reported today on a YouTube video making the rounds in the broader NASA community, raising concerns that the Space agency has squashed innovation and dissenting opinions.

As NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, "four-time space flier Andrew Thomas tells the fictional story of a young engineer at Johnson Space Center in Houston who has a great new concept for a spacecraft design."

Her attempts to convince her managers go nowhere. They dismiss her proposal with administrative objections even as they assure her that her efforts are valued.
"We don't want to repress dissenting views or innovation like this. That's not how we operate," says a fictional manager in the video. As he speaks, a caption appears and poses a question: "Are you sure?"

Management saw the video at a retreat last month.

One manager, Wayne Hale, posted it on his blog and wrote that he found it "extraordinarily funny and not at all funny."
Hale noted that after the space shuttle Columbia accident, the investigation board said NASA's culture had stifled dissenting opinions from engineers who were concerned about potential dangers. NASA's leadership has been trying to change its culture. "Still, it is hard to tell how effective the change effort has been," Hale wrote.

Watch at least a few moments of the video above. Its producers note at the end that the actors' scripts are based on real events.

"This is not meant to suggest that this kind of culture exists everywhere," the producers state at the end. "But elements of this culture exist in many areas and are huge Barriers to Innovation and Inclusion."

These government employees deserve credit for taking some time to address concerns about innovation in their workplace in an innovative way. Read or listen to NPR's report and make sure to watch the video above. Then leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 9, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  FY-Eye  
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I worked for NASA for almost 20 years, and this is no surprise. People who bring issues to management's attention are punished. I left a lucrative, secure government job because I couldn't get management to pay attention to safety problems and didn't want to be responsible when they killed someone else. When I started making noise, I was called on the carpet. When I finally left over safety problems (which I went as high as the Center Director to report), I was basically told "don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out." My final paperwork was falsified to show that my reason for leaving was "to find another job." My reason for leaving was that the NASA culture is so broken that they will waste taxpayers' money and cause injury and death in a futile attempt to keep to schedule and present a good face to upper management. Not to mention a culture where a manager's idea of attending "mandatory managment training" is a pizza and beer party at her house for her underlings (during work hours--your tax dollars at work) while she "watches" a video that's supposed to teach her how to improve the NASA culture. Or where a safety standown (everyone stops work because of too many accidents and reviews the cause) is scheduled for the same time as the NASA Thanksgiving party. Guess eating all that turkey will prevent future accidents.

Posted by: Lucretia1 | February 9, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The current Ares launcher development programs are sadly more of the same. Their designs are fundamentally flawed, both unreliable and unnecessarily expensive. They are make-work for NASA and welfare programs for the usual contractors. After we spend billions on these launchers they will never be used to transport anyone safely to the Moon.

It might be best to close the manned-space parts of NASA or merge them with Defense, leaving NASA to concentrate on unmanned exploration and technical research in support of private developers.

Posted by: raschumacher | February 9, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

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