Three quotes from George S. Patton:
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.
Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.
Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.
"NASA cannot afford to continue to invest broadly in electronics research as we have in the past."
-- Thomas O. Paine, NASA Administrator, March 21, 1969-September 15, 1970, on the closing of the NASA Electronics Research Center. Quote from Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership, edited by Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy.
"Now, George created quite a stir with his revised program. Words like impossible, reckless, incredulous, harebrained, and nonsense could be heard behind the scenes. After announcing the plan to the manned spaceflight team, George followed up immediately with detailed schedules. George didn’t sell; he dictated—and without his direction, Apollo would not have succeeded."
-- Robert Seamans in PROJECT APOLLO The Tough Decisions
"We know the advancement of knowledge and the rate of progress is proportional to the risk encountered."
-- Neil Armstrong, March 2004, Houston, Texas
The only product of the NACA was research reports and papers. So when you prepared something for publication, you had to face the technical and grammatical 'Inquisition' ... The system was so precise, so demanding. It assured that anything that was graphical would be readable and understandable, and if it were to be projected on to a screen, there wouldn't be any letters that were too small to read by the audience. They [female editorial authorities trained as English teachers or librarians] just went into that kind of detail. ... That is what NASA needs today.
-- Neil Armstrong in First Man by James R. Hansen
"The culture of any organization is something that every single person is responsible for. Managers need to listen, but people also need to speak up."
-- Eileen Collins in The Times-Picayune, April 17, 2005
If we are going to the moon and back in this decade, we must have rapid decisions. It is good to have all the facts in before you make a decision, but many times a good manager has to decide when he doesn't have all the facts at all. And he may make a better decision because he can focus on the essential information. There is such a thing as cluttering up your mind with too much trivial information.
-- Wernher von Braun, Director in a speech to the The Sixteenth National Conference
on the Management of Research, September 18, 1962
In order for us to use the very best judgment possible in spending the taxpayer's money intelligently, we just have to do a certain amount of this research and development work ourselves. We just have to keep our own hands dirty to command the professional respect of the contractor personnel engaged with actual design, shop and testing work.
-- Wernher von Braun, Director in a speech to the The Sixteenth National Conference
on the Management of Research, September 18, 1962
The Saturn second stage was built by North American Aviation at its plant at Seal Beach, California, shipped to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, and there tested to ensure that it met contract specifications. Problems developed on this piece of the Saturn effort and Wernher von Braun began intensive investigations. Essentially his engineers completely disassembled and examined every part of every stage delivered by North American to ensure no defects. This was an enormously expensive and time-consuming process, grinding the stage's production schedule almost to a standstill and jeopardizing the Presidential timetable.
When this happened Webb told von Braun to desist, adding that "We've got to trust American industry." The issue came to a showdown at a meeting where the Marshall rocket team was asked to explain its extreme measures. While doing so, one of the engineers produced a rag and told Webb that "this is what we find in this stuff." The contractors, the Marshall engineers believed, required extensive oversight to ensure they produced the highest quality work.
Apollo: A Retrospective Analysis, Roger D. Launius, July 1994
"We are being forced to close ... We find that we must effect reductions and consolidations across the board if we are to reshape our programs to meet the nation's future needs in aeronautics and space."
-- Thomas O. Paine, NASA Administrator, December 29, 1969
"We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they've been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work."
-- Scientist in Michael Crichton's 1973 movie, Westworld
"There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies."
-- C.A.R. Hoare, The 1980 ACM Turing Award Lecture
"I'm still not entirely sure what klabs *is*, but I do know it is exactly the reason Tim Berners-Lee was brought into this world."
-- R. Goodwins in sci.space.history, February 2005
"Equipment malfunctions will also occur, particularly during subsystem development testing. In manned flight we must regard every malfunction, and, in fact, every observed peculiarity in the behavior or a system as an important warning of potential disaster. Only when the cause is understood and a change to eliminate it has been made and verified, can we proceed with the flight program."
-- F.J. Bailey, Jr., NASA Manned Space Center, March 1963, in "Review of Lessons Learned in the Mercury Program Relative to Spacecraft Design and Operations"
"It is precisely because it is fashionable for Americans to know no science, even though they may be well educated otherwise, that they so easily fall prey to nonsense. They thus become part of the armies of the night, the purveyors of nitwittery, the retailers of intellectual junk food, the feeders on mental cardboard, for their ignorance keeps them from distinguishing nectar from sewage."
-- Isaac Asimov, "The Armies of the Night"
"Dealing properly with very rare events is one of the attributes that distinguishes a design that is fit for safety-critical systems from one that is not."
-- John Rushby in "A Comparison of Bus Architectures for Safety-Critical Embedded Systems," March 2003
"It is imperative that we obtain data to support, or refute, our positions. It would be easy to take risk-averse position, but we will not do that. This is why we have brought the experts together in order to make the best decisions based on the data. We must use creative ways to generate analysis or test data - in a timely manner, while not being schedule-driven. It is complex to balance these two positions. We need to be aggressive with respect to schedule but forthright with the programs if we will need to impact their milestones. We want the best way to get the right/optimal amount of data. We may offer the program a prognosis based on available data, to allow them to make judgments based on schedule risk. We can, and will, issue stop work requests when deemed appropriate."
-- Ralph Roe, November 13, 2003
"There's were the failure root cause was, the sick culture. The initial problems -- the units mixups -- happen frequently in any complex system, and in a healthy system are detected and responded to constructively. Under the FBC insanity of the Goldin Era, this had become impossible."
-- James Oberg, November 10, 2003.
"We knew it was risky. We weren't stupid," Cunningham said. "Yes, there are things worth dying for. It's the Christopher Columbuses and Neil Armstrongs that move us forward. If Ralph Nader had led the wagon train, we would have never got anywhere."
-- Walter Cunningham, 2003.
"... most accidents are not the result of unknown scientific principles but rather of a failure to apply well-known, standard engineering practices."
-- Nancy Leveson in Safeware, 1995.
"Look, these people are professionals. They're being paid a professional wage. If they have a problem, I expect them to stand up and speak up. Period."
-- Gene Kranz.
"In God we trust, all others bring data."
-- Framed plaque from the '60s, hanging in the Mission Evaluation Room at Johnson Space Center, downstairs from Mission Control.
"Good judgment is usually the result of experience. And experience is frequently the result of bad judgment. But to learn from the experience of others requires those who have the experience to share the knowledge with those who follow.
Barry LePatner, quoted in To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
"All of you must now evaluate your careers and emerge with the knowledge and conviction that you have a professional and moral responsibility to yourselves and to your fellow men to defend the truth and expose any questionable practices that will lead to an unsafe product. Don't just sit passively in meetings when you know in your heart that you can make a constructive contribution ..."
--Roger M. Boisjoly, December 1987, ASME Winter Annual Meeting
The work of specialists must be integrated to an extent not required in other branches of engineering. Engineers in other fields have successfully met the problems of large enterprises, planning the flow of materials, arranging for matching of characteristics of components, securing dimensional agreement of mating parts. In most of these fields the problems can be broken down readily for solution, with the coordination requiring only small adjustments. In a supersonic aircraft or missile, each special problem reacts on all all the others to an extent demanding a new type and higher order of coordination. For example, such an apparently simple thing as the design of a radar antenna cannot be adequately treated without consideration of the effects on the aerodynamic characteristics and hence on the required powerplant. A suitable compromise must be worked out between many conflicting requirements. A group of leaders must be trained who can intelligently make these compromises. They must be men with broad training in many fields with mastery of mathematical and experimental methods of analysis of complex problems, and with a certain boldness of venture.
Aeronautical engineers engaged in work on guided missiles have learned the great stimulus of boldly attempting to design an operating missile. Granting that all the desired basic research has not been completed, the attempt to sink or swim in the venture reveals what the key problems really are and in conjunction with rational mathematical analysis enables the development effort to be concentrated on the real obstacles to progress. Engineers must be taught to use the coordinated experimental and theoretical attack on their problems to utilizing the skills of specialists, and to weigh, balance, and evaluate the data obtained from all. Such is the mode of operation of the engineer in a supersonic age.
"The Dawn of the Supersonic Age," Hugh L. Dryden, Director of Aeronautical Research, NASA Lecture delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, May 24, 1948 and Los Angeles, May 25, 1948.
"When [the U.S. Department of Defense] goes to a college job fair, the person at the next table from a corporation is perfectly able to look at that person in the eye, offer them a job, tell them what the bonus is, tell them where they'll be working and when they can start. When DoD interviews the same people, all we can do is offer them a ream of paperwork and a promise to get back to them in three to five months. It should not be surprising that the most talented folks end up working somewhere other then the Department of Defense."
Donald Rumsfeld, June 3, 2003, as quoted in Spacenews.
"our 'decorator' wants to hang pipe and drape. why? we're dumb 'ol engineers. most of us have had, at one time or another, automobile transmissions opened up in the living room. engineers don't hang drapes. we make car rags out of them."
-- rk, May 2003, responding to a "plan" to decorate an aerospace design conference with curtains and not rockets.
"We can't weaken. As soon as we become wimps and sit on the sidelines, we're going to lose the edge and not just in the [space] arena.
-- Jack Lousma in the Washington Times, February 4, 2003.
"I got to vent my curmudgeonly spleen in a radio interview a little while ago, as I responded to a question about the appearance of criticism of the concept of the shuttle program. I snapped back, 'In this time of justified mourning, I think any appearance of using the coffins of brave people as soapboxes to promote one's own long-standing personal biases is unseemly, if not disgusting. There is a time for national debate, and there is a time for social solidarity in the face of horrible loss. We are not now in the first.'"
-- James Oberg, February 3, 2003.
"Sometimes when you connect the dots you get a picture. Other times you just have a bunch of dots."
-- rk, January 23, 2003
"A good engineer gets stale very fast if he doesn't keep his hands dirty."
Wernher von Braun, 1964
Look, I have plenty of real work to do, I really can do better things with my time than helping people who lie about me and insult me simply because they are incompetent and unprofessional and I am giving them good advice.
-- Anonymous, October 2002 [no, it wasn't me ;-]
"The price of reliability is the pursuit of the utmost simplicity. It is a price which the very rich find most hard to pay."
-- Sir Antony Hoare, 1980.
"Dude, we're going to Mercury"
-- rk, telling the Instrument Manager that a new design will work around a problem in a key microcircuit. August 26, 2002.
"Some teams built extra margin into the systems they installed. 'Kill it with margin' is an important solution to the problem of high risk on single-string systems. Margin enlarges the tolerance for miscalculations, prepares the spacecraft for new environments, and protects against unexpected events."
-- from Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program, H. McCurdy, 2001
"Do you have a date for the PROM?" What one engineer asked another in a meeting, asking about the expected delivery date for a PROM chip.
-- unknown, June 2002.
"Of course! You have to give an editor *something* to change, or he get frustrated. After he pees in it, he likes the flavor better, so he buys it."
-- Jubal Harshaw's secretary has just objected that there's a scansion problem in the poem he's just dictated, in "Stranger in a Strange Land." Editor's note: This was submitted when discussing aerospace managers' tendency to just change things to put their fingerprints on them.
On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
FPGAs should be forbidden in space applications until the designers learn how to design with them.
-- Sandi Habinc, April 12, 2002
The likeliest explanation of any phenomenon is almost always the most boring.
-- Beady's Corollary to Occam's Razor (John Beaderstadt)
Aerospace technology is one of the few arenas of human activity where you can't bluff or bully your way through, or camouflage shortcomings with a blizzard of excuses and rationalizations. Although its practitioners strive for among the most challenging and exciting of endeavors, to overcome (or at least evade) gravity, they realize these dreams must be founded on severe reality. Anything that deflects or distracts from reality is 'bad', and can instantaneously exact a horrifying price from the careless. As the bumper sticker says, "Man forgives, God forgives, nature never."
-- James Oberg, Star-Crossed Orbits
Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design
The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people.
-- Kelly Johnson, Skunk Works.
Somtimes it really helps if you're working with data.
-- Jeannie Vinyard
They have had trouble getting their innovative designs to work as well in reality as they did in the viewgraphs. -- Jeffrey Harris, President of Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Space Operations, AW&ST, December 10, 2001, p. 73.
"Thou hast not to like it - thou hast just to do it."
-- Richard Marcinko, Seal Team Six
But even close scrutiny and the raising of hard questions were often interpreted as attacks that could turn insecure bureaucrats into crybabies.
-- William E. Burrows in This New Ocean, p. 295, 1998.
The history of engineering is full of examples of dramatic failures that were once considered confident extrapolations of successful designs.
-- H. Petroski
No extrapolating without a permit.
-- rk, circa 1988
To assess what difference the addition of a few experienced "rocket scientists" can make to a space team, you have to understand how they work. Most people find it hard to understand the unique contribution that experience-driven intuition and judgment make for space projects. When I was a young space engineer a quarter-century ago helping prepare the first space-shuttle test flights, I was astounded by how my branch chief could walk into a technical review, scan a report or drawing and tap his finger disapprovingly on one particular spot. "There's a problem here," he'd announce softly. "Fix it."
Nine times out of 10, he was right. He would spot the weaknesses and oversights in our work with uncanny clairvoyance. We were bright, highly educated and hard-working engineers, but we didn't have the years of experience under our belt on which our intuition would ultimately grow. Grow it did, but it took time.
During the past quarter-century, I've seen dozens, even hundreds of cases in which such assessments by old-timers identified and allowed correction of the engineering mistakes of their colleagues. Space vehicles were designed and operated better and safer as a result. And, on a few occaisions, expensive disasters were avoided.
-- James Oberg, USA Today Opinion, December 7, 1999.
One of my favorites, when someone went to his manager with a proposal for a project that I almost got to work on: "I like your proposal. I like the schedule. I like the cost. I like the approach. However, there is one tiny problem - the people. You have staffed with super-stars! If you came in early, under budget, with a perfect product, then I could only appraise you as meeting minimum requirements. But, I'm going to give you a chance to excel! These are the people from whom you get to choose your staffing." Don't underestimate the difficulty of staffing with real-world people.
-- Lynn Killingbeck, July 2001
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.They are our gremlin hunters who are empowered to stalk the shop floor, look over our shoulders and take us to task when they sense something might be wrong. This is not the traditional 2 days of viewgraph watching.
-- R. P. Feynman, Report of the PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, Volume 2: Appendix F - Personal Observations on Reliability of Shuttle, June 6th, 1986
-- Dan Goldin, April 27, 2000 on independent review teams.
They are not caused by a single error, but by a sequence of errors that build and propagate due to a lack of leadership and accountability.
-- Dan Goldin, April 27, 2000.
... we must not repeat the errors past. This is blocking and tackling, not rocket science.
-- Dan Goldin, April 27, 2000.
This is not rocket science; this is seat of the pants guesstimation.
-- [name deleted], April 6, 2001,
How the hell do I know?
-- [redacted]'s response to the question, "What's the reliability requirement?", April 2, 2001
How the hell do I know? I'm just a common, ordinary, simple savior of America's destiny.
-- Pat Paulsen
That design sucks; no designer good enough to make that circuit work would ever design it.
-- rk, April 18, 2001
We're taking work out of the bureaucratic jobs and putting them into hardware. I think a NASA employee would rather be cutting hardware than writing reports and doing studies.
-- D. Goldin, June 1992
Micromanaging leads to macro f'ups.
-- Richard Marcinko, Seal Team Six
I will contend that conceptual integrity is the most important consideration in system design. It is better to have a system omit certain anomalous features and improvements, but to reflect one set of design ideas ... Good features and ideas that do not integrate with a system's basic concepts are best left out. If there appear many such important but incompatible ideas, one scraps the whole system and starts again on an integrated system with different basic concepts.
-- Brooks, 1975
A designer knows he has arrived at perfection not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Choose either A, B, C, or D:
A: Glass is part full
B: Glass is part empty
C: Glass is too big
D: Volume of the glass derated.
Each element, no matter how apparently insignificant it appears, more often than not is a single point failure in the successful operation of a total system.
-- Richard Smith, 1975
Historically, disruptive technologies involve no new technologies; they consist of components built around proven technologies and put together in a novel product architecture ...
-- Clayton M. Christensen
The key to developing engineering confidence is the rigorous identification of the cause for ALL failures encountered for ALL phases of testing ...
- Dr. Joseph F. Shea, Deputy
Director of Manned Space Flight,
Spaceborne Computer Engineering Conference
The world of space holds vast promise for the service of man, and it is a world we have only begun to explore.
-- James E. Webb, 1968
The ability to carry out scientific observations at a distance is developing so rapidly that I don't see any unique role for man in planetary exploration.
-- Gordon MacDonald, National Academy of Sciences, 1968
History will remember the twentieth century for two technological developments: atomic energy and space flight.
-- Neil Armstrong, 1994
The Soviets no longer were a threat in space, and in the terms that became commonplace among the veteran ground crews, as well as the astronauts, the dreamers and builders were replaced by a new wave of NASA teams, bureaucrats who swayed with the political winds, sadly short of dreams, drive, and determination to keep forging outward beyond earth.
-- Shepard and Slayton.
The 20th Century will be remembered, when all else is forgotten, as the century when man burst his terrestrial bounds.
-- Arthur Schlesinger
It is unlikely that all these conditions come together, but we are designers, not gamblers.
-- Peter Alfke
Once again, we were lucky - but luck has no business in spaceflight.
-- Gene Kranz
We had dodged bullets before, but this time we caught one in midair and spit it out.
-- Gene Kranz after Apollo 5
From leaders, scientists, and engineers to managers, co-ordinators, and bureaucrats.
-- rk, 2000
But Mother Nature, unlike Congress and the press and even the space workers, can't be bluffed.
-- James Oberg, 2000
I love engineering, but I hate being an engineer.
-- rk, 1986
There will be prayer in schools as long as schools give tests.
-- can't remember who said it - 2000
Every circuit is considered guilty until proven innocent.
Barto's Law, circa 1986
There is nothing like real data to f' up a great theory.
-- rk, circa 1995
Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design
- Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is, at best, only an opinion.
- To design a spacecraft right takes a infinite amount of effort. This is why it's a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong.
- (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.
- At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.
- In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.
- When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.
- Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.
- The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.
- The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.
- Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.
- The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, the chances are better that you've screwed up than that you've invented warp drive.
- A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.
- (Larrabee's Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.
- Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, SOMEBODY DIES!
Last Revised: February 03, 2010
Web Grunt: Richard Katz