Peeking Behind the Curtain

When I worked for the government, I never really understood what industry was doing; it was all behind a curtain. They gave only glimpses of what they wanted the government to see. Those of us in the civil services always had theories about what was going on in the corporate boardrooms or in the private research labs. But we really didn’t know and it was always the cause of puzzlement.
Nowadays, I’m retired from the government and work as a consultant, mostly to private industry. I find that the industry guys don’t have a lot of insight into how the government works, surprising to me. I always thought we had been fully open and transparent. Now I know better; the government and its decision making processes are pretty impenetrable from the outside. In fact, a lot of the leaders and workers out in the aerospace industry have established theories about how the government works internally, about what the government leadership wants, etc. I find most of these theories incredibly funny, terribly inaccurate, and I am astounded that otherwise knowledgeable people have some very odd ideas about what goes on behind the walls of government offices.
Thus my consulting work is very busy. Now that I’ve had a foot in both camps, I find I do a lot of theory correcting. Interpretation of what is motivating this party or that. Understanding what they want so needs can be efficiently met. Really keeps me busy.
Oh yeah, there is that technical work, too. Lots of that.
One of the reasons that I don’t get around to updating this blog as often as I used to is that my clients keep me busy. And my old government colleagues are always asking for my time, too.
A lot of what I do – make that almost all of what I do – is covered by ‘Non-Disclosure Agreements’. In other words, I can’t tell anybody about what anybody else is doing. There are a lot of times when I have to bite my tongue, but that is the nature of the job. Reminds me of the old days when I worked on ‘classified’ shuttle flights. In the name of national security I had to keep a lot of things from a lot of people. Kept me busy trying to remember who I could say what to and who I couldn’t. Interesting mental exercise to partition your memory and thoughts like that. Good training for my current work.
So, while I’d like to blog about what my clients are doing, well, you will just have to wait for them to tell you themselves; I’m not authorized
But what I can tell you is that it’s amazing. There are so many organizations working on so many aspects of space flight: new vehicles, new engines, new capabilities. Whew. I don’t know if they are all going to make it but I’m sure at least some of them will.
There is a renaissance coming in space travel. Some of it is from the government, yes, but a lot of it is not. Some of it is coming from garage shop inventors and some of it is coming from the biggest industrial corporations, and a lot of it is coming from folks in between.
Much of the really interesting advances won’t be the big jobs programs that the politicians like. If you are a politician and want to help the space program – you can send money, but better to open doors to private industry, remove barriers, reduce red tape.
Now that made me sound like I read the Wall Street Journal too much. Lest you think I’ve gone over to the ‘anything goes’ camp, I will quickly say that there is a very real place for the government to make sure that adequate safety precautions are followed. Not exactly like what is done for airliners, but something more fitted to this new, higher risk, higher energy field.
Anyway, I’ve got to say it’s been a great ride: all those years working on the forefront of the big government space programs, and now helping all the industry geniuses break through to the future.
Just stand by.
You will be amazed.

About waynehale

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, and is currently a consultant and full time grandpa. He is available for speaking engagements through Special Aerospace Services.
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13 Responses to Peeking Behind the Curtain

  1. Yusef Johnson says:

    The problem is those new guys dont want anything to do with a lot of us folks who’ve worked for the government…

    • waynehale says:

      Sadly, too true. I think they are missing out on a lot of expertise that would move things along more quickly. I always try to get them to hire folks with experience . . .

      • Chris Hudson says:

        Wayne, in my twenty plus years of working for the prime contractor for shuttle operations the continual complaint was that us contractor guys could never rise very high in the management structure of our company because those slots were reserved for retired government/NASA folks. You know this as well as I do Wayne.

  2. Aaron says:

    These are encouraging words from someone with your experience. Gives me renewed hope that the future for our nation’s space program in bright!

  3. Your comments about openness remind me of the Armadillo Aerospace blogs. Everything was open to see. Fly often and break often. When flying resulted with vehicles in pieces, those pieces were sold as Armadillo Droppings. The openness bit them and now they are gone.

    But, besides the technical, they blazed trails of insurance and FAA rules. It was a symbiosis with each side learning the needs and responsibilities of the other. I’m may be wrong but I am positive that companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origins are benefiting.

    Thank you for your time and your insight. I feel you are correct about living in exciting times. Never since the end of Apollo has it seemed we are finally breaking free.

  4. Dennis Romano says:


    I spent 35 years in civil service as an aerospace engineer and engineering manager (with the Navy and NASA) and have spent the last 7 years teaching part time at a local university. Academia is also a very different world than civil service! I am thoroughly enjoying teaching undergraduates.

  5. Hello Mr. Hale,
    I’m sure a lot of readers here where around when NASA was flying the Apollo missions…and some just caught the space fever with the STS program, but what we should always do is try to teach the youngsters growing up now…during holidays when the small children are here, I tell to them all the stories I can, to try and install some Love of the Cosmos in them. I believe your Blogs should be read by every science class..Thank You Mr. Hale

  6. jccooper says:

    I’m not sure openness was what got Armadillo. They moved away from their highly-open policy well before the end, to support contracting work, which they’d eventually abandon. The end seems to have been more a matter of strategy and hands-off management, “creeping professionalism”, and technical failure colliding with lack of capital.

    What I’d love to know from Wayne, in the spirit of openness, at least on the government side, is how the “government works internally, about what the government leadership wants, etc”. And what theories about it industry has developed and why they’re wrong. Without naming names, if necessary.

    • Mike Fair says:

      I second that request. Surely some of the most common misconceptions can be explained without giving away who has them and why. And more importantly, the correct interpretations could be explained without disclosure.
      If only you had the time to write. Need an experienced intern?

  7. Beth says:

    An awesome post, to read an upbeat view of the Space program as it is today! Thank you for confirming what I suspected, that we want to travel to space, and will get there.

  8. Robert Clark says:

    Thanks for the informative post.

    Bob Clark

  9. I’m a layman here, but even judging from what’s known to the general public it seems clear that we are in the early stages of an exciting new era of space travel – I have no trouble believing that it will be “amazing”. So my question for Wayne and the industry and government insiders writing in the comments is:

    Where are the gaps?

    That is to say, what are the important capabilities or technologies that we ought to be developing for the short and medium-term that nobody is really putting any effort into, and how important are they?

  10. Tony Jobusch says:

    Wayne, its been too long since we heard from you here!!! Almost 46 years since that summer day day in July 1969. Great time to check in….

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