NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Washington, DC – 12 June 2013
Wright: Today is June 12, 2013. This oral history interview is being
conducted with Marc Timm at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, for
the Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office History Project. Interviewer
is Rebecca Wright. Mr. Timm is the Commercial Systems Division Program
Executive at NASA Headquarters.
Thanks again for squeezing me into your schedule today. Tell us briefly
about your background and how you became involved with the NASA commercial
Sure. Way back in 2005, NASA senior management was looking at how
we were going to be resupplying cargo and transporting crew to the
International Space Station, post-[Space] Shuttle. The job of developing
that program was given to Alan [J.] Lindenmoyer down at the Johnson
Space Center, and we had our first meeting on October 5, 2005. Alan
convened the meeting. There were probably 12 people in the room. We
started with a huge big whiteboard, and Alan started drawing circles
about how we can do this, how we can do that, and how we could actually
make this successful in a way that we hadn’t had the kinds of
Tell me, why were you there? What was your capacity?
Looking back, this was when ESAS [Exploration Systems Architecture
Study] was rolling out the requirements into the rest of NASA. ESAS
was the team that was pulled together by [NASA Administrator] Mike
[Michael D.] Griffin to look at what the Constellation [Program] architecture
ended up being. It was looking at how we were going to move forward
as an Agency with transportation systems for crew and cargo.
My role in that was to take the requirements that were coming out
of ESAS and roll them into the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
as we were going through our formulation processes. I had the requirements
for all of the ISS [International Space Station] cargo, that being
one of the major elements of the COTS [Commercial Orbital Transportation
Services] effort, so they wanted me to attend from that perspective.
I was there as a representative of the ESAS output, looking at how
we’re going to satisfy the science requirements and transportation
requirements that were derived by ESAS.
So it was truly all new to you as to how this was going to move forward.
Actually it was new to everybody. The first meeting, we had no clue
how we were going to do it. We had representation from legal, safety,
Space Station, NASA Headquarters, and just sat down with a clean whiteboard
and said, “How can we do this?” We also knew that we,
as NASA, really didn’t understand the venture capital markets
very well. So Alan hired a venture capitalist named Alan Marty and
got him on contract to help us understand what makes commercial entities
financeable, and what makes a successful partnership, and also what
makes a successful program within NASA.
Can you recall some of the basic elements? I know it was a clean whiteboard,
but what were some of the basic agreements that were shared among
the group for what was going to serve as the foundation?
The fundamental core data point was we had $500 million. Not a penny
more, not a penny less. That’s the total amount of money that
Mike Griffin was willing to give us for the effort. So the partners
had to get through all the DDTE [Design Development Test and Evaluation]
and development test and flight for that funding level. We also wanted
to maintain the maximum number of partners that we could to ensure
We also wanted to, as a secondary goal, stimulate the United States
launch industry market and see if we could help and allow the United
States to become more globally competitive in the launch market. Back
in the ’80s we launched 100 percent of all commercial satellites,
and in 2010 we launched zero. So it was an effort to try to recapture
the launch competitiveness, and the global competitiveness of the
United States launch industry.
We all got together on October 5th, and just started trying to think
through, “How can we enable that capability to be built that
we could purchase in the future, for those kinds of dollars, and in
the kinds of timeframes that we’re talking about?” We
went through analysis of all of the different kinds of acquisition
strategies, “What are the pros and cons?” We did know
from talking with industry that things like keeping IP [intellectual
property] rights was very important to them, so that they could get
financing. Those became very important drivers for how Alan eventually
developed the program strategies.
What were your thoughts of working on this project? Was it something
that you had dealt with before, so you had expertise?
It was completely new to NASA. When I was working at NASA previously,
I left, started a company, and sold it. So I understood a little bit
about how it worked. To see NASA embark on a completely new way of
doing business was awesome. It was really cool to potentially see
if NASA could enable the development of this capability in the schedule
and in the cost that we were given.
It was really exciting to see NASA embark on a new way of doing business
that could potentially allow the development in the Unites States
of commercially-available, globally-competitive launch systems. The
first spacecraft and launch vehicle integrated system that we’ve
had since Shuttle. As we saw, we do. We actually have SpaceX [Space
Exploration Technologies Corp.] with the Dragon [capsule]. It was
the first spacecraft launch vehicle system built in the United States
since Shuttle. Everything else had been canceled because of cost and
What was your role as the new ideas turned from concepts into reality,
and the pieces were put together to solicit folks to respond to the
Basically after the October 5th meeting, I came back and said that
I want to be the PE [Program Executive] on this. It was a disruptive
innovation, it is a new way of doing business. I got assigned to that,
and the role at Headquarters was basically understanding and making
sure that we have the programmatics in place, and that we had the
overarching requirements in place from an engineering perspective,
from safety perspectives, that would allow Alan’s team to effectively
administer the program.
Things like compliance with [NASA] 7120 [Space Flight Program and
Project Management Requirements], compliance with other NPRs [NASA
Procedural Requirements] and NPDs [NASA Policy Directives]. We also
did a lot of briefings up on the [Capitol] Hill, and did OMB [Office
of Management and Budget] to make sure they understood where we were
going, how we were getting there, and what was our plan to get there.
What was the reception?
Generally good. Although there are folks on the Hill who like the
program, and there are folks on the Hill who do not like the program.
I think that’s pretty much like any program. When we were developing
the RFI [Request for Information] and the Announcement, I had dual
hats there. I was the Headquarters guy, and also the ISS cargo rep
[representative] for ESAS output. I was working with Alan’s
team on both of those aspects. My job as the ESAS requirements management
kind of died down after the first few months as we transitioned all
the ESAS requirements over to his program. Then I just picked up as
the Program Executive with the standard Program Executive functions
at NASA Headquarters.
What were some of the requirements from the ISS that needed to be
included in the COTS program?
It ended up being total mass per year, the kinds of experiments and
research that we wanted to do as an Agency on the International Space
Station. Those were times within NASA when we were actually taking
stock of our entire research portfolio and redirecting it towards
systems development, testing, and evaluation on ISS to allow us to
develop those systems necessary for exploration. ESAS scoped our research
portfolio down to a point where it was focused heavily on the transportation
systems and exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.
It almost sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Did you continue your role along with the selection? Were you involved
in that? Can you share some of the details of how that progressed
Yes. We had the Announcement come out in January of 2006. Between
February and June I had to go off and do other stuff, so I wasn’t
as heavily involved in the first round of selection as I would’ve
loved to have been. Being at Headquarters, you get dragged off to
do things every now and then, so between February and August I really
wasn’t as involved. I got heavily involved three or five days
before the [selection] announcement again. That was really exciting.
I was involved during the briefings coming back and the team reporting
out to NASA Headquarters as we were moving towards selection, and
was part of the selection team as we moved forward.
It was really fun and interesting. [Scott J.] “Doc” [Horowitz,
Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate]
actually had each of the partners come up and brief him prior to the
selection, which was kind of unusual. It was really kind of interesting
to watch the interplay between the potential partners and NASA management
part of the selection. I managed the rollout at Headquarters between
Headquarters, OMB, the White House, and the Hill. Then the general
rollout as well, with the selection being made in August of 2006.
Can you describe what that means, the rollout?
It’s just managing the process by which we let Congress know
what we selected. Getting them in, briefing them, developing the briefings—allowing
OMB, the White House, to know where we are and what we’re doing.
Keep them up to speed, and then managing the press releases and managing
everything associated with making our decision public. We had a press
conference downstairs, press releases, briefings up at the Hill, and
briefings here in the building with representatives from the Hill.
Was part of your job working closely with the Public Affairs Office
[PAO] as well?
Yes. At Headquarters you have to work with Legal, OLIA [Office of
Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs], PAO. All those organizations
were involved in rolling the decision out.
You mentioned you got started, then you got pulled off, and then you
got back in. Do you recall what your thoughts were of the progress
that had been made in the time that you had sat in those meetings
until they had actually put all of this together?
It was progressing on schedule and faster than we’d seen anything
happen previously. Remember, we had the draft Announcement go out
in November or December . The final went out in January, and
we awarded in August. Normal procurements can take years to get through
the system, and to be able to do that in that small number of months
was just phenomenal. It was really a credit to Alan and the entire
team to get through that entire process in that timeframe.
Were you part of Doc Horowitz’s selection committee, that executive
committee? Can you share the types of things that were discussed?
I’m just curious if there were things that stood out.
I’d rather not.
Okay. Talk about the milestones and why that was an important aspect
of the COTS program, why those were set up the way that they were.
I guess the first thing to do is step back and say, this is not a
NASA DDTE effort. This is not a NASA development effort. Under this
program NASA was acting as a highly interested investor. As part of
developing the strategies for moving forward, we wanted to make sure
we had understandings that the partners were making progress—financially,
programmatically, and technically—and we decided to tie payments
to those milestones.
We also decided to use a Space Act Agreement as a partnership mechanism,
with the thought that it seemed to be the most appropriate tool to
allow our partners to maintain the kinds of intellectual property
rights that they wanted, with control of developing the hardware and
developing the system. NASA would function as an investor for the
development of their systems. Again, from the cargo perspective, the
hardware systems all remained within ownership of the companies. All
of the intellectual property rights are owned by the companies. NASA
is buying services once they’re successfully tested.
It seems like the legal team really had a lot of upfront work to do.
They did. We worked with the legal team extensively, both at JSC and
NASA Headquarters. They did a fantastic job pulling together the strategies
that allowed us to actually implement this. It was a really coordinated
effort between the Headquarters and JSC legal teams, and the program
office down at JSC.
Talk about procurement’s role in this, because it was certainly
not a traditional procurement. I’m thinking procurement had
to have at least some buy-in to how this was going to be done.
We kept procurement involved completely through the system, and used
many of the same processes that procurement would use in a nominal
procurement. Though it wasn’t a procurement, they were heavily
involved as we stepped through the processes to make sure that everybody
knew what was going on.
It’s not procurement, but it’s still financial. Maybe
it was also the financial offices?
Not really the financial. We wanted to make sure that procurement
was riding along with us, so that everybody knew what was going on.
Technically we didn’t really have to involve them, but it was
just the right thing to do.
It’s good for everybody to know what’s going on in that
whole package. I think you’ve already inferred that there was
a lot of communication between Headquarters and JSC, with the program
office down there. Can you talk more about what your role was, to
Yes. That was totally different, too. Where in a typical NASA program
you would have monthlies and quarterlies and periodic briefings up
to Headquarters, we didn’t have any of that. I was thought of
more as a team member than a guy at Headquarters who you out-briefed
periodically. I spoke with Alan and the team on an every-couple-day
basis. It was a different kind of Headquarters program, remote program
office setup, all the way around. We didn’t have formal meetings,
we just got together when we needed to. If something happened, I got
immediate notification of what was going on at any given time. There
wasn’t a lot of formal back and forth. It was really a tightly
coupled, very small organization, which I think is another key to
why they were successful.
How were you viewed here? If someone wanted information from Headquarters,
did they talk to you, or did they go directly to Alan?
No, generally contacted me. We set it up between Alan and me. I managed
that because I could better understand what’s going on here
at Headquarters. Again, it helped being up-to-date on a fairly regular
basis. We could field questions and field issues relatively quickly,
without having to bother the program office. The program wasn’t
set up to have a large contingent of folks to do that interfacing,
so we purposely put together the processes that would allow us to
accomplish this with a very small number of people.
Did you see yourself as a conduit, in a sense?
If there were questions that were coming from the legislative areas
and so forth, did they all come back through you?
Correct. Any questions that came in from the Hill or came in from
the White House all came through me.
Were you getting many questions through those early days, or was it
somewhat under the radar at that time?
People knew about it, but it was viewed as not viable. I think in
general it was viewed by NASA as just a bunch of wacky people doing
wacky things. We were kind of left alone, which I think was another
benefit that allowed us to be successful. By being unencumbered by
lots of oversight at program levels and Headquarters levels it allowed
us to very quietly do our job, thus allowing our partner to do their
Do you feel like there was a point in time where the view of what
the COTS program could produce changed?
It started changing slowly over time. The thought went from “This
will never work,” to as our partners were successful saying,
“Yes, they could possibly do it. But they’re cutting corners
and doing cowboy things, and it’s never going to work.”
Over time, as they’ve been successful, people have started to
understand that it is a viable development model.
There are still people who don’t believe it. They believe we
did it for the cost, we’re doing it for the cost. But the fact
that we have a launch vehicle that we enabled, that NASA helped a
United States company build a launch vehicle that’s globally
competitive—I’m not sure if it’s true now, but it
[SpaceX Falcon] was the cheapest rocket in the world. It’s just
awesome. To turn around an industry that was actually down to zero
is awesome. It’s really good. It’s great for the country,
it’s great for NASA, it’s great for everybody.
Both on the Hill and in NASA, as we became more successful, as the
partner started developing integrated testing and actually started
launching and successfully flying, it is more favorably thought of
within the Agency.
When you first started you had one [NASA] Administrator, now you have
another. You had one White House administration, now you have another.
COTS has survived, and continues to evolve and grow. It’s now
starting to move towards its closeout. What do you feel has been the
view of why it didn’t get canceled at some point? Why it was
left to continue moving forward?
I think because it was under the radar. It was small. It wasn’t
a huge program, so there weren’t large amounts of money dumping
in and out of any one district, two districts, or three districts
around the country. It eventually provided a need that NASA wanted.
Remember, back when we started COTS there was no need for it within
NASA. It was only after the Constellation Program canceled the cargo
version of the Orion capsule that the primary role of transporting
cargo to Space Station was shifted from a NASA-developed system to
the COTS systems. I think that was a big turning point, where the
partners became the primary systems for transporting cargo to and
from Station. That was a big deal, that was a big shift within the
How did that impact your work, once that shift had been made?
Not much. We had our milestones lined out, we knew we had our plans
moving forward. At that point we were starting to go through integration
with ISS, the visiting vehicle integration. It really didn’t
impact our world much at all, that I remember. I didn’t really
get any additional questions or a lot more reporting upstairs. Just
kept trucking along.
When the ISS produced its requirements document for allowing these
visiting vehicles, were you involved in those processes as well?
Oh, [Space Station Program (SSP)] 50808? I was not involved in 50808,
specifically because that’s a Station program and they were
going to be doing the integration for visiting vehicles and buying
the services, so that’s a different organization. We were just
responsible for enabling the capability. [SSP] 50808 was based on
the work that Alan’s team and our team pulled together initially.
It became the basis for the development of 50808, but Station’s
always owned the interface requirements and safety requirements for
Speaking of safety, you mentioned that out of that first 12 people
that were in that room, one was a safety rep. Can you share how the
safety aspect has been viewed and/or integrated into the COTS program?
Safety is primary. From day one we had a safety representative assigned
to Alan’s office, the program office down at Johnson Space Center,
as well as the safety organization associated with ISS. Each of our
partners has to go through the integrated safety system for ISS before
they’re allowed to fly to the Station. Just like every vehicle
that has gone to the Station—[European Space Agency] ATVs [Automated
Transfer Vehicles], [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency] HTVs [H-II
Transfer Vehicles], [Russian Federal Space Agency] Progresses [cargo
vehicles], [Russian] Soyuz [crew vehicle], and even the Shuttle—had
to go through the same processes that our commercial partners have
had to go through. It’s right up on par with that.
You’re here at Headquarters and the safety person was at JSC—was
that safety person connected with the Headquarters safety as well?
Yes, that’s correct. That continues to this day, and we have
a really good working relationship with the safety office [Office
of Safety and Mission Assurance] here.
Do you have a role working with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]
as they work with your COTS partners?
We brought FAA in early as well, as one of the members of the team,
knowing that they [the commercial partners] were going to be FAA-licensed.
We worked with them initially to establish the processes and roles,
not on a day-to-day basis for the cargo operations. Again, once they’re
successful the operations are managed by ISS. They work with FAA for
the missions going to ISS.
For demonstrations we work with FAA for mishap planning and all of
that kind of stuff. Not too intense—again, each of the partners
is responsible for licensing their system, and only if there are questions
that FAA needs from us, we work with them. But they manage it pretty
well. I think we have a really good working relationship with the
FAA as well. George [C. Nield, FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial
Space Transportation] has got a good bunch over there.
It seems to be very interested and in-tune with what NASA’s
doing with this whole program.
Yes, and they’re working with us on new stuff as well, really
well. Those relationships are working out really nicely.
That’s good. It makes you feel like it’s less of a burden
when you get that communication down. Lots of good stuff has come
out of the COTS program, but at the beginning, there was a kind of
a hiccup when Doc Horowitz had to terminate one of the partners. Can
Sure, that was a good one. I actually consider that a win. As I mentioned
earlier, remember we had these periodic milestones that we wanted
to use to gauge our partners’ progress technically, programmatically,
and financially. That includes PDRs [Preliminary Design Reviews],
engine tests, it includes financing milestones. Financing milestones
say, “You’ve got to bring X number of dollars in, prove
to us you have this money in the bank, and then we’ll say that
RpK [Rocketplane Kistler], we saw early in 2007, started getting behind.
Started missing some financial milestones. And the financial milestones
for RpK were some of the more important milestones for us, because
Alan Marty’s analysis, and our analysis, was that they would
have more potential issues raising capital than would SpaceX. We had
more financial milestones to ensure that we had the granularity we
needed to understand that they were making progress and funding their
They ended up missing some financial milestones and we gave them warnings.
When they finally started missing technical milestones because they
could not meet the financial milestones, that’s when we terminated
the system. We terminated the [Space Act] Agreement, because it became
apparent to us that they could not get the financing needed to allow
them to mature their system and continue maturing their system to
meet our needs.
The good thing about that is, because it was an agreement, there were
no financial issues associated with that. We just terminated the agreement
and didn’t pay them anymore. We didn’t get the original
$32 million back, but we weren’t liable for any other funding
past the termination. The leftover money from RpK was used to run
a second competition, and that’s where we picked up our partner
Orbital Sciences [Corporation].
Based on your understanding of how the COTS program worked, did NASA
feel that the work that RpK had done should come back to NASA or maybe
be used for another partner?
We didn’t see any benefit in that. It didn’t look like
that would be a benefit.
Was that a benefit for that partner? Or just as a whole in the program
that if you had to terminate somebody, that was their work?
No, as part of the program we actually have rights to their intellectual
property should they miss a milestone or should they fail and we have
to cancel the Space Act Agreement. We actually do at that point get
rights to the IP, and can actually decide whether or not we want to
take ownership of that and continue or not. For the COTS program,
we waived our rights to any intellectual property unless they failed
in developing the system. Or there was a timeframe, I think 2015,
where we could have rights to it. Those are the only two cases where
we can get rights to their intellectual property.
You missed out on Round 1. Were you involved in the Round 2 selection
Again, part of it. At that time Constellation was ramping up, so I
was asked to do the program executive job on that as well. I actually
picked up on the Ares I and the Ares V [rockets]. That was just about
the intense time when things were really picking up on Ares I and
Ares V, so I moved over there for a little while. Alan knew how to
run those, and it was pretty straightforward. Again, I didn’t
come back until right at selection. Then I did the COTS and the Constellation
work all at the same time. It was fun.
Goodness. That must’ve been an interesting time period for you
though, when Constellation was being cancelled and the COTS piece
took on a more commanding role.
It was also very interesting to see the differences in culture with
two programs within NASA. It was kind of interesting to actually watch
and live the culture differences as both programs progressed. It was
the most dramatic thing I’ve seen in awhile.
Since you made that statement, it makes me want to ask about your
thoughts of how you see this new culture being applied in future NASA
programs, or do you?
I think it could make sense to use a partnership where there’s
a potential future use for NASA, as well as a really definable commercial
use that could sustain itself without any NASA work. In those instances
where a future NASA capability could help drive a new industry, that
could be a potential for a partnership. Not dual use, but where there’s
a real, definable market that is totally not NASA’s. That’s
one thing we did on COTS. We wanted to make sure we were stimulating
commercial launch capabilities that could be globally competitive.
Do you see other markets that will come from the COTS partnership
that will work towards expanding the markets for these partners, and
the ones that possibly didn’t win?
From the COTS perspective, I think having the low-cost launch vehicles
can help the satellite industry as well as the launch vehicle industry.
As we’ve had the ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations]
issues over the past, we’ve been losing market share on satellite
manufacturing because we did not have a cost-effective way to launch
satellites. Satellite production was tending to move offshore.
The fact that we have cost-effective launch now within the United
States—or we’re getting close to it—you’re
seeing satellite companies grab new customers that we might not have
been able to grab. You can launch them on launch vehicles in the United
States that are actually cheaper than other places. I think we have
the potential for—and I can’t really quantify it—helping
out the United States satellite manufacturing industry as well.
That may be something that has started here that could possibly evolve.
Is that what you’re thinking of in the future?
No, just the fact that we’ve helped enable cost-effective launches
helps the satellite manufacturers build satellites that can be launched
on United States vehicles, and not have any ITAR issues with shipping,
with trying to launch satellites on Russian, or Chinese, or any other
Looking back on your involvement with the COTS program, what are the
lessons you feel that NASA has learned from this, and also in your
job as program executive? What have you gained?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that—and we
learned it early on—you’ve got to manage the culture.
The culture will kill a program. The other thing we learned is that
if you take culture from Program A and try to levy that culture on
Program B, you stand a pretty good chance of killing that program.
There’s really good evidence that generally when you try to
use existing culture on a new program, you typically will kill the
There are a lot of cases of that in industry. A good example is DEC
[Digital Equipment Corporation] computers. They used to make mini-computers,
and they were one of the top mini-computer manufacturers in the world.
When they wanted to switch from making mini-computers to personal
computers, the culture change—the processes, the resources,
the values that were used to build mini-computers—were different
enough for PCs, personal computers, that it drove the company out
of business. You wouldn’t think a mini-computer would be much
different from a personal computer, but it was enough to kill the
company. It doesn’t take much difference for a culture to actually
take a program down.
One thing Alan did, was there was no culture brought in. It was all
zero-based. “What culture do we have to put together to allow
this to be successful?” And I think they were very successful
in implementing that.
They were very successful in protecting that culture as well. Do you
feel like they had some outside forces that might have wanted them
to skew away from that?
I think they were successful in part because they didn’t have
any money. There wasn’t funding to allow a bunch of people to
help them out. They also were not seen as viable, so we didn’t
see a lot of NASA people wanting to help out and help us with the
current culture. I think they benefited from both sides of that. I
think that’s the biggest thing that I saw. Alan Marty, the venture
capitalist who we brought in, told us how to put the program together
and how to build that culture up so that it could be successful.
So you feel like he was a very vital part.
Yes, he was really good. He actually handed out copies of a book for
all of us to read [The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen].
It was good. The book actually described how culture kills companies,
and how to set your program up so culture won’t kill it.
That’s very interesting. Those lessons that you learned, are
you able to apply them in other parts of what you’re doing for
Sure, yes. At home, with my wife, and here at work. It’s really
useful and we’ve been very successful.
Give me some examples. You mentioned how you were able to share the
elements of this culture that needed to be perpetuated, but were understandable
for those who weren’t accustomed to what you were doing down
Generally my job was reporting out and up. We reported out and up
in very specific ways. Periodically we did have people who would want
to start helping and we just told them “No, we don’t really
need you. If we need you, we’ll come ask you.” Again,
we didn’t have much budget. We never had much budget. I think
Alan was running three to five percent of total budget with his program
office. I think he peaked at 13 people, and to have 13 NASA people
help build two launch vehicles and spacecraft is actually fairly impressive.
It was telling people no. It was a lot of helping people understand
that this was not a NASA system, this is a partner system. NASA does
not own—we’re not taking intellectual property rights,
we’re not taking DD250s [Material Inspection and Receiving Reports],
we’re not taking ownership of hardware. We’re investors
in their system, and in the future we would buy services if there
was a need that popped up. It was things like we weren’t compliant
with 7120, which is the NASA program and project management requirements.
We actually wrote that in our Formulization Authorization Document
that formulated the program.
We said we’re going to use the tenets of it, as fit for good
management practices. We’ve even had GAO [Government Accountability
Office] and [NASA] IG [Inspector General] come do reports and said
that we’re doing a fantastic job of following good fundamental
program management tenets. That worked really well, without the burden
of all of the processes that complying with 7120 would bring. That
kind of thing, I think, is where we deviated from the standard culture
for spaceflight development systems. We actually had a very small
program office and brought technical experts in as needed to support
the milestones and support test product reviews. It was managed in
a completely different way.
You mentioned that you were investing in their system, and then if
you needed their services you would purchase it. It wasn’t two
years after the COTS program got up and underway that the CRS [Commercial
Resupply Services] contract was awarded. How were you able to keep
people from confusing the COTS program with CRS?
At the technical level, at the working level, it was really easy.
The COTS guys were focused on the partner development and demonstration,
and ISS was focused on visiting vehicle verification. Since ISS really
understood visiting vehicle verification, they understood what kinds
of things they needed to allow them to accomplish that verification
and safety certification before going to ISS. Alan Lindenmoyer and
Kathy [Kathryn L.] Lueders worked together to make sure that they
had a really good, fantastic, seamless team that could transition
as needed. We also had shared quarterlies. It was as combined as we
could, with everybody understanding who had what roles and responsibilities.
That seemed to work really well.
More of a team effort?
Yes, and I have to give credit to Alan and Kathy on that. The combination
of the two really pulled this off, really made it successful. I don’t
know if you could’ve put anybody else other than Alan and Kathy
in those positions and had it be successful.
Have you had much interaction with the partners themselves, or is
your interaction mostly with the NASA personnel?
Yes, I interact with the partners quite a bit. It tends to be more
at the higher level than at the working troop level. Although I did
used to get emails at two in the morning, “Give me a call when
you get in.” It’s, again, that communication flow, and
that communication flow goes all the way up and down through everybody.
We try for everybody on the team to know everything they can, so that
nothing pops up and there are no surprises. That’s easy with
a team of four or five or six. It’s hard with a team of thousands.
Sure. More shared information rather than trickle down. Where is your
role now, and how is your role going to change as the program office
starts moving towards closing out?
I guess a good way to describe it is with SpaceX. As SpaceX finished
their last demonstration mission going to the International Space
Station, the next flight was ISS. It was a step function. We no longer
worked that. We work closely with the ISS guys up here, because we
have the knowledge and help them out as much as they can. The ISS
guys sit all around us, so we work with them really closely as well.
But it’s an ISS function. Once Orbital finishes their demonstration,
it’ll be an ISS function after that. Then we’ll go on
and do new things on the cargo side.
So the cargo side is going to continue functioning?
Yes. We’re doing crew stuff too—that’s not part
of the cargo. We’re continually managing that as well, that’s
the same type of effort. We will see what the Agency wants to do with
partnerships, how we want to progress with partnerships, what senior
management would like to do, and implement that as best we can. I
think there’s a lot of benefit to the partnerships. I think
there are benefits not only to NASA, but there are benefits to the
country, which is just awesome to me. If we can be globally competitive
and we can actually capture additional market share, it’s just
a total win for the country.
Yes, it is. Are there other areas you feel like we haven’t discussed
that have come to mind, over your long time in this role? It seems
like a long time, but I’m sure it was very compressed and busy.
Let’s see. It was a blast, it’s the funnest thing I’ve
done at NASA for a long time. To have the potential impact that I
think we’re going to have on the country is pretty cool. It’s
very rare to go through the entire development of a system like that.
As I mentioned, Shuttle was the last time we’ve had any major
developments of spacecraft and launch vehicles. And to be able to
go through two of those, to flight, is just awesome. It’s just
really, really great. The benefits to NASA and the side benefits to
the United States are great. It’s just really cool. Both SpaceX
and Orbital Sciences have some great engineers working. They have
great teams, and they’re going to go do great things. I was
happy that NASA could help out with that in some small way.
In all investments, there’s always that question of return on
investment. So you believe that this has been a good investment not
only for NASA, but for the country as a whole?
Oh yes. If you just take a look at SpaceX—I think they have
like 40 or 50 launches on their manifest now. Those would be 40 or
50 launches that would be going to China, or Russia, or India, or
Europe. That’s something. I think NASA has 12 flights of that
40, so there’s 30-some-odd flights that would not be flown out
of this country if not for what we’ve helped with.
Speaking of launch services, were you involved with the Mid-Atlantic
Regional Spaceport operations as well?
Yes. They own the pad out at Wallops [Island, Virginia], and they
are the primary launch site for Orbital Sciences. It’s a state
of Virginia-owned and -operated launch pad. I think they have some
other launch pads out at Wallops as well. This is the largest that
they’ve done. It’s been a really fantastic few years watching
it all come together, because when they started the pad, it was just
sand. Literally. SpaceX flew off Pad 40 [Cape Canaveral, Florida],
which has been around for awhile, but this is a brand new pad that
started on the sand. To see that come together has been pretty wild
Were you involved in that from an official capacity here?
Not really. Again, it was the state of Virginia’s responsibility
to build it. We tracked it and just monitored it. Orbital Sciences
was their customer. The Wallops range involvement included range-type
functions. At Headquarters we just monitored, kept up with it and
tracked any issues, and how things were moving forward. They had some
issues, but it’s working good.
You mentioned it was fun. I do want to close out by asking you, what
do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of working this
I think the most challenging aspect is managing expectations and managing
culture. There’s a huge propensity within the Agency to do things
in ways that we know, which is normal for any organization. The Agency
has to have the courage to step back and say, “No, let’s
take this out of the old way, the current way we do business, and
let’s do it a different way.” I think the more we can
do that in the future, the more successful we’ll be. The culture
will tend to want to kill it, but that takes management from the top
down, as well as the bottom up. You have to have the 9th floor [top
management] involvement and support all the way down.
Through these years, even though players have changed, the support
has continued to be there?
Yes, we’ve always had tremendous support out of the White House
and OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy], up through the
9th floor. We’ve always had really fantastic support, and it’s
been growing as we’ve been successful. There were tons and tons
of doubters within NASA that said this just can’t be done. I’m
glad for the country that we’ve proven them wrong. I think it’s
good for the country.
We look forward to see what’s coming next. It’ll stay
busy, I’m sure.
Yes, it’s going to be fun, and we’ll be busy for awhile.
It has just been a really fun and exciting little program.
All right, thanks.
to JSC Oral History Website