Business topics – The aerospace industry Space News relates the experiences of Dan Rasky, a heat shield expert from NASA who was loaned out to the entrepreneurial commercial space company SpaceX. The story describes a meeting that Rasky attended at SpaceX where he learned the differences between how the company made significant decisions as opposed to the space agency for which he worked for many years.
The topic of the meeting was the heat shield for the crewed version of the Dragon spacecraft, then as now under development by SpaceX. Rasky and a number of engineers, as well as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, were in attendance. The discussion concerned how best to build the heat shield, whether it should be in-house or be contracted out. At a certain point, Musk asked Rasky for his opinion. Rasky suggested that the heat shield be produced in-house, which would allow SpaceX to quickly make modifications to accommodate future spacecraft.
Musk took in the information Rasky imparted and then said that was the way that SpaceX would go. The incident astonished Rasky since NASA, the iconic agency that put men on the moon, would have expended weeks or even months of meetings and memos in which every aspect of the question would be mulled over before such a decision would be made.
The account of the meeting is illustrative of how NASA and SpaceX make decisions.
The space agency believes in being very thorough before it does anything. The advantage is that no decision is made without every issue and viewpoint being discussed. The disadvantage is that this approach takes up a lot of time and money.
SpaceX relies a lot on the good judgment of its CEO Elon Musk to make major decisions. He relies on his expertise and experience, informed by the people who work for him, to quickly make decisions and then move on. The advantage is that the decisions are made quickly, reducing the time and costs of projects like the Dragon spacecraft. The flexibility thus demonstrated by SpaceX is a major reason why NASA has outsourced the development and operations of crewed spacecraft to the private sector.
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