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Earth Science

Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite Hardware Dispute

By Keith Cowing
June 8, 2012
Filed under , ,

Keith’s note: This email/memo was sent from Christopher Strickland’s official NASA email account at 10:57 am EDT today to more than 30 individuals – all at their official NASA email addresses. No request for anonymity was requested of me. Nor did I solicit this memo. As far as I am concerned Mr. Strickland made this memo public. I cannot vouch for anything that is contained in the email but he has gone out of his way – in his official capacity at NASA – to tell people about this issue – and does so in a rather cogent fashion. Here is the memo, verbatim.
“To Whom It May Concern:
Due to the culmination of abusive behavior by the Mission Systems Engineer over the past year, including hostile treatment in front of project and division management during a review, and continued assault in the parking lot later that same day; I resign my position as Lead of the High Gain Antenna System for the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite at Goddard Space Flight Center effective immediately.

Every attempt has been made to resolve this conflict before reaching this point but nothing has been done. Trying to talk one on one with Dave Ward yielded a comment that he thought I was trying to lie and do just enough to sneak the HGAS past him when in fact the HGAS team has met and exceeded all of our requirements. Numerous requests to GPM project manager John Deily about the bad behavior of Mr. Ward yielded a similar response that I had to learn to deal with it. Appeals to my division manager were met with deaf ears and the prompting to just get back to work. My few leadership and supervisor training classes have all taught me that these were the exact wrong responses to dealing with conflict resolution.
I have worked as the HGAS lead for the past seven years and over that time the team has designed, built, tested and integrated a successful system with a few learning opportunities along the way. During the past two years, Dave Ward has created a hostile work environment with others, and notably me, in meetings concerning the HGAS. His continued behavior of yelling, cursing and intimidation has made it very difficult for everyone working on the system and the satellite.
For over a year, HGAS was determined by the project management to be the critical path for the entire satellite. We acknowledged we were behind schedule but did not agree with the tall pole status, yet we persisted to work to deliver as best we could. One month from our delivery, the systems team decided that we needed to add an EMI test to our environmental plan. It was debated that the results would not be conclusive and would not alleviate the need for EMI testing of the HGAS on the spacecraft. The MSE persisted and HGAS was delayed for over two weeks for testing that was not approved during the environmental review or by any other independent board. After the test and the HGAS hardware was delivered, it could not be flight verified on the spacecraft. Supporting flight systems and boxes had not been integrated. So I struggle to understand why it was not until HGAS was installed that we were finally removed from the critical path.
Keeping the High Gain Antenna (HGA) dish installed after system level testing has long been a controversy. The HGAS approach was to remove the dish after system level testing to prevent the possibility of damage during the rest of integration activities and the environmental testing. Our approach was similar to that of XTE and TRMM where the dish was tested at the component level and again with the subsystem. This way all of the environmental testing required was achieved and the dish could be removed and treated similar to the solar array panels. Dave Ward has been adamant that the HGA dish would stay on and never be removed, like he experienced on SDO. Our division consultant, Alan Posey, agreed that it was a better plan to be more like XTE rather than SDO since the HGA dish is fragile and can easily be bumped or misaligned during assembly due to our size and location on the spacecraft. Dave Ward got his way only because the independent technical authority said he would not recommend it but it was a project decision to accept the risk.
I have been very vocal about protecting the HGA dish after we were assembled to the spacecraft. There were numerous instances where workers in the clean room would work close to the HGA and bump into or lean on the dish. I expressed my concern to the project but the risky work continued. At one point, we noticed the Kapton blanket cover we had installed to try to help protect the dish had been disturbed, showing a large indentation near the feed. I inquired with Systems and QA to determine what and when it happened. Again the system lead showed contempt and told me that it was my hardware for me figure out and fix. We opened a PR to document the mishap and were instructed by project management to make sure it was closed quickly before the upcoming SIR. The chair of the SIR, Chris Stevens, noted that when they observed the work happening on the satellite he was concerned about the fact that people were working too close to the HGA dish and was wondering why there was no barrier to cordon off the area. Dave Ward said that there were safeguards in place to help protect the dish and the hardware. This was a complete misrepresentation of the facts because there were at least three instances that I know of where tools were left on the spacecraft and fell during rotation maneuvers not to mention a PR about the exact concern of the HGA. He hid the facts from the review panel and forced me to make an undesirable choice. I could either speak out in a review against the project or go along with the cover-up story. Right after the review I chose to talk to a panel member and reveal the facts about the recent PR to try to avoid any impression that I was not part of the GPM team.
I have learned that an advisory was written as part of the review to better ensure the safety of the hardware. During the next project review meeting, I showed the spacecraft manager my computer screen that showed a live video feed of the clean room and someone working while leanly slightly on the dish. I have asked Dave Ward many times to send me the advisory so I could help respond honestly and openly to the panel. He said he would send the advisory to me and the system engineer responsible for HGAS, Jim Simpson. He has never sent me the report and I have never seen the exact wording. If a response has been submitted, I want to make it clear that neither I nor any HGAS member were ever asked or gave any assistance to the response. It seems strange that the MSE can make a decision that carries high risk but when the risk is unfortunately realized, he passes the responsibility on to the ones who warned against it.
Last week while working to close out WOA paperwork, I found that QA had not yet approved a section of a procedure for the HGAS vibration testing. I noted the oversight and QA reviewed and signed the missing section. QA also left a comment that he noticed in our report that our low level vibration test only went to 8 Hz instead of the 5 Hz listed in the test specification. An HGAS analyst responded that the limit of 8 Hz was due to the limitation of the stroke distance of the shaker table. This was thoroughly documented in the HGAS vibration test report. After the harassment and assault at the PSR, I have been working with Jim Simpson as my system engineer contact. Jim emailed me that Dave Ward is now demanding that a waiver be written to document the failure of HGAS to meet its test requirements. I responded that a waiver is not needed because the true cause is the limit of the test facility, not the planning and execution of the test by the HGAS team. Tim Carnahan, the lead GPM vibration engineer, responded in kind stating that all facilities have this issue and he approves all test levels after examining the limit of the table. Jim Simpson replied that Dave still insisted on a waiver but that it would be approved without the review of the CCB board.
I am at a complete loss why anyone who clearly does not understand vibration testing would not defer to the lead of the system that they appropriately tested their hardware. If a question still remains, they should consult another independent technical source for their opinion. But why would you insist on a waiver after both technically capable people agree and ignore their recommendation. This only creates more useless work that would misrepresent the facts and waste resources dealing with the questions that might arise.
As more evidence of the disparity, the HGAS vibe report detailing the test and the table limits was approved by HGAS, Systems, QA and Tim Carnahan before the HGAS acceptance review in December. Dave Ward insisted at that time that he get written approval from another vibration analyst, Pete Mule, of the report before he would agree that we had passed our environmental testing. Now two HGAS analysts, the HGAS lead, and four independent technical advisors have all agreed the vibration testing was sufficient but Dave Ward is ignoring their advice and still persists that a waiver be written. In my research to find a similar waiver on the GPM MIS system, I was not able to find any other system that was required to submit a waiver. In fact, I found that the propulsion tank vibration test WOA (WOA-GPM-PROP-0085AsRun ) was never signed off for the actual vibration testing.
There has been much pressure from Dave Ward and the project management that the closure of HGAS WOAs has been taking too long to accomplish. My reviews of the WOAs are extensive to prevent the oversight similar to the previously mentioned WOA. The project keeps insisting that I get more WOAs closed more quickly but when I push back that proper review takes a large amount of time they just state that other systems are closing their WOAs more quickly. When I pressed John Deily on how he can approve such a large number of WOAs so quickly, he finally admitted that he does not review the paperwork but just checks to make sure QA and Systems have approved before he signs.
During the HGAS environmental review Dave Ward was very rude and arrogant in dealing with the entire HGAS team. He demanded that we perform optical alignment checks of the deployed system after each environmental test. It had already been explained to him that optical alignments of this type of deployed system would have errors due to unpredictable gravity sag. He yelled that it had to be done and refused to approve our test plan until it had been added. I later conferred with the 540 chief engineer and other deployable experts about this issue and they agreed in writing that the test was not necessary and could possibly confuse the data but definitely waste schedule and costs to perform the tests. That the HGAS method was a better plan and the tight tolerance pinned joints posed no risk of misalignment was agreed upon by the experts.
At our acceptance review Dave Ward’s bullying behavior persisted. As the MSE, he declared that HGAS was not ready to proceed to spacecraft integration because we did not have the full deployed optical alignment. The next day I requested another meeting where our optical engineer, Sam Hetherington, and GPM project manager also attended. After a quick discussion with questions from Art and answers from Sam, it was decided that the requirement was met by the HGAS plan of determining the alignment in parts and adding to establish the whole. One bolted joint that was to be measured later was all that was missing and it was planned to be done after integration of HGAS. The project manager overruled the MSE decision and HGAS was asked to proceed with integration. This method has been explained to Dave Ward by me many times and another systems engineer, Leslie Hartz, even helped try to ease the harassment by agreeing to take over the pointing budget after agreeing with our approach. Unfortunately, she has since left the project like her predecessor.
Yesterday, I learned from the new systems engineer that Dave Ward has put a deployed optical alignment in the I&T schedule for our next deployment. His ignorance of the system and how to verify the requirement has already cost HGAS and the taxpayers time and money to deal with the same demands over and over. The mechanical, deployable, and optical experts have all agreed with the HGAS approach as the better method to verify our total pointing. The simple engineering principle of linear superposition is used in many environmental tests but for some reason the lead technical authority of GPM, the MSE, refuses to accept this approach. I have written an abstract on the optical testing of GPM HGAS as the preferred approach for large deployable systems and it has been approved by the selection committee for the Space Simulation Conference.
After a year of enduring a hostile work environment, misrepresentations and abusive behavior, I escalated my concerns but still to no avail. OHCM and Dave Ward’s branch and division management has stated that the situation has been handled. The recent incidents by Dave Ward shows that he has not stopped the unacceptable behavior but has instead escalated it. He is revisiting old issues that were resolved but not in his favor and adding extra burden to HGAS that he does not require of other systems.
I believe that the root cause is the reluctance of project, division, security, and resource management to swiftly and decisively act using the policies put in place to handle such a situation. Why have the policies and training if you refuse to act on and enforce them? This type of “culture” behavior has been noted in all reviews of NASA after large catastrophic events but unfortunately it is alive and well at Goddard.
It is with a heavy heart that I do this. It has been and is my wish to see all the HGAS team hard works culminate in a launch and successful operation of the spacecraft. It is my hope that the real purpose of this letter is seen as not to offend concerned parties but to eliminate the apathy that seems to run so rampant when dealing with these issues. I was guided by two pieces of advice when I wrote this, one from my father and the other from the workplace violence training: You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem, and do you want to be the person at Johnson Space Center who thought it wasn’t their place to say something when they noticed the behavior? For contacts concerning HGAS, please refer to the following list:
HGA – David Lassiter
Gimbals – Fil Parong
Hinges – Chris Rose
Deck – Brad Crittenden
LRM – Chris Johnson
Thermal – Dan Powers
Blankets – Brenda Estavia
FEA – Bryon Stepp
ADAMS – Walt Garcen
G-Negation – Blair Russell and Craig Huber
Chris Strickland”

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.