I recently had a chance to chat with Matt Ritsko, the recent winner of the President’s SAVE Award. The SAVE Award, which stands for Securing Americans Value and Efficiency, was launched in 2009 by President Obama. The award seeks ideas from federal employees to make government more effective and efficient and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. Matt is a Financial Manager on the Gravity Extreme Magnetism SMEX (GEMS) Flight Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA has a long heritage of launching SMEX or Small Explorer missions. There have been over 92 Explorer class missions launched by NASA, including Explorer 1, the first US satellite, and COBE, whose science won the Nobel Prize for Science. NASA Explorer class missions have the lowest cost of all NASA flight missions, which means that the cost and schedule are typically very aggressive. So a large emphasis is put on creative ways of saving cost. Join us as we catch up with Matt to hear the background on his SAVE Award.
To see the description of the idea and a video of Matt and the other finalists speaking on video conference with President Obama, visit the SAVE Award site here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/save-award
Open NASA: Welcome Matt, tell us about what its like on a SMEX mission and the lead up to submitting your idea to the President’s SAVE Award.
Matt Ritsko: One of the challenges I have on a daily basis is to look for ways of being as efficient with the resources we have available to us in terms of staff, materials and time. We are on a very short schedule and quick turn around to build GEMS, so we are always looking around Goddard for the right mix of resources to accomplish the mission. I am very interested in finding ways of being more efficient.
There are a few flight projects at Goddard which had improved tracking of parts that they had left over after they launched their mission, including the Express Logistics Carrier launched in 2009, which is an un-pressurized attached payload for the International Space Station. As part of GEMS, I wanted to see what parts and tools we could leverage off these other projects. After seeing what they did with their internal tracking system, it seemed to make sense to enhance our tracking of tools, such as benches, lifting slings, and shipping containers. These items can add up to be pretty significant in cost over the life-cycle of a NASA flight project. And when you have as many in-house projects as you have here at Goddard at one point in time, those cost savings can become pretty significant. At that point you can start tying in both parts and tools and get at some great cost savings. With some support, we can raise the bar for both parts and tools.
ON: And when you talk about parts, do you mean parts that could fly in space as well?
MR: Yes, spaceflight parts, which are very expensive. There are sometimes left over parts because in the space world, the time to test and manufacture parts that can tolerate space is very time consuming and expensive, so you always need spares on hand if parts fail. We put parts through harsh testing, so that if its going to fail, it fails on the ground. If a part fails after we launch it, we are sometimes limited on ways to fix it. Projects are efficient now with parts; we look for ways to trade and share parts between projects, but it can be a difficult process.
ON: What are some factors which make that difficult?
MR: Once a project ends, most of the staff are moving on to the next job. They do not necessarily have the time to find the homes for extra spare parts and materials. In the process of these transitions, we often times have a challenge of keeping track of the paper work associated with it, which is critical for flight parts. You need to have very detailed documentation to ensure the proper tests were done and that it only contains certain materials. Without the paper work, you are spending extra time and man hours to check these space parts and materials.
ON: So how did you hear about the SAVE Award?
MR: I heard about the SAVE Award program though a Goddard-wide email. I figured, it will only take a few minutes to submit, so sent it in. It was a very innocent idea at the time and seemed like a good fit for SAVE and could be potentially beneficial for Goddard. I submitted the idea July 14th. I did not hear anything back until about two months ago, in September, when I got a call from OMB that the idea had made the top ten. What I submitted was pretty simple and generic, so they were looking for more details and the current state of things. OMB then down selected to the top 4, and invited us to a teleconference with the President (which you can see on the top of the main SAVE Award website here). That opened up the voting period on these top 4 ideas and on Friday, November 18th, I received a call from Charlie Bolden, the NASA Administrator, on my cell phone informing me that we won.
ON: So that call from Charlie was the first you heard of winning the SAVE Award?
MR: Yes, that’s the first I heard of it. Charlie was great to talk to.
ON: What are your initial plans to implement the system?
MR: We anticipate that there will be two pieces of this when we go to implement it, one part is the tool crypt itself and the other part is the software to manage the trace-ability. With the tools, you simply check it in and check it out from the tool crypt. If we are talking about a specific part to fly on a spacecraft, then you need that flight hardware paperwork that is attached to it which shows all the tests, the part source and its materials. We have some subject matter experts examining some of the details for possible implementation.
ON: Great, congratulations on your award and thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
MR: Thank you.
To see additional news coverage on this year’s SAVE Award, check out these links: NASA Goddard Press Release | Washington Post (blog) | Federal Times | Federal News Radio | Whitehouse.gov (blog post) | Government Executive
The tool shown in the header image was used on Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4, which was conducted by the crew of STS-125 in May 2009. Image Credit: Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr Image (click to view).
Information Based Systems Engineer
Goddard Space Flight Center