13.46: The Unsexy Side of Space, with Bart Smith and Ben Hewett

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, and Dan, with special guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett

When we talk about space travel we’re usually talking about rocket scientists and astronauts. In this episode we spoke with our guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett, about the “unsexy” (read: possibly boring but don’t be deceived) side of the space program—budgeting, logistics, and procurement. RFI and RFP, with toilets, hammers, and business cards; that’s this episode.

(For those unfamiliar with the above TLAs [three letter acronyms], RFI and RFP stand for Request for Information and Request for Proposal.)



Write a story in which a budget analyst and a procurement intern save the day

The Martian, by Andy Weir, about which we have gushed repeatedly

11 thoughts on “13.46: The Unsexy Side of Space, with Bart Smith and Ben Hewett”

  1. One big problem NASA and all government organizations have is politics. There is the usual “let’s see if we can make them look bad” sort of thing. But even more pernicious is the fact that it is politically useful to spread the work across as many of the 435 House districts as possible. So things are structured so that there are lots of pieces that can be spread around. Elon Musk doesn’t have that problem. He can blow a little extra money here and as a result save a lot of money there. He can do it because no one is looking over his shoulder trying to find the “here” so they can distort it so that it can be used to score political points. He also doesn’t have to creatively find ways to place work in some district in Nebraska just to make some Congressman happy.

  2. I wrote a novel where there is a financial analyst in a government department. They save the day, hijack a spaceship etc. But to be fair, I certainly used the stereotype of bored, lazy, (and slightly shady) government employee because I wanted a strong character arc. One of the great things about bureaucracy is that it is fertile ground for politics and hidden agendas. The same can occur in large corporates too. This episode makes me want to rewatch The Accountant.

    1. Writing is not a skill that exists in a vacuum. Writing involves writing ABOUT things, so we make an effort to find fascinating and unusual experts in various domains to help us learn the abouts about which we may wish to write.

      1. True though these episodes have the challenge that they may have problem appealing to those parts of your audience whose current or planned writing has nothing to do with the episode topic and don’t have inherent interest in it. Speaking of which, any plans for episode with doctor or similar on hurting and treating people? I think you might have had some episode related to injuries but someone like er doctor discussing the immediate treatment to gunshot- or stab wound would probably be relevant to many stories, at least on the action heavy end of spectrum, or soldier discussing what a war feels like. I think there were some bits of that in the story of visiting soviet submarine you told at Helsinki Worldcon (“is warship. Sometimes doesn’t come back” or something similar you quoted). A whole episode on someone’s firsthand experience might be interesting.

    2. Yeah, I miss the old episodes that stuck to talking about writing. I can get miscellaneous knowledge via other podcasts.

  3. Just a thought… if you listen (or read) these podcasts looking at how the writers ask questions and query the guests, you might get some useful notions for your own interactions with experts?

  4. I enjoy these podcasts about different topics. And although I’m not writing about NASA or space per say, it got me thinking about the administration side of things in my story. I think these types of podcasts encourage me to do a little more research and “people questioning” then I might have otherwise done. Thanks

Comments are closed.