21 June 2019
Martha at AMSAT told me my petition for nomination for election to the AMSAT-NA board of directors election was accepted. Thank you to both Martha and all currently serving board members and AMSAT-NA leadership. It's an honor to be nominated and I will run for a position on the board.
I am part of a slate of candidates. Some of us know each other and have worked together before, and some of us are meeting for the first time on this particular project. We come from a variety of backgrounds, we live in different states, and we work in different fields. We have the same views on the need for organizational transparency, and we all greatly value volunteer service.
Part of the deal with putting yourself out there in front of others and asking for votes is to explain yourself, your motives, and your intentions. That is what this letter is about.
I said I was open to questions and I have received some very good ones. First of all, thank you so much for the support! It means a lot and is deeply appreciated.
There are some changes that need to be made. There are many things that need to stay the same.
Here are the questions I've been asked so far.
Information Technology Infrastructure
Multiple people (11) have contacted me about the IT situation. Most often mentioned is the website. Maintaining a useful website with multiple complex functions is difficult. The current website is not perceived to be easily modified or updated. Issues flagged and communicated about by individuals have not been resolved. Explanations have not been given. Assertions have been made that the hardware needs to be upgraded and that the situation can be improved. Requests for service and corrections and inclusion from a variety of people, including myself, have not been acknowledged or answered.
I'm familiar with the history of the AMSAT website. It's been, and is today, a *very* useful resource for not just the AMSAT community in the United States, but also for the rest of the world.
Identifying problems, explaining them, and fixing them is what I do. Developing and maintaining a website is not high profile space work, but it is a central service to the community. The website, and the way social media is used, needs some attention. The way forward is to inventory what we have, evaluate the shortcomings compared to organizational goals for the website, design any needed upgrades, plan support and maintenance, propose it, vote on it, and then make sure it gets done.
Social media is challenging, even for organizations with paid staff that do nothing but produce and curate content. AMSAT-NA needs a review and an update of how it uses social media. What is the goal? What are the policies? Where is the fun? I believe it should be accessible, informative, and fair. When it fails to be accessible, informative, and fair, then there needs to be remedies. Adopting existing industry-standard codes of conduct is a start. The other half of the recipe is a willingness to enforce them.
Infrastructure, websites, and social media are not high profile space work, but it's important to ordinary operators and enthusiasts.
What to do about ITAR/EAR
The second largest set of questions I have received is about space work. What is our future? Why can't we see what is going on?
The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are two very important United States export control laws that affect the manufacturing, sales and distribution of many different types of technology.
I most enjoy working on ground systems. I do have space industry experience with Globalstar. I know my way around ITAR. I understand what it takes to comply. I believe that the public domain carve outs in ITAR and EAR are the right way forward for an amateur radio satellite service. Yes, it is true, my heart is in ground systems. Nothing makes me happier than supporting those that want to work on and operate spacecraft.
Here is what I know. Complying with ITAR/EAR regulations that are designed to serve proprietary interests, and are rooted in 1980s thinking, are not what we should be using as a framework for very precious volunteer hours for amateur satellites. We have a much better option available to us, and that is the public domain option in ITAR 120.11. This provision is also available in EAR.
Converting AMSAT-NA to an Open Source and Open Access organization is my priority. If you want that, please vote for the slate that supports this goal.
The incumbents have turned down two different closely related proposals. They rejected a proposal to bring AMSAT-NA in compliance with the current proprietary ITAR/EAR regulations. Currently, AMSAT-NA does not comply with ITAR in terms of data storage or business communications. The proposal to use specific third-party ITAR-compliant services was rejected because it would cost money. The incumbents' board also rejected a proposal to convert to an open source organization under ITAR/EAR public domain carve outs. I care very much about the members and the mission. I will work to make it a safe and fun place to volunteer with international collaboration once again possible.
Respect for All Volunteers
Third, I have received a lot of questions and some very pointed comments about how volunteers should or will be treated. Clear guidelines for volunteering, identified volunteer coordinators, a enforceable code of conduct, an application process that doesn't necessarily go through a single person or position at AMSAT-NA, the ability to coordinate outside projects and organizations as valued and included Member Societies, and a positive friendly welcoming atmosphere is what we should prioritize as an organization.
I have experience with attempting to use the Member Society section of AMSAT-NA bylaws. Open Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to open source and open access research and development, was founded in order to be the open source R&D service for AMSAT-NA. This would have dramatically reduced risk to the traditional ITAR projects, provided an alternative management structure to the top-down, opaque, authoritarian style that was dominant in the engineering team, and had proven fundraising and engineering vitality.
If you want full and open collaboration with groups like Open Research Institute, Libre Space, SatNOGs, IEEE, TAPR, Universities, companies, and more, then that is what we are after and that is what we will work to make happen.
There is no guarantee that every project will work flawlessly or every group will work out. But, a failure in good faith is substantially better than being insular.
Open Source is not a silver bullet. It doesn't solve all problems nor is it the right answer for every technical challenge. However, an open source redirect for AMSAT-NA is well past due. AMSAT-NA needs a default of transparency, modern technology, open source, and open process.
That is what you will get with this slate.
We have tried to effect change from within. We have presented options, made offers, protested bad decisions, collaborated, accommodated, compromised, consistently volunteered, followed through, showed up, demonstrated working hardware and software, and made multiple proposals to the board to fix pressing problems.
We've won launches, made working hardware, contributed to working satellites that are currently in use, and persevered.
We will not succeed without your support.
Just the process of converting membership numbers, engineering documentation, and finances from opaque to transparent will take substantial time and effort.
If you truly believe that an opaque and authoritarian leadership style is working magic behind the scenes, then we are not your candidates.
Fear and secrecy do not make great art or engineering. We commit to opening up the process and making AMSAT-NA accountable to membership. It's time to "do the chores" and get things renovated.
Questions and comments welcome and encouraged. Please mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.