Congress, NASA

Constellation program manager reassignment raises a ruckus on the Hill

If there was one surprise from Wednesday’s hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee about NASA’s human spaceflight plans, it was the news that NASA was reassigning Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley, who will now be the associate director for strategic capabilities at the Johnson Space Center. What was particularly surprising was how the news was announced: not by NASA but by a member of the committee, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who chairs the space subcommittee. “Recently we just received word that the Constellation program manager was removed from his position,” she said towards the end of the hearing’s first panel, with NASA administrator Charles Bolden as the sole witness. “Is that correct?”

“That is probably correct, ma’am,” he responded. Pressed by Giffords, he went on to say, “It was not an action that I took or directed. It would be an action that would be taken by the Exploration [Systems] Mission Directorate head, Doug Cooke, and Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats. I have been in consultation with them about that, and my understanding was that they were going to get together with him this morning.”

NASA officials later confirmed the reassignment, stating that Hanley will be tasked with keeping the center’s human spaceflight capabilities intact during the end of the shuttle program and the planned closeout of Constellation. However, the timing of the move—literally while the agency’s head was being grilled on Capitol Hill—′can hardly be considered wise.

Giffords said she was worried this was a sign that NASA was not committed to working on Constellation, which remains funded through the end of the year. “[W]hen the Constellation manager is removed from his position, it frankly makes me personally very dubious” that the agency wants to make progress on the program in FY2010.

Hanley, Bolden said, “is an incredibly talented individual. Jeff and I have spoken for quite some time, since I became the NASA administrator, about his future.” Bolden wasn’t able to continue that statement because the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon, cut him off. But Giffords got one more comment in: “It’s of great concern to us that you take the manager out of his position and reassign him to another position, and I just want to let you know that I’m very concerned by that.”

Other members of Congress also took note of the reassignment. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told the Huntsville Times he sees the move as an effort by NASA leadership to quash dissent in the ranks. “NASA leadership removed a capable program manager in its continuing efforts to suppress internal voices of dissent to their visionless space exploration plan,” he said. “This action furthers an atmosphere where NASA’s leadership team has become a key impediment to space exploration moving forward.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), in a press release issued late today by the Senate Commerce Committee, where she is the ranking member, also raised concerns. “I am deeply troubled to have learned that the program manager for the Constellation program was removed from his post,” she said in the press release, which hasn’t yet appeared on the committee web site as of Wednesday night. “The timing of the program manager’s removal raises significant concerns about whether NASA is continuing to implement the authorized program as directed by Congress.” She added she would ask the NASA Inspector General to perform “a full and thorough investigation” of the reassignment.

41 comments to Constellation program manager reassignment raises a ruckus on the Hill

  • Gary Church

    “This action furthers an atmosphere where NASA’s leadership team has become a key impediment to space exploration moving forward.”

    The only impediment there has ever been to space exploration moving forward is scheming lying manipulating rat bastard politicians.

  • Set it straight

    Well, if the move was “in the works”, hanley’s e-mail sure does not show that. It reeks of someone who is just P.O’d beyond all belief.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    I am surprised that it had not happened before now. Having said that, one wonders why Bolden had to be told about it by subordinates. Is he not the NASA administrator? And doing it now, after all the anger generated by Obamaspace, is just going to poison relations with the Congress even more. The people in the administration are stupid arrogant beyond belief.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Let’s put this in some context here. You’re Project Manager of a project that your bosses don’t want to do anymore. In fact, there is lots of planning going on for the stuff they aren’t yet quite allowed to formally start that is pretty exciting, and will determine the future of U/S. human space flight. You aren’t a part of that. It’s all going on down the hall.

    You could just throw up your hands and quit, or you could just quietly ask your bosses to “reassign you” (as they compliment you on your performance) saving some face for you. Whatcha going to do?

    Yes, Hanley is indeed P.O.’d beyond belief, but it’s not because he was reassigned. Just an educated guess, and in appreciation of a strong and committed manager who will go on to do fine things.

    Oh, by the way, strategic planning for JSC plays beautifully into the new planning efforts. I would hope he’d end up eventually being a Project Manager again when things get back on the rails.

  • Bennett

    Anyone who has worked in mid management has probably seen a company go through an earth shaking change of direction, you know that some folks adapt and get behind the changes, and some don’t and move along.

  • Gary Church

    A very restrained cordial middle management way of putting it sir. How about, “some people will bend over and take it, and others won’t”?

  • Major Tom

    “Having said that, one wonders why Bolden had to be told about it by subordinates. Is he not the NASA administrator?”

    Bolden was in the loop about Hanley’s reassignment. He stated such during the hearing and Mr. Foust provided the relevant quote above:

    “‘It would be an action that would be taken by the Exploration [Systems] Mission Directorate head, Doug Cooke, and Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats. I [Bolden] have been in consultation with them about that, and my understanding was that they were going to get together with him this morning.’”

    Listen and read for comprehension.

    “The people in the administration are stupid arrogant beyond belief.”

    Yeah, nothing like some of the posters here who hear or read one thing and stupidly argue that it means the opposite.

    Or just arrogantly make stuff up without bothering to listen or read in the first place.

    Lawdy…

  • Robert G. Oler

    This relief for cause was more then overdue. Hanley should have been canned when his “memo” came out, but it got worse with some of the stuff that NASA Watch is reporting, and some emails I have seen (which I cannot release).

    Hanley was in all respects subverting the plans of the Administrator…particularly with his attempts to come up with a “new” constellation.

    To understand Charlie, you have to do Marine Speak. How Hanley went was the same as how Charlie would have dealt with an errant O-6.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Major Tom

    Ironically, for the first time in its entire history, Constellation is now led by an experienced systems engineer and hardware developer (at least in an acting capacity), instead of a former flight director.

    FWIW…

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Yeah, nothing like some of the posters here who hear or read one thing and stupidly argue that it means the opposite.”

    Or people who write insulting posts under an assumed name.

  • Gary Church

    I just want to know what this heavy lift vehicle is all about. Heavy lift is what is really important if we are ever going to build Church Ships…I mean, spaceships.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “How Hanley went was the same as how Charlie would have dealt with an errant O-6.”

    Not really An Errant O 6 would have been gone a long time ago. Hanley’s sin was that he was carrying out the law more enthusiastically than the Administration wanted. By waiting to get rid of him, the Administration has further alienated Congress by creating the impression that it is defying the law.. And if you think Congress is alienated now, think about what it will be like next year. To quote the President, they have behaved stupidly.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ May 26th, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    This is how Marine Generals have subordinates deal with those subs who are being dull and cannot get with the plan.

    Charlie is doing with NASA exactly what he did with the USNA and his Marine Air Wing. The Cleansing has started.

    But opposition inside of NASA will die quickly and the contractors will come on board as well.

    As one drove by JSC tonight, Hanley’s head was clearly on the gate…(at least metaphorically)…the rest of the troops will get the word. Shock and Awe.

    Hanley was playing well above his pay grade. Now he can go invent warp drive…

    Robert G. Oler

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Major Tom” by the way is not getting the point, as he or she is not capable of reading for comprehension. Bolden was “consulted” after the fact about Hanley’s “promotion.” He did not initiate the reassignment of the manager of what has hitherto been NASA’s flagship program. I do not believe that lower level officials at NASA did this on their own. The order doubtless came from above Bolden’s pay grade.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “The Cleansing has started.”

    I believe the term you are looking for is “purging.” This move to terrorize and intimidate is not going to sit will with the Congress, which has not authorized the end of Constellation and will now more than likely never do so. The purging of Hanley will be seen to be what it is; an attempt to defy the will of Congress and it will not be tolerated.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ May 27th, 2010 at 12:50 am

    “How Hanley went was the same as how Charlie would have dealt with an errant O-6.”

    Not really An Errant O 6 would have been gone a long time ago…

    Not so much. Even you watch movies and how Jack N dealt with his rebellious XO in a Few Good Men, is kind of like how its done. Errant souls are given a few chances (if there is the time) to get on board and when they dont then they are deleted by subordinates where the “top person” doesnt even get their hair “musted”…as one Marine Corps General remarked in the “Great War”, “it is but a little thing”.

    As I noted in another post (before this) Hanley was playing the game that Griffin played. Griffin could not imagine that he was not going to survive the change in administrations …Hanley figured out that he and Constellation was going to outlast either Charlie or The President.

    What is truly stunning in his incompetence is that Hanley never tried to “fix” Constellation years ago. One can argue that it didnt get the funding the NASA thunderheads said it needed…(I think that they got far to much for to little results) but even if that is valid, as the reality of funding not matching requirements; at some point Hanley if he was doing what he was suppose to do…

    should have gone to Mike G and said “I cant do this on the money I am getting lets rethink this”. Instead he and Griffin just kept stretching the dates.

    total incompetence.

    Killing subordinates (metaphoricallY) that dont sing well with the lead singer is a sad day and a last resort; but it silences the thunderheads.

    Constellation is dead.

    As I predicted

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ May 27th, 2010 at 12:56 am
    ” He did not initiate the reassignment of the manager of what has hitherto been NASA’s flagship program. ”

    your proof of that is what?

    “Purging” oh that word is so rocket science (grin) …but what is happening is getting rid of 1) incompetence (there is more firings to come I predict) and 2) telling people that the way one disents is important.

    Congress wont do a thing…for you to think so is silly.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Major Tom

    “‘Major Tom’ by the way is not getting the point, as he or she is not capable of reading for comprehension. Bolden was “consulted” after the fact about Hanley’s ‘promotion.’”

    No, Bolden was not consulted “after the fact”. Per his own testimony, he had “been in consultation” — past tense — with Cook and Coats on Hanley’s reassignment. Mr. Foust even provided the direct quote for you above.

    “‘I [Bolden] have been in consultation with them [Cook and Coats] about that [Hanley's reassignment].”

    What is your major malfunction when it comes to comprehending the English language? Don’t you even understand basic verb tenses?

    “Or people who write insulting posts…”

    It wasn’t an insult. It’s a fact. You read the sentence above and stupidly argued that it meant the opposite.

    Twice.

    “… under an assumed name.”

    I have not “assumed” anyone’s name besides a fictional character in a series of rock songs.

    Don’t make things up.

    Ugh…

  • Coastal Ron

    Hanley being reassigned is only a big deal because of the political ramifications. However, anyone that’s worked for large companies knows that these types of “reassignments” happen all the time, for both good reasons and company politics. Just follow the tech world and watch all the changes (Microsoft this week).

    Also, when someone a couple of levels below the top starts getting too much press, and it’s not 100% blessed by the higher ups, then you shouldn’t be too surprised when something like this happens – even when you have people in Congress rooting for you. He opened the door, and they pushed him out.

  • BAL

    Doug Lassiter:
    “Oh, by the way, strategic planning for JSC plays beautifully into the new planning efforts. I would hope he’d end up eventually being a Project Manager again when things get back on the rails.”

    Two falsehoods:

    (1) Strategic planning has been at JSC forever and has never had anything to do with the actual pursuit of the US space program, which is one of the reasons we are in the bad situation that we are today. Their most important role is putting out a new strategic planning report every year or so. NASA and human space flight has needed some genuine strategic planning for decades, but it has not happened.

    (2) Hanley is not and never was a Project Manager. Maybe if he had been trained to be a Project Manager and if he had actually had such experience, he could have done a better job when he was handed the entire Program. He was a nice guy who was promoted well before his time and well beyond his level of competence.

    While Jeff was not the sole reason the program has wound up where it is, his failure to manage the program was certainly a major contributory factor to the situation we are in. The situation with Hanley should have been corrected two years ago.

  • Bryan R

    Jeff was a nice guy who had the attention of one or two JSC managers, which was why he was promoted. His situation was not unique. Essentially none of the first round of technical managers had any of the appropriate experience for their jobs and no reason to expect they would be successful. But as bad as the technical management has turned out to be, the guy who really should never have been put into control is the guy in charge of program control; in charge of the program requirements and budgets. He had failed at every previous job he’d ever held and there was every reason that he would never be successful in a major program like Constellation, and he wasn’t.

    The space program and the American people are paying the price now and for years and likely decades into the future.

  • Much ado about nothing. You really have to laugh at some Congresscritters spewing hot air over the routine reassignment of some mid-level manager in one government bureaucracy. You’d think they’d have better things to do. Actually, they do. They should go do them.

  • Justin Kugler

    Where was Shelby when people inside Constellation were complaining about the silencing of dissent from within? I guess no one showed him Andy Thomas’ video on poor management practices that Wayne Hale hosted on YouTube. I played the division manager in the video and I can assure you that the script was based on real anecdotes, including experiences Andy had with Constellation management.

    Shelby is just spinning this for his own political ends. He’s one of the “key impediments” to space exploration “moving forward.”

  • Doug Lassiter

    “Hanley is not and never was a Project Manager.”

    That’s correct. I wrote too quickly. He was the Constellation Program Manager. Constellation is not formally a “project”, though it involves many individual projects. Hanley’s role was coordination of Constellation with HQ.

    “Strategic planning has been at JSC forever and has never had anything to do with the actual pursuit of the US space program, which is one of the reasons we are in the bad situation that we are today.”

    Also correct, but that’s a reason to get someone smart and passionate about the long range future of human spaceflight involved in doing it. The culture of JSC is based on keeping things going, and not necessarily moving forward in big steps. I think we agree here. That’s the reason we’re in the bad situation we’re in today.

    But my primary point was that it’s very unlikely that Hanley got thrown out. Smells like he just pulled his own ripcord. So words like “cleansing” and “purging” probably don’t belong in this discussion.

  • amightywind

    There must be an investigation of this blatant political assault. I can’t wait to see the anti-Constellation Obamaspace shill they insert in his place. The ineptitude of the NASA junta knows no bounds. Bolden is vying with Dan Goldin as the worst NASA administrator in history.

  • Major Tom

    “I can’t wait to see the anti-Constellation Obamaspace shill they insert in his place.”

    The “shill” they “inserted” was the deputy on the program prior to Hanley’s reassignment. He has decades of project development and systems engineering experience at NASA.

    Try to keep up and not insult the managers you’re rooting for, genius.

  • anon

    This is a way to get Hanley out of the way.

    Now if they really wanted to slap him, they would have
    put him in charge as director future plans Plum Brook Station or
    WSTF.

    Stick him out in the hinterlands.

  • Look, the failure of Constellation begins and ends with Mike Griffin.

    Everyone at NASA below Mike were trying their best to make his ugly baby work. NASA actually demonstrated an amazing level of engineering talent in looking for ways to make the Ares-1 work. Unfortunately, many times engineering talent and passion is just not enough to overcome a very bad design especially when time and money is in short supply.

    Having said that, all program managers with a successful track record do three things really well.

    First, they all facilitate an open engineering decision environment amongst their direct reports and insist everyone at levels within the project does the same. Anyone within the project that attempts to distort the lines of communication is removed and made an example of what won’t be tolerated. Those that are honest about and better yet find creative solutions to tough problems are promoted and rewarded; the opposite is demoted and punished.

    Second, they all provide the same level of honesty up the chain of command even if it means telling their leadership that the Ares-1 is FUBAR and here are specific engineering confirmed reasons why. Not to worry here is a technical solution like DIRECT that still adheres to the policy and budget limitations the Administrator is obligated to work within. Unfortunately given that Mike thought he was the smartest engineer in the room it logically followed in his mind that these lesser line level engineers suggesting DIRECT as the clear solution to the Ares-1 problems must be wrong.

    Third, if the program manager’s leadership still insists on going down a path certain to fail a good program manager will ask to be reassigned, as good program managers value their reputation as good program managers more than the esteem/power that natural comes with the position.

    Many times they will be rewarded later in their career after the program they left ultimately fails as good leaders by definition like program managers that they trust will not steer them wrong and have track record of successful projects.

  • My emphasis:
    Bolden: “It was not an action that I took or directed. It would be an action that would be taken by the Exploration [Systems] Mission Directorate head, Doug Cooke, and Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats. I have been in consultation with them about that, and my understanding was that they were going to get together with him this morning.”
    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ): “It’s of great concern to us that you take the manager out of his position and reassign him to another position, and I just want to let you know that I’m very concerned by that.”

    Once upon a time I was a little bit hopeful that Giffords (despite her party allegiance) would be a breath of fresh air, so much for that. It’s not about whether or not Bolden actually was the one who had the real say that irks me but the layers of automatic twisting and spinning without anything real meaning, just posing and maneuvering for personal gains. If Giffords really meant that Bolden made the change and also that this was important in any way then being “concerned” is about the last thing she should talk about, instead she’s just saying it because:
    - It sounds like something else than hot air to too many people.
    - It’s a great chance to take a training ride (see next point) on a political dead horse readily equipped with training wheels since just about anybody R or D who is saying anything at all is making a fuss in the same direction.
    - It’s a great CYA standard procedure.

    As for people comparing this to what went on under Griffin please get a clue as you’re unsuccessfully trying to compare two entirely different situations: the current one is at best a policy/strategy and budget debate (not that any of those are happening in Congress) while the situation under Griffin dealt with suppression of technical and engineering design issues unfavorable to the Constellation Ares I program (both the first attempt and the second) –there’s simply no effing way Ares I could get so far while getting so bad without it (simply because I don’t want to think of your average NASA Constellation engineer as a dullard and for the aforementioned conclusion to be different they would have to be).

  • And that comment of mine set a new personal record in malformed English, sorry about that (too much –but obviously not enough– editing going on).

  • Doug Lassiter

    “Bolden is vying with Dan Goldin as the worst NASA administrator in history.”

    Actually, I consider Goldin to be one of the best. Visionary, committed, politically astute, faster-better-cheaper aside. May Boldin do as well.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Major Tom”, pay attention and read carefully. These are Bolden’s own words. “It was not an action that I took or directed.” The meaning cannot be more clear. Someone else, unknown at this time (though there are suspects), directed Hanley’s ouster.That is why United States Senators are demanding an investigation.

    I can understand why you want to keep your identity a secret. I would if I had the tendency that you do post foolish messages,

  • Mark R. Whittington

    ““Purging” oh that word is so rocket science (grin) …but what is happening is getting rid of 1) incompetence (there is more firings to come I predict) and 2) telling people that the way one disents is important.”

    Actually I had in mind what they used to do in Soviet Russia.

  • Coastal Ron

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ May 28th, 2010 at 1:04 am

    ““Major Tom”, pay attention and read carefully. These are Bolden’s own words. “It was not an action that I took or directed.” The meaning cannot be more clear.”

    Yes, and the meaning is that Hanley did not work directly for Bolden, and that Hanley’s boss decided on their own to reshuffle their employees. End of drama.

    As a manager, I didn’t consult my boss when I reassigned my employees, although I would keep them informed.

  • Major Tom

    “These are Bolden’s own words. “It was not an action that I took or directed.” The meaning cannot be more clear. Someone else, unknown at this time (though there are suspects), directed Hanley’s ouster.”

    Sigh… for the umpteenth time, read before you post and read for comprehension.

    This is Bolden’s full quote from Mr. Foust’s original post above:

    “‘It was not an action that I took or directed. It would be an action that would be taken by the Exploration [Systems] Mission Directorate head, Doug Cooke, and Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats. I have been in consultation with them about that, and my understanding was that they were going to get together with him this morning.’”

    The “someone else” who reassigned Hanley is not “unknown at this time”. If you had bothered to actually read and comprehend the quote provided by Mr. Foust directly above, it’s clear that the reassignment was made by Doug Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems, and Mike Coats, Johnson Space Center Director — not someone “unknown at this time”.

    Again, what is your major malfunction when it comes to basic reading comprehension? Are you in grade school? Do you have a learning deficit? Is English not your first language?

    Lawdy…

    “I can understand why you want to keep your identity a secret. I would if I had the tendency that you do post foolish messages”

    I recommend you do the same. I wouldn’t want anyone to know my name online if my posts exhibited a level of reading comprehension that’s worse than a fourth grader’s.

    Cripes…

    “Actually I had in mind what they used to do in Soviet Russia.”

    Property seizure, gulags, and murder.

    What a classy comment…

  • Francis Louis Charbonneau Jr

    The reassignment of Hanley is the result of several actions of NASA each of which had a primary impetus and cause. First, Hanley was an outspoken critic of the Administration’s desire to cancel the entire program. This obviously did not sit well with the Administration and with its NASA head, Bolden. This was probably discussed at the highest levels and the decision was made to “get him out of there and shut his mouth”. Secondly, the Administration has been on a propaganda ship that is telling the country with “wonderful vision” about what our Space Program should be and what it is not right now. Remember, these are career politicians who have not studied engineering, physicis, or higher levels of Mathematics and Engineering. These are politicians such as Bolden, though a career officer which itself deserves its own praise, but politicians nonetheless who think they know what’s best for NASA. I doubt that the Administration has visited Lockheed Martin, Boeing, G.E. Aviation to see what the thousands of engineers, men and women, who have Masters Degrees and Ph.D.s in Aerospace Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science have exactly worked. The test flight of Ares I in October was a success. Now as Bolden said a month ago “it was on course to oblivion and could not possibly work”. A study was done to back up the President’s eventual decision to cancel Constellation. I have read this report several times and not once do they quantifyingly or scientifically or empirically show that the Constellation program was doomed for failure. They never had one engineer whose doctorate from MIT or The University of Michigan where the research on the heat shields is occurring for Orion testify. What the Administration is stating over and over again is that the program would not work. Therefore, if it would not work, and now to impugn and insinuate that these thousands of engineers were simply wasting their time and playing computer games all day long and not really developing the Constellation equipment is nothing less than preposterous, insulting, absurd. This propaganda is sickening and nauseating. The engineers from AL, FL, GA, TX, AZ, CA, UT and tier ones and tier twos and tier threes to Constellation even in such devastated states as Michigan have engineers that believe and see success with Constellation. How could it be that they are all wrong. The Administration is going to ram its propaganda down everyone’s throats whether they like it or not. Finally, the fact that the Administration did NOT invite one NASA employee to the staged speech of hypocrisy at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – yes, the very 10,000 employees who will lose their jobs as soon as the last shuttle flies – yes, not one of those unfortunates were invited to listen to a speech that promised another 2,500 jobs from new targets for NASA. The speech was seen by many. It was insulting, it was perfidious, and it was a lie. I laud Kay Hutchinson and the rest of the Congress who will fight to save Constellation and prevent the lies and cheap propaganda about Hanley from obfuscating the truth.

  • @ Almighty wind…..You’re totally right!! Charles Bolden IS THE WORST ADMINISTRATOR IN NASA HISTORY!!!

  • Down with Flexible Path!! May it be defeated on Capital Hill!! May wiser statesmen see through the folly & idiocy of NASA doing nothing but Low Earth Orbit for the next 15 to 20 years!! Generation X was born and lived out its life to middle age, and you mean to tell me, that no one has left LEO since the beginning 70′s??!! Do you all remember, from history books, mind you, just how petite computing power was at that time?! This was WAY before PC’s, Apple Computer, Microsoft. And between 1968 and 1972, NASA was able to send 24 astronauts Moonward. Now, in 2010, all we can do is LEO space station stays?! THAT is all we are capable of, after four solid decades?!

  • Smokey

    The US manned Space program is moribund. The next person to walk on the moon will be Chinese, or possibly Japanese. And the first person to walk on Mars will be Chinese, Japanese or possibly Indian.
    The Shuttle was the major hardware in assembling the Space Station. But with the shuttle program ending US scientists will have to get there on an old Russian bus not much bigger than a Volkswagen bug.
    How many top notch American scientists are going to be looking for jobs soon? I suppose they could get a job with with a car company or one of the big banks. They’re getting all the money now while remaining NASA sycophants try to convince us everything is just fine.
    Good work Obama.

  • [...] late May NASA reassigned Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley, a decision most people first heard about during a House Science and Technology Committee hearing featuring administrator Charles Bolden. That decision triggered a strong reaction among some [...]

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