Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Keith Cowing has a somewhat dispiriting but important collection of notes and sources here on NASA's chronic inability to project costs adequately and the way the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) seems to be the source to pay for other directorates' sins as well as its own (of which it has many). A possible two-year slip in the Mars Polar Lander mission seems the next likely domino to fall. Cowing puts it more bluntly, calling the cuts and postponements to science missions "the slaughter of the innocents" and noting that "Eventually, you run out of innocents to slaughter." He links to an op-ed by former NASA SMD Associate Administrator Alan Stern arguing that the agency has gotten used to preparing unrealistically low cost estimates to get missions approved with the assumption they'll be bailed out later (which does not always happen). Stern admits to being a culprit at times. It's not a problem unique to NASA - see virtually every report on DoD procurement.