Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More responses to Stern

The New York Times has published a set of responses to Alan's Sterns letter (see previous posts) from "industry insiders." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/opinion/l01nasa.html?_r=2 (With thanks to a reader who sent me the link.)

I encourage you to read the full letters, but for those who are too busy, here are highlights from each:

"Before Mr. Griffin’s tenure, there was a long history of low-ball estimates. Senators or representatives with local constituencies to please would not let a major center project be canceled no matter how bad the overruns... Management of complex, technical projects in the current Washington environment requires extraordinary technical and political skill, as well as the ability to pick battles you can win."

"Whether during design, production or operations, the lack of a sufficient budget forces capable, well-meaning and goal-oriented government and contractor personnel to cut corners. This, in turn, often elevates safety risk... [ensuring adequate funding] may mean forgoing certain missions altogether and delaying others until it is “their turn.” Trying to finance everything at once on the cheap is a recipe for both budget and safety problems."

"While NASA must strive to be fiscally prudent, it is inevitable that when you attempt to perform science no one has ever tried, you will run into technological hurdles that cannot be anticipated... If NASA wishes to remain at the forefront of the world’s technology, it has to be willing to accept a certain amount of risk."

"Scientists are optimistic about how much they can do, managers are eager to accept low cost projections, and contractors are inclined to submit the lowest bid that is at all believable. But Dr. Stern’s bitter tone makes it easy to forget how astonishingly successful these missions have been... NASA needs to reform its process for developing programs while retaining the imagination and innovation so crucial to the endeavor."

"Alan Stern’s argument that “NASA’s managers and masters must all make cost performance just as important as mission successes” is absurd... The space program’s greatest accomplishments, including Apollo, Viking, Voyager, Hubble and Cassini, ended up costing more than NASA thought they would going in. So did the Panama Canal, the transcontinental railroad and almost everything else this country has ever done that was hard to do."

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