Why Does The Official Cost of Mars Phoenix Keep Changing?

NASA to Discuss Phoenix Mission Upcoming Mars Landing

"NASA has scheduled a media briefing Tuesday, May 13, at 11 a.m. EDT, to discuss the challenges, risks and science opportunities of the scheduled May 25 landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander."

Editor's note: Phoenix once had another name: "2001 Mars Surveyor Lander". After NASA crashed two spacecraft into Mars in 1999 (Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander) it was mothballed. Then some imaginative people found a way to use NASA's investment and create a new mission using existing hardware - with lessons learned from the Mars crashes applied.

Alas, when NASA talks about Phoenix they really don't want to remind people of those sad days in 1999. In so doing they go out of their way not to remind people that a lot of money went into this spacecraft before the name change. How much? They can never really provide a straight answer. Instead, they try and pass it off as an inexpensive mission.

What follows [below] is a chronology of sorts as I thave tried to find out just what this mission costs: so far I have found official NASA statements that it is $325 million, $386 million, and $420 million. I am sure NASA can come up with several more if they try. I wonder (if asked the question) what their answer will be at this press event?

Small wonder no one can figure out exactly what MSL is going to cost, eh?

Cost chronology below:

NASA Selects "Phoenix" as First Mars Scout Mission for Launch in 2007, 4 Aug 2003

"The Mars Scout program is designed to complement major missions being planned as part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, as well as those under development by foreign space agencies, within a total mission cost cap of $325 million."

NASA's Mars Phoenix Mars Mission Begins Launch Preparations, 2 June 2005

"Phoenix revives pieces of past missions in order to take NASA's Mars exploration into an exciting future," said NASA's Director, Solar System Division, Science Mission Directorate, Andrew Dantzler. The cost of the Phoenix mission is $386 million, which includes the launch."

NASA Has a Problem Calculating - and Admitting - What Space Missions Really Cost, 3 June 2005

NASA Watch Question 1: "Does the $386 million figure in this press release include the money spent to develop the 2001 Mars Surveyor Lander prior to its cancellation/mothballing?"

NASA answer: No.

Editor's comment: Then why does NASA post verbiage in public statements such as "The cost of the Phoenix mission is $386 million, which includes the launch."?

Landing Press kit, May 2008

"Cost: U.S. investment of $420 million, including development, science instruments, launch and operations; plus Canadian Space Agency investment of $37 million for the meteorological station."

Earlier Mars Phoenix News


Editor's note: Oh yes, there is this little gem on the mission website:

"The Mars Polar Lander failed to return data upon its arrival to Mars' antarctic region on December 3, 1999 and left many ambitious science goals undone."

Well DUH, that's because it crashed into Mars!

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on May 11, 2008 6:46 PM.

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