MSL Commentary in Science Magazine

Viewing NASA's Mars Budget with Resignation (Letter by Alan Stern), Science

""I would like to clarify several points in the News of the Week story (26 September, p. 1754) by A. Lawler, "Rising costs could delay NASA's next mission to Mars and future launches."

When the National Research Council's Planetary Science Decadal Survey recommended the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission for priority funding, it assigned a cost level of $650 million. This value, rather than $1.4 billion, is the true metric for seeing the deep damage that MSL's profligately overrunning cost--now likely to top $2.1 billion--has inflicted on NASA's Mars and wider planetary science budget.

Also, the story focused its overrun discussion on instrument costs. Although certainly part of the problem, instrument cost increases have been considerably smaller than overruns in the rest of MSL's budget, which was severely mismatched to the project's complexity from its inception. This mismatch sowed the most fundamental seeds of MSL's cost problems."

The article's end quote described NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission plan as "smoke and mirrors." Disappointingly, MSR is becoming a mirage in the wake of MSL and other budget damage caused by numerous substantial Science Mission Directorate (SMD) cost overruns accepted in recent months. However, as evidenced by both internal NASA and external Office of Management and Budget scrutiny in 2007, NASA's MSR plan in the President's Fiscal Year 2009 budget did fit in SMD's future budget envelope. It could well have launched near 2020, had a strong emphasis on cost control been sustained as a priority.

Finally, there was no mention that a NASA independent review team found numerous development issues that called MSL's 2009 launch date into serious doubt almost a year ago. Nor did it describe that scenarios for dealing with MSL without causing such deep budgetary damage elsewhere were proposed by SMD but rejected at higher levels in early 2008. That, and the concurrent, forced disbanding of the MSL independent review team, precipitated my resignation as SMD Associate Administrator."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on October 30, 2008 9:29 PM.

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