Editor's note: It appears that NASA is considering slipping MSL's launch to 2010. This will add hundreds of millions of dollars to its final cost without increasing its science value. Monday's New York Times OpEd by former SMD AA Stern pointed out how damaging these out of control mission costs have become - especially when they occur on large missions with hefty political backing. Yet someone still has to pay these costs. Usually, this burden falls upon payloads with less political backing. Science is not necessarily a driver in these decisions. Indeed, often times, whim and political expediency often replaces reason and strategy when the axe falls.
Absent any agency-wide strategic plan or contingencies to deal with such things on an agency-wide basis (given that Ares and Orion have already sucked all of the air out of the room), SMD is left to solve its problems within its retinue of missions. If in fact SMD opts to delay MSL for 2 years it may take much more than 2 years of other mission's funding to pay for the additional costs. Indeed, it is going lead to a proverbial slaughter of the innocents as far as Mars and other planetary missions go. Eventually, however, you run out of innocents to slaughter.
Without clear, fair, consistently applied policies in place to prevent cost overruns - and deal with them when they still manage to occur - no one will be able to figure out which missions get to walk the plank and which ones must be delayed. As a result, NASA will wander from one budget to next spending more time on cleaning up overruns than starting (and completing) new missions.
How will we return to the moon with humans if we can't keep one Mars rover in check? Oh wait, the Exploration crowd already has this cost and schedule problem as well - in spades. Hey gang: its the 21st Century - and yet NASA doesn't seem to be getting any smarter in the cost department. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the trend.
NASA's Black Hole Budgets, OpEd, Alan Stern, NY Times
Shooting The Messenger at NASA, earlier post
MSL Commentary in Science Magazine, earlier post
What the MSL Bailout Looks Like, earlier post
NASA SMD's Cost Overrun Coverup (updated with Telecon notes), earlier post
MSL Heads Toward The Chopping block, earlier post