MSL Delay: Add 2 Years and $400 Million (and counting)

NASA Mars Science Lab Launch Delayed Two Years

"NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will launch two years later than previously planned, in the fall of 2011."

Delays and Cost Overruns Epidemic at NASA, Former Official Charges,

"But [former SMD AA Alan] Stern says that MSL's delay and cost overrun are prime examples of a pervasive problem within NASA to "reward" missions that go over-budget and punish those that don't. "It is unhealthy" to the entire NASA program, Stern told, and is the reason he resigned earlier this year from his NASA job."

Technical glitches force delay of Mars mission, USA Today

"MSL is "a marvelous mission, it will do wonderful things. But at what cost?" said Keith Cowing, editor of the NASA Watch website. "And how often do we have to watch cost overruns on these NASA missions where projects get too big to cancel?"

Editor's note: In a nutshell: The only specific hardware issue with MSL seems to be the complex motor actuators that allow various systems to operate. The delay will cost $400 million. The money will come from other Mars missions and if that is not enough, from other space science missions. Total cost for MSL could be as much as $2.3 billion - up from an initial cost of $650 million (or $1.6 billion depending on what starting point you favor). Griffin claims that the way that NASA estimates mission costs should not be linked or held to the same standard as the way in which it designs missions since NASA is doing things that have never been done before. He said "If we are to judge the worth of our work by our ability to estimate, then that is a standard I am not ready to apply or to accept." Oh yes, Griffin also said that the Webb Space Telescope does not have a cost overrun.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this press conference was the lack of media interest in this huge cost overrun and the nonchalant, dismissive way in which the NASA Administrator and his staff discussed it. No one on the stage seemed to be at all upset or concerned about this latest delay and this latest failure of NASA to understand and/or control the way it spends money. Other than gratuitous reference to "how hard this is", no one seemed to be at all committed to trying to fix this chronic problem once and for all. Business as usual at NASA i.e. "watch us spend your money the way we want to spend it".

JPL Director Elachi "takes full responsibility" for all of these MSL problems. Gee, that's nice. It is also rather hollow. His predecessor took responsibility for MCO and MPL. Yawn. There are no consequences for things like this at NASA. No one is ever reprimanded, no one is ever reassigned, costs continue to climb, and NASA wants everyone to just accept this situation and leave them alone.

Watch the automaker bailout hearings today in Congress. Just substitute "NASA" for any one of the carmakers' names as you listen ... does any of this sound familiar?

Over-budget Mars rover mission delayed until 2011, New Scientist

"The added delay will bring the total lifetime cost of the rover mission to more than $2.2 billion. MSL is already $300 million over its proposed 2006 budget of $1.6 billion. Former NASA science chief Alan Stern criticised such overspends in a recent editorial in the New York Times, arguing that they sharply limit the number and capability of missions the agency can undertake. But Griffin said the growth in cost is a natural part of ambitious projects with unforeseen difficulties. "We know how to control cost - just build more of what you built the last time," Griffin said."

NASA delays Mars Science Laboratory launch to 2011, SpaceflightNow

"The MSL project was initially budgeted at $1.63 billion in August 2006. By mid 2007, the cost had risen to $1.88 billion. Earlier this fall, officials concluded an additional $200 million would have been required to make the 2009 launch window. With the launch delay to 2011, the life cycle cost is projected to increase $200 million beyond that, to between $2.2 billion and $2.3 billion."

NASA delays Mars mission to 2011, AP

"Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who heads a NASA Mercury mission, thinks the space agency made the right choice to slip the Mars launch, but he warned it could hurt other projects. "That's quite a high price to pay for this delay. We're not in a good place on this mission," said Solomon who chairs the planetary subcommittee of NASA's Advisory Council."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 5, 2008 10:14 AM.

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