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ASAP: NASA Really Needs To Fix Its Human Spaceflight Program Management

By Keith Cowing
January 11, 2022
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ASAP: NASA Really Needs To Fix Its Human Spaceflight Program Management

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases 2021 Annual Report, ASAP
“… Funding such endeavors will obviously take considerable resources. However, history suggests (as shown in Figure 1) it is unlikely NASA’s budget will ever again exceed 1% of the federal budget, as it did during the lead-up to the Apollo Program. Consequently, it will not be possible for NASA to single-handedly carry out all of the missions now envisioned. Considering its ambitious goals and con- strained budget, for NASA–and hence the United States–to continue to play a strategic leadership role in space, the Agency must transform. While private industry efforts are an ever more important factor in the U.S. government’s future endeavors, the commercial sector alone has not, and will not, be the vehicle that drives national goals. Consequently, the Agency will need to operate differently–from strategic planning and how it approaches program management, to workforce development, facility maintenance, acquisition strategies, contract types, and partnerships.”
“… In adopting this disaggregated, decentralized program structure between SLS, EGS, and Orion, with the view that it is a manageable alternative to the familiar and effective program framework that served it well for the Apollo, STS, and ISS programs, NASA has seemed to overlook the negative impacts to cohesive integrated risk management. In essence, it appears that the cancellation of the Constellation program has led to a cautious stance among NASA leaders driven by the assumption that having an Apollo-like program now is a problematic political optic, and like Constellation, a possible target for cancellation by a future Administration. In effect, NASA has accepted the disaggregated program structure as normal, and is now propagating this structure as a preferred business and risk management model, even though it is essentially an untried approach for an integrated systems engineering effort of this magnitude and complexity. Thus, behavior that was instantiated as a coping mechanism for unstable political guidance has become institutionalized–as has the embedded uncertainty in risk management. Furthermore, the Agency is attempting to manage the risk in the structure it has adopted without deliberately assessing why the structure is at least equivalent to, if not an improvement to, a more familiar structure, and whether it should be advanced as a wholly new program approach.”

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.