Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern on NASA’s cost overrun problems. Using Mars Science Laboratory (at least $2 billion now, triple original cost projections) and the James Webb Space Telescope (about a fivefold increase over original projections of around $1 billion) as examples, Stern argues that NASA and its Congressional overseers need to pay much closer attention to costs, particularly in the early stages of a mission, to prevent continued cost growth from eating away at agency programs. “The new presidential administration could begin by accounting for cost increases more honestly, using the initial basis on which missions are started, rather than today’s practice of neglecting certain kinds of cost escalation,” he writes. “And NASA should be charged to reduce or cancel development projects that are not performing to cost. Of equal importance, Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results.”
In today’s issue of The Space Review, Stern offers a more general prescription for the space agency: make itself more relevant to the public “by combining NASA’s space exploration portfolio with new and innovative initiatives that address hazards to society, make new applications of space, and foster new industries.” These efforts would include new programs in the Earth sciences and aeronautics as well as stimulating commercial human spaceflight. While vague on the details of how this would be done, he notes that this could be accomplished with current NASA budgets—thanks, not surprisingly, to “an aggressive effort to generate new resources from cost control”.