Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Elephant in the Room

Ok, one more riff on the NASA budget - just opinion.

Hubble refurbishment is hurting space science.
Not because it is a bad thing to do, but because the money is being taken out each year and spent, for several years in a row. That's $150-200 million each year, cumulatively enough to build a new major mission.
NASA needs to piss or get off the pot on this.

Earmarks hurt: for some reason Space Science within NASA gets disproportionately stung by earmarks.
If you want to spend more, the Congress needs to authorize more money. You can't take money out of the lines and still think actual science gets done.

Big project cost overruns, JWST in particular, are devastating (duh...).
NASA has very good cost models by now, they know about cost overruns, budgets include large reserves, which are proportionately larger for the larger projects.
I do not know what is going on: either the project management is completely failing, in which case the Project Scientists need to go take some lessons from our neighbouring communities; or, the aerospace contractors are bullshitting on the proposals.
NASA does need to put in real penalty clauses on large aerospace contracts and stop swallowing some of the crap they're hit with.

Solar and Sun-Earth connection programs did really well... almost like someone high up really likes those programs and protected them. Hm.
To be fair, they do important bread'n'butter science, with real life applications, and they seem to be good about doing small and medium sized missions that launch on time and budget (I'm sure there are counterexamples, maybe they're just better about keeping quiet about screwups).

BUT: Exploration is the Elephant.
For decades NASA was screwed, because the Shuttle cost too much (and ISS also), but they couldn't replace it.
Any effort to develop new launchers would be eaten by year-to-year crisis and shuttle overruns.
Letting Exploration raid the Science budget did not help, it just gave Shuttle more food.
BUT, putting Crewed Exploration Vehicle and Constellation development into the Science line is not an improvement.
There is not enough new money to actually pay for those developments, so they are cutting into the science budgets.
And if there are any(hah!) CEV cost overruns, it will now come out of existing science budgets. More science cuts in effect, probably in mid-year.



Every year now NASA has been given grandiose new goals: Beyond Einstein, Moon/Mars, Replace Shuttle.
Good. But you have to actually provide actual funding that is enough to carry out these goals.
Beyond Einstein is now effectively dead as a program. It was a Presidential State of the Union (2003) initiative.
Mars is delayed on every front, and human flight to Mars is effectively indefinitely deferred. Astrobiology and Extrasolar Planets are crippled by the 2007 budget request. The Moon return is a joke.
And you can't replace the Shuttle unless you either bite the bullet and shut it down (yes, the loss of capacity is potentially disastrous for US national policy - as opposed to space science - as it could become permanent), OR you provide enough funding to ramp up a new proper launcher while keeping the old stuff going.
That is it. Those are the only actual choices.
I don't care if NASA builds new launchers, relies on Libertarians in Space, or buys the Brave New Launchers from Falcon or Kistler or Paul Allen, but either do it properly, or just stop the whole thing. Now.

Of course Congress has not yet had a say, but at this point I wouldn't even care to predict the sign of any appropriation changes they make, much less the magnitude...

Consistency is so underrated.


Blogger Adam Solomon said...

Let's not forget the cut Europa mission...

8:18 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

JIMBO, alas, was cut - or descoped to indefinite postponement last year.
Sometime around the point where the price tag hit 11 figures and the much proclaimed Prometheus nuclear propulsion initiative on which the mission depended entered near suspended animation

10:35 PM  

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