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Former Administrator: NASA Overspends On Space Hardware

By | November 24, 2008

      Alan Stern Resigned From NASA This Year

      NASA space hardware programs frequently run over budget, and the space agency should keep a tighter rein on spending, a former NASA science programs leader asserted in The New York Times yesterday.

      S. Alan Stern, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist who was the NASA associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate last year and early this year, decried what he termed the immense cost increases in the Mars Science Laboratory, the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope that will replace the Hubble Space Telescope, the Constellation program producing the next-generation spacecraft to go to the moon, and more.

      His views come as some Democrats in Congress are casting about for federal programs to cut, to obtain spare funds to use for other priorities.

      NASA will "spend at least $100 million more on its poorly-managed, now-over-$2 billion Mars Science Laboratory," and the James Webb price tag has risen from an initial $1 billion estimate to $5 billion, Stern wrote.

      "Our space program is running inefficiently, and without sufficient regard to cost performance. In NASA’s science directorate alone, an internal accounting in 2007 found over $5 billion in increases since 2003," Stern recounted.

      To be sure, he admitted that before his time at NASA, he was involved in programs that overran their budgets. But, he said, that doesn’t change the fact that overruns are a problem.

      Cost increases in some programs mean that other programs such as unmanned space exploration vehicles are delayed or dropped, he asserted.

      Stern resigned from NASA last spring, tendering his resignation just as NASA Administrator Michael Griffin overruled a proposed decrease in funding for the Mars exploration rovers and Mars Odyssey asset to shift funds into the impending Mars Science Laboratory.

      However, many lawmakers of both parties who oversee the U.S. space program have lavished high praise on Griffin for an excellent job of leading the space agency in a time of money constraints, and for dealing well with unexpected expenses such as recovering from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

      Griffin is highly respected on Capitol Hill for having a clear, intelligent vision of where the manned U.S. space program should go, urging Americans to move beyond low Earth orbit to revisit the moon, and then to journey on to Mars.

      Over its half century of existence, NASA has had from the beginning many programs, both major and minor, that have run far over budget, as the agency and contractors have been forced to create new technology needed for voyages into the unknown.

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