Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dreaming About NASA Mismanagement

There's so many things packed up in this clip. For a start, the House isn't trying to cut the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) because "we don't have the money" or to save money or for any budgetary reason what-so-ever. The House is trying to cut JWST because the Government Accountability Office reported that NASA, and the contractor, have been mismanaging this program. They reported this three different times and required reports on what NASA was going to do about it - NASA didn't provide those reports. The House even said that the reason they were looking to cut JWST was to send a message that ignoring oversight will not be tolerated.

Does that mean the JWST isn't important? No.. no-one is saying that. Everyone agrees that JWST is important and that it will give results of significant scientific discoveries should it ever be completed and launched.. but when will that be? Within a two week period - after the House suggested cutting the budget - the program managers said 2020 or 2018 - neither answer was given in writing. Both answers were contingent upon an increase in their budget.. there's a word we use for declining to increase the budget of mismanaged projects: smart.

So is that the end of JWST? In the minds of NASA-can-do-no-wrong advocates, yes. They immediately declare that you're just not throwing enough money at the problem. It goes something like this: Oh, Hubble was massively overbudget and even broken when it launched. If we hadn't thrown more money at the problem we wouldn't even know about [insert discovery of cosmic significance here].

Meanwhile, the cosmologists are going around saying that the JWST is "essentially complete" or that "we've already built it". This isn't just the sulk cost fallacy, they actually think the JWST is ready and Congress is pulling the rug out from under them. This isn't the case at all, and not even NASA is making this claim. I've been suggesting that, if this were true, people who really want to see JWST fly should be calling for a firm fixed price contract - where the contractor covers the cost overruns, and NASA has less opportunity to screw things up - which has been proven time and time again to result in projects that are completed on-time and under budget.

Failing to mention any of this, Tyson then goes off into one of his standard rants. Oh, we've stopped dreaming. We don't look up. We've turned inwards. Can you imagine why? Hint: it has something to do with NASA mismanagement.

Back in the 1960s people dreamed of going to the Moon. Guess what? NASA went to the Moon. Was NASA not grossly mismanaged back then too? Of course they were, but they were given the mandate to "waste anything but time" and that is one thing government does well: waste.

What did people dream about in the 1970s? Space settlement. These dreams became plans, that wasn't the problem. All the engineering analysis at the time indicated that NASA could do it, so what happened? The plans called for cheap access to space and that requires the opposite of government: efficiency.

Instead, NASA became a government agency focused on "international cooperation", with first the Shuttle-Mir program and later the International Space Station, and while I'm sure there was plenty of people out there dreaming about more cooperation between nations, it had little to do with looking up.


  1. By the way, trent, you never answered my question; why are you so obsesses with the American space program, and in a negative way, to the exclusion of the rest of the space faring world?

    I'd really appreciate an answer. It's a fair question. If you don't provide an intelligent answer, one can only conclude that you are just your ordinary run-of-the-mill anti-American bigot.

  2. It is a fair question, but your conclusion that this interest in the US space program is based on anti-American isn't fair or justified.

    I think I have similar views to Trent, and I'd like to see the US commercialize their space program because I think it would be the best thing for American space activity, if US operators like SpaceX get the opportunity to be the cheapest and best suppliers of launch services by reducing NASA's control, how the hell can supporting that be seen as anti-Americanism? If they can do it they'll leave all the other nations state controlled space agencies in the dust, and just maybe then the commercialization of space will go global.

    Other factors that lead people like Trent and I to focus on the US space program are the openness of the US forums, the fact the US is moving towards commercial space already, and, for me at least, my poor written Chinese, Russian and French language skills.

  3. "but your conclusion that this interest in the US space program is based on anti-American isn't fair or justified."

    I haven't made that conclusion - I want to hear Trent's response first. Unfortunately trent keeps censoring instead of answering.

  4. Your question is what is called "loaded". It gives me the feeling that you're more interested in scoring points than getting an answer, because if you were truly interested in the answer you would have actually looked through my blog for my posts on other space programs and discovered where I criticize those parts of the Russian space program that I think are going the wrong way. I don't think I've written anything about the Chinese space program here, but mostly that's because I don't even see them as doing anything.. but whenever others raise the topic I'm often there saying that it's completely over hyped. Finally, I regularly have positive things to say about the US space program - especially the robotic science program - but mostly I write about stuff that chaps my ass, with an occasional wistful dream about space curiosities.

    Does that answer your question?

  5. Tell us more Gundam.

  6. That link is what settlement advocacy has to show for herself after five decades and several hundred billion dollars.

  7. There hasn't even been a single billion spend on settlement advocacy, let alone settlement.

  8. You seem awfully self-assured that you know better how to spend other people's money. Where is Australia's space program in all of this? Australia has a GDP only a little less than Russia, and yet look what Russia has managed to do. Why aren't you dumping on Australia's government for not colonizing space?

    What about the ESA? Europe has a greater GDP than the US, yet all they've done until recently recently is field single rockets, subsidized for predatory commercial launch pricing. Why aren't you ridiculing on them for not doing more to colonize space for you, the way you think it should be done.

    How about JAXA and the Chinese - why aren't you engaging in bombastic and self-righteous chest thumping about how they should be spending money, like you are doing with the US?

    The answer is self evident - see my first post.

    Better yet, why don't you start a few internet companies and make a billion dollars if you are so smart? Then you could do it yourself. Of course you aren't that smart, and even if you were you'd have to move to the US because that's where the real magic happens.

  9. @QuantumG: Precisely my point.

  10. DV, I regularly scoff at Australia's pathetic attempts at space science. I'm often thumping on Australian politicians for failing to utilize space assets.