Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

GAO predicts more delays and cost increases in NASA’s big projects

The Government Accountability Office is predicting more delays and cost increases for most of NASA’s big projects in its tenth annual report.

The cost and schedule performance” of NASA’s major projects “has deteriorated, but the extent of cost deterioration is unknown” because NASA does not have a cost estimate for Orion. Orion is “one of the largest projects in the portfolio” and NASA “expects cost growth.”

As for schedule, “the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years” of making these assessments. GAO said the 12-month average delay is up from 7 months in last year’s assessment.

Further, NASA faces the risk of more cost and schedule growth because of “new, large, complex projects that will enter the portfolio and expensive projects remaining the portfolio longer than expected.” Europa Clipper, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, and Europa Lander are cited as examples of those future large, complex projects. GAO did give NASA credit for putting processes in place to control the costs of Europa Clipper and WFIRST.

GAO identified nine existing projects as the biggest contributors to the poor cost and schedule performance: SLS, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) cited in the 2017 report, Mars 2020, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), ICESat-2, NISAR, ICON, and GRACE-FO (GRACE-Follow On).

Orion has cost already cost the taxpayer about $15 billion, all of which will only buy the taxpayer three capsules (two unmanned test flights and a single manned flight). And yet they don’t have enough money yet, and NASA can’t provide a total cost estimate? To me, this appears to be outright theft. Building three capsules simply shouldn’t cost that much. (Note: the report claims Orion has cost about $6.6 billion. My number above comes from actual appropriations by Congress specifically for Orion. I think my number is a far more accurate reflection of the project’s true cost.)

Though the report expresses concerns about schedule delays in the commercial crew program, it is with the NASA-run projects that the report finds the worst cost overruns and delays. All of the usual suspects above come in for criticism: Webb, WFIRST, SLS (and its associated ground facilities), Orion, LOP-G.

I will make a prediction: All these NASA projects will be cited for further cost overruns and further delays in next year’s GAO report. By that time, we shall have also seen the first test flights of the commercial crew capsules by Boeing and SpaceX.

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3 comments

  • Localfluff

    Orion makes no sense, should be canceled. SLS has come so far so it will probably fly to save face. If it were put to good use as an uncrewed launcher it could be worth its price. Like Mars sample return, Skylab sized space station segments to replace the ISS, astronaut shelter and equipment to the Moon’s surface, an Europa probe, an 8 meter telescope mirror.

  • wodun

    I suspect we will see some major changes to the LOP-G concept. NASA just did an RFP for Earth to Lunar surface payload services. This seems to be about rovers but direct flights points to the possibility of similar trips for humans, meaning the LOP-G is bypassed.

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2018/04/commercial-luna-1.html

  • Edward

    Localfluff wrote: “Orion makes no sense, should be canceled. SLS has come so far so it will probably fly to save face.

    Likewise, it could be that Orion also flies just to save face. SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and Blue Origin’s New Armstrong are likely to make SLS obsolete, and at the rate its schedule is slipping, SLS may not launch before the BFR.

    It is too bad that Congress has NASA spending so much money working on expensive hardware that have no mission. It would have been so much better for them to set a mission so that NASA could design the hardware to match. Instead we have hardware in search of a mission — or even a single useful task. The money misspent on these projects could have gone toward more innovative projects.

    The Europa probe could be launched on other existing rockets, meaning that using SLS is not a particularly useful task for that rocket. Thus, the Europa project is only another excuse for continuing the wasteful expenditure on SLS, and if we amortize the SLS development cost (relative to the planned EM-1 non-productive manned flight) into the cost of the Europa project, that would make it the most expensive probe we have ever built or will build for decades to come.

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