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Wielding a Cost-Cutting Ax, and Often, at NASA, NYT Article on Alan Stern
Greg Hullender
post Jan 1 2008, 10:14 PM
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I saw this in today's New York Times.


Here are some selected bits:

In his eight months on the job, the director, S. Alan Stern, has turned back almost a half-dozen requests for more money from projects experiencing cost overruns, he said.

NASA devotes about $5.4 billion a year to its science program, divided among specialties like astrophysics, earth science and planetary exploration. To finance President Bush’s exploration initiative to return humans to the Moon, while also financing space shuttle operations and a shuttle replacement out of the agency’s approximately $16 billion annual budget, science program money is being held to about a 1 percent increase per year for four years.

His hard line on cost overruns has been one of the first signs of change noticed by researchers and many outsiders. So far, he said, his team has rolled back cost overruns in almost a half-dozen projects, sending out word that this is now standard procedure.

“I admire what he’s doing,” said Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, professor of space science at the University of Michigan and chairman of the Space Studies Board at the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Fisk, who headed NASA’s science directorate in the 1980s, said true reform required a cultural change at the agency in how it runs programs. And a director must be consistent, he said, to convince people of the seriousness of the effort.

“In the beginning, he has to be hard-nosed with everybody,” Dr. Fisk said. “The first one he blinks on could be a problem. He has to maintain his credibility.”

“We’re just not walking around swinging the ax,” Dr. Stern said. “We have a very new team that, I hope, is changing the way we do business.”


I thought the article was quite good, and it seems quite positive as well. I continue to hope that this sort of publicity will help increase support for unmanned space flight in general, just by making people feel their money is being well-spent. Here's to you, Alan!

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post Jan 1 2008, 10:43 PM
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I'm reminded of a chat I had with David Southwood at ESOC on the night of the Rosetta flyby. We were walking through the control rooms and he explained that it's fantastic to have VEX, MEX, Cluster, XMM, Integral, SOHO, Ulysses all deep into or about to start extended missions - but it makes it really hard to fund the new stuff they want to do. All that lot combines is eating up actually, quite a lot of cash.

I wouldn't do Alan's job for all the money in the world. Brave guy.

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post Jan 1 2008, 10:56 PM
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No lie. Administering public funds in a high-visibilty environment with a ton of stakeholders definitely isn't about making friends...it's about making the best possible compromises happen...now go ahead & define "best possible compromises" to everyone's satisfaction, I dare you! sad.gif Been in some project meetings that damn near came to blows...

A few will take this knowledge and use this power of a dream realized as a force for change, an impetus for further discovery to make less ancient dreams real.
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