14 thoughts on “NASA’s Latest Budget Issue”

  1. I predict Starship will land humans on Mars before the Mars Sample Return mission returns an Martian soil to earth.

    1. Maybe the Starship Mars colonists can pick up the samples left by Perseverance and place them into the Mars Sample Return lander?
      How much would that save NASA?

      1. They’d have to be approved, certified government contractors are gov rates and cost-plus for the company they worked for to keep the directors back on earth in the life style they’ve become used to 😉

  2. Offer a MarsX Prize and reward anybody that (a) can get the samples from Mars Surface to a stable Mars Orbit (where it can stay for years if necessary) and (b) subsequently return the samples to Earth Orbit.

    If it is a Really Big Problem then break it down into smaller problems.

    1. Why to Mars orbit? It’s perfectly feasible to launch a single stage from Mars’ surface to an Earth-bound trajectory with NTO/MMH propulsion. It isn’t even hard. I’ll do it for 5% of what they’re quoting, including getting there. Where do I sign?

  3. When I did my ISU internship at Boeing HSF&E way back in the day I got to work on their proposal to JPL for…Mars Sample Return. It was a 100 pp PPT, and we laid it out on a wall as we developed it. My job was to be the wall n…authoritarian and control the slides that went up onto the wall. Also worked on the science architecture, as no one else wanted to deal with it. My slide was understood by no one and led to an uncomfortable moment when everyone in the presentation room turned their head to look at the intern in the corner. Gulp.

    What I suggested was the use of a dirigible, which would wander over the surface and when it found a location of interest it would fire an anchor down into the rock, reel itself in, collect a sample and some data, and then wander off to another site. When it’s collection basket was full it would head back to the base station, drop off the samples, collect supplies, and head out again. The samples would then be fired into orbit using an electromagnetic rail gun at the base station, to be collected in orbit and returned to Earth.

    No one liked the idea, but whatever they went with clearly didn’t work out in the last 20+ years. Plus, we’ve had a helicopter on Mars, so why not a blimp?

  4. JPL has done great things. But it very much a bespoke specialty shop – you can get great things, if you can afford the gold-plated prices.
    There are other alternatives.
    Even assuming Starship is not an option, Falcon Heavy can send 17 tonnes to Mars! There are several companies developing landers, mostly for the moon. You could probably pay three to develop Mars landers / launchers up to 8 tonnes, pick the best two, send them both. And probably for the price of one or two years of the 5+ years of JPL cost.

    And then do something similar for a Uranus orbiter. Build more than one, and send one to Neptune as well.

  5. MSR needs to be canceled. It’s projected budget is now in Webb territory and at a much earlier phase of development. It will only grow further if the thing isn’t poisoned off.

    All of NASA really needs to get on the same page anent what its attitude is toward SpaceX. Much of NASA still seems to regard SpaceX as this weird tribe on the other side of a wide river about which the most outlandish traveler’s tales are told. But these NASAns have never been to the far bank of the river, never met a member of this strange tribe in the flesh nor seen their doings up close. Thus do they continue in their immemorial ways without having to acknowledge the reality of SpaceX.

    SpaceX is sending people to Mars. In all probability the first of these will arrive well before most of MSR does. And they will not be going in a small way. If NASA wants Mars samples – measurable in metric tons rather than grams – it needs to make a deal about that with SpaceX, including the development of means to fetch extant samples from Perseverance’s stomping grounds.

    There’s plenty of time. And, if MSR is canceled soon, plenty of money. What is most needed, though, is an acknowledgement by the many still quite insular parts of NASA that the strange tribe reported to be across the river is entirely real and can do what it says it intends.

    1. MSR needs to be canceled. It’s projected budget is now in Webb territory and at a much earlier phase of development.

      Some peeps on Twitter have pointed out that Webb comparisons limp; Webb has a far bigger base of customers for its capabilities than a sample return mission ever will. That big base, along with Barbara Mikulski’s indefatigability, kept Webb on the books through its hardest patches.

      It will be said that the Mars lobby pretty much always gets its way. That has been true in the past, but I don’t think they have ever had a challenge like this before. Is MSR really worth killing off almost all other planetary science and heliophysics for the rest of the 2020’s (and maybe even beyond)? The Venus missions killed off. Dragonfly pushed back to the 2030’s. Juno and even Curiosity turned off early. No new Discovery or New Frontiers missions for a decade. No new heliophysics (MUSE, HelioSwarm, et al) for a decade. Because that is what it could come to, if this cost estimate continues to climb into 11 digits (as it will!) and the budget crunch gets as crunchy as we all fear it will.

      I love the idea of getting samples back from Mars. But not at the cost of all that.

  6. JPL has already contracted large portions of the mission to Lockheed Martin. He says that MAV has been contracted to LM which is technically correct I guess but Northrup Grumman has a big part of it too, maybe more than half by $ amount. LM also has parts of the lander and I suspect that they’ll pick up more of it as time goes on.

    That said, this cost growth was completely predictable I personally said it out loud in a meeting over a year ago. Seems like a big waste of money to me for a few Mars rocks but what do I know, I’m not a planetary scientist.

    1. That said, this cost growth was completely predictable

      I think they badly lowballed it from the start. Perhaps on purpose. Perhaps not.

  7. The cost growth is not a bug, it’s a feature. Think! The goal is not to explore the last frontier in the most efficient manner possible. The goal is to wring the greatest number of dollars out of the government. Which gets its dollars from the taxpayers. Who, the poor bastards, have absolutely no say in how the government spends their dollars, other than **in which congressional districts those dollars are spent.** I.e., are my senator and representative bringing home the bacon? If not, why not?

    Sadly, it took many years of disappointment and disillusionment for me to arrive at this blindingly obvious conclusion.

    —Winston Smith, American space fan

  8. Someone dropped this quote on Twitter yesterday when this story broke. It seems fitting here.

    “The more money that’s involved, the less risk people want to take. The less risk people want to take, the more they put into their designs, to make sure their subsystem is super-reliable. The more things they put in, the more expensive the project gets. The more expensive it gets, the more instruments the scientists want to add, because the cost is getting so high that they’re afraid there won’t be another opportunity later on — they figure this is the last train out of town. So little by little, the spacecraft becomes gilded. And you have these bad dreams about a spacecraft so bulky and so heavy it won’t get off the ground — never mind the overblown cost.

    “That boils down to the higher the cost, the more you want to protect your investment, so the more money you put into lowering your risk. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

    — Rob Manning, Chief Spacecraft Engineer, Jet propulsion Laboratory

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