nasa needs a smile today
Sure it’s two years old, but this take on how a Martian rover feels about its mission to the rusty desert assignment is still funny. And NASA could really use a laugh today. Their plans to send a nuclear powered SUV that was supposed to live longer, travel farther and do a lot more science than any of its predecessors are in trouble of being axed by Congress due to staggering cost overruns.
The common hum from space enthusiasts and engineers commenting on the issue seems to focus around two problems plaguing NASA today. First is poor budgetary oversight which lets projects routinely run well over their estimates. Second is the insistence on building as much as possible from scratch and constantly reinventing the wheel rather than building on existing technologies.
Honestly, we dont know exactly how much technology is being reused during the creation of new rover because were not involved in the project and dont see whats happening firsthand. But we do know that NASA doesnt budget well and has a chronic problem with cost overruns and If it was an agency that dealt with a prectical issue like agriculture or commerce or military capabilities, people might shrug and forgive those overruns as a cost of doing business. NASA works with ideas that reside in most peoples minds as pie-in-the-sky projects and when there is a push for fiscal responsibility, theyre first in line to be a poster child for wasting tax money on projects that run as much as 30% over their initial budget.
Doesnt matter that those 30% are just a rounding error in the scope of government spending. They still account for millions and millions of dollars. Those millions are a small fortune to an American earning an average $43,000 a year or so and due to the personal nature of his or her perception, NASA looks like a bloated bureaucracy throwing away tax dollars on trying to make sci-fi novels into reality. To get out of the doghouse, it needs to focus on cost control. With an unfolding financial crisis, it will be impossible to motivate people who cant pay their bills to support giving billions to an agency that shoots electronics valued at hundreds of millions of dollars into space to answer an academics question. No matter how important or existential that question is.
Curtailing its ambitions for a little while and using fat times to get more funding will be easier than trying to get support from people who think that their money has been thrown away on a space mission when they really needed to pay their mortgage.