Alan Stern to NASA: Bah Humbug!

Former NASA science chief Alan Stern has kicked off the holidays in style with a couple of op-ed pieces that added one more item to the growing list that recession-wracked Americans can’t feel thankful for: namely, a coherent, well-managed space program.

Stern kicked things off Thanksgiving week with a Sunday op-ed piece in The New York Times titled NASA’s Black Hole Budgets:

“A cancer is overtaking our space agency: the routine acquiescence to immense cost increases in projects. Unmistakable new indications of this illness surfaced last month with NASA’s decision to spend at least $100 million more on its poorly-managed, now-over-$2 billion Mars Science Laboratory. This decision to go forward with the project, a robotic rover, was made even though it has tripled in cost since its inception, it is behind schedule, there is no firm estimate of the final cost, and NASA hasn’t disclosed the collateral damage inflicted on other programs and activities that depend on NASA’s limited science budget.

“The decision to pour more money into the Mars Science Laboratory, which is scheduled for launching next year, may have been like many I witnessed as NASA’s associate administrator for science….”

On Monday, Stern continued on this theme with an opinion piece in The Space Review:

“Yet, our space program does not enjoy the strong support it once did. A part of the reason for this is that the current program is too disconnected from everyday life and American society. After all, when was the last time you heard that the space program developed something new that directly touched your life and made a tangible difference to you?

Stern adds his voice to the growing cacophony of opinions about how the Obama Administration can cure what ails our space program. “The new administration could accomplish this by combining NASA’s space exploration portfolio with new and innovative initiatives that address hazards to society, make new applications of space, and foster new industries,” he writes.

He has some detailed prescriptions in there about commercial space, education, Earth sciences and so on. Take a look if you’re interested.