NASA’s Top Management Challenges: Deep Space Exploration

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges with its deep space exploration effort. The space agency is dealing with slipping schedules, constrained budgets, and thin funding reserves as it seeks to complete development of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems. NASA also has only high-level plans for other systems that will be required to send astronauts on useful deep-space missions.

Key excerpts from the report follow.

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Clock is Ticking on NASA Human Deep Space Program

Lamar Smith

It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.

George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.

In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.

More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.

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GAO Report Questions NASA Management of SLS & Orion

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

NASA management of the Space Launch System, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs could lead the agency to repeat one of the mistakes that led to the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, according to a new report from the  Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The approach has dual-hatted positions, with individuals in two programmatic engineering and safety roles also performing oversight of those areas,” the report stated. “These dual roles subject the technical authorities to cost and schedule pressures that potentially impair their independence.

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SLS & Orion Delays Have Multiple Causes

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System.  (Credit: NASA)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2017 assessment of NASA’s 21 largest programs contained a stark warning: the agency was in increasing danger of slipping the first flight (EM-1) of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle scheduled for November 2018.

But, by the time the assessment was published on May 16, it was already outdated: NASA officials had already announced a delay to an unspecified time in 2019.

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