Letters

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  Space News Business

Letters

posted: 27 December 2007
04:29 pm ET














A Duty to the Public



In “Experience as a Criterion for Leadership,”




[Commentary, Nov.




12, page 13]




, Len Fisk and Tom Young expressed strong support for reducing risk on NASA science missions by requiring mission leadership and teams to have significant experience. As they rightly point out, managing a $100 million mission is not an entry-level job.

NASA’s first duty is to the American public: as a government agency it must use taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively. In the case of its science missions, this begins with the selection of highly qualified




principal




investigators, but does not end there. We have a clear responsibility to oversee the work being performed by others on our behalf. The degree of insight and oversight that




is imposed must be tailored to the complexity of the mission and the capabilities of the performing institution, but can never be taken for granted. A baseline of common requirements and processes are critical in order for the agency to perform this oversight role effectively.

The need for NASA to practice such oversight is clear. As a reminder, we have only to recall the shortfalls of the “faster, better, cheaper” era, which were pointed out clearly by external reviews such as the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team Report. Statements like “Mistakes are prevented by oversight, test




and independent analysis” and “Appropriate application of institutional expertise is critical for mission success” led to changes in the way NASA implements missions, and an unparalleled mission success rate has since resulted.




There is absolutely no evidence to support a claim that NASA




centers have added oversight staff driven by the requirements of full-cost accounting. To the contrary, the best evidence is that since the responses to the Mars and Discovery failures,




program and




project staffing has remained level or shrunk slightly. This is a result of our commitment to maintain an appropriate balance of oversight to content of those programs.

There is no question that NASA as a federal agency must be responsive to changing regulations and mission requirements and the capabilities of its suppliers and partners. We




recently have embarked on a process to revise our rules and requirements to reflect the current environment in which we operate, and most importantly, to accommodate the complexities of each mission as well as the capabilities of the performing institutions. Through these changes, we will improve our ability to execute missions that push the boundaries of space exploration while meeting its responsibilities as a public institution.






Michael D. Griffin

NASA Administrator


Washington










An Insidious Drain



The Commentary about how the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions should be reformed to protect national and economic security




“Fix ITAR to Protect our National and Economic Security,” [Nov. 26, page 19]




by Vermont




Lt.




Governor Brian Dubie,




who also heads the Aerospace States Association (ASA), is a great conversation starter, but he doesn’t go far enough.





Dubie
cites U.S. spacecraft contractors who can’t launch on Chinese vehicles and the development of “ITAR-free” space systems that explicitly exclude American components as examples of [what ITAR]




costs




the




U.S. space industry.



Unfortunately, ITAR is a much more insidious drain on U.S. competitiveness than those examples illustrate. Procuring a component from a foreign company is just as costly –




thanks to limits on normal communications that might be construed as “defense services” – as obtaining a license to export one made in the United States




. The burden of ITAR compliance falls on systems integrators who, with more to lose from an inadvertent export, practice insanely costly preventative compliance or just avoid interaction altogether. And any protectionist strategies, such as denying Pentagon




contracts to any foreign company that launches with China, can only compound the problem by further limiting opportunities for exchange and reinforcing that




U.S. firms cannot do business without onerous intervention from their government.

Only U.S. companies can build the hugely complex space systems upon which the world’s communications and our national security rely. But the economies of the new space countries are growing so quickly that they will have to have the same capabilities soon, with or without American technology. Flying more systems on more launch vehicles, and doing so more cheaply, can only increase the




U.S. space industry’s experience in systems integration and spread American dominance into lucrative new markets.

It would be a shame to go into that with one hand tied behind our back. In this age of international interdependence, industries that cannot fully leverage expertise and cost savings from outside their borders will only see their profits go somewhere else –




and with them, their ability to innovate.

A more thoughtful ITAR would move the




U.S. space industry up the food chain with the result that more spacecraft, bigger and better integrated space systems, and groundbreaking research could wear the label “Made in the USA.”






Augustus S. Moore






Greenbelt, Md.















Apollo Underappreciated



I was distressed to discover in Space News that, consciously or unconsciously, journalists continue to belittle the scientific achievements of Apollo, even at this late date. Writing about the Lunokhod rovers “Nov. 10, 1970: The Soviets Send Robots to the Moon,” [Nov. 5, page 16],




Clinton Parks writes




, “Lunokhod-1 covered more than




10 kilometers, a greater distance than the Apollo missions,” implying




that Lunokhod was somehow better than Apollo. This could not be farther from the truth.

The second traverse in the Apollo-17 mission alone covered more than twice that distance, and was one of three. Each successful Apollo mission also featured three traverses, several of which clocked more than




10 kilometers. Lunokhod-2 did travel 37




kilometers over four months, but even this is in no way comparable to what the Apollo project accomplished.

I have no wish to belittle the Lunokhod missions, which were one of the great achievements of their era, but the Soviet project of automated lunar exploration, like the comparable American effort, contributed relatively little to our knowledge of Earth’s




Moon today. For example,




the detailed and absolute cratering dates used to establish relative dates throughout the




solar




system were a key product of Apollo, and have not been duplicated on any other moon or planet




since.

It was the




Apollo astronauts’ ability to quickly travel long distances and tackle relatively steep slopes; their human capacity to intelligently gather large collections of samples in realtime, learning as they went; and their personal, and even emotional, observations of the lonely wilderness around them that resulted in




Apollo’s vastly underappreciated scientific results




.

Lunokhod
was undoubtedly cheaper, but it is




unclear that it cost less per unit science than a project that successfully sent a human scientist to explore in person the site he was studying.






Donald F. Robertson






San Francisco