Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A difficult job in difficult times: director of NASA's space science division

The NYT has an interesting article by Warren Leary on S. Alan Stern (seen here in official NASA uniform), who as associate administrator of NASA's space science division (official NASA biography here) has to make the difficult decisions on what to cut or deny to make the limited budget work:

Dr. Stern, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, became associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in April. In an appearance before Congress the next month, he outlined a tough plan for keeping missions on budget and holding leaders responsible: better cost-estimating tools to more realistically price missions, more experience for scientists running projects, and new studies to better understand and reduce technology risks.

NASA devotes about $5.4 billion a year to its science program, divided among specialties like astrophysics, earth science and planetary exploration. To finance President Bush’s exploration initiative to return humans to the Moon, while also financing space shuttle operations and a shuttle replacement out of the agency’s approximately $16 billion annual budget, science program money is being held to about a 1 percent increase per year for four years.

Factoring in inflation and the loss of what had been anticipated financing increases, space experts say this amounts to a loss for NASA science of about $3 billion over that period. For Dr. Stern, that means doing more with less.
Sounds like a stressful job, but someone has to do it.

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