Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Vision" - Management = Bollix

by Ken Houghton

My favorite government agency reports on Tom's favorite (if economically-unsound) area of the government, and the result is--as would have been predicted by either of us--rather negative.

The problem is summarized by the opening of the Abstract: "The President's Vision for Space Exploration calls for human and robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond." They treat the "vision" as if it were a serious proposal. Which is their job, but Vision requires Management and Stakeholder Support. This Vision lacks all of the above:
The system--suffering from an aging, fragile infrastructure with some crucial components over 40 years old--has lost science data during routine operations and critical events. In addition, new customers find they must compete for this limited capacity, not just with each other, but also with legacy missions extended past their lifetimes, such as NASA's Voyager, that nonetheless return valuable science.

So the current system is overstrained and inadequate. Surely management has a plan?
The Deep Space Network's future utility is also in question because NASA does not currently match funding for space communications capabilities with agency wide space communications requirements. While NASA created an agency level entity to review the technical requirements for integrating assets like the network into an agency wide space communications architecture for the future, that entity does not address program level requirements nor influence investment decisions.

Joe Haldeman just won a Nebula, and has published a few "classics" in the sf field, but for my money, his best book remains Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds, which includes several essays dealing with NASA's management. That the book is 13 years old and officially out of print just emphasizes how long the problem has been evident. That the current Administration believes that it can initiate a "major vision" without a functional management is at best cynical--but more likely representative of the standard "we'll take the money, someone else will have to run the mess" attitude.
An implication of my "Vision" hypothesis is that you can gauge the seriousness of the effort by the funding for vital but unsexy components. If you aren't going to collect the data...
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