'Faster, better, cheaper' has roots in another Mars loss
The ill-fated Mars Observer spacecraft ascends atop a Titan III from Cape Canaveral in September 1992
December 8, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT)
(AP) — NASA's policy of exploring the solar system with less expensive, more frequent missions stems from the loss of the $1 billion Mars Observer in 1993 and budget cuts imposed by Congress.
In the 1970s and '80s, mission planners normally spent a decade or more loading down giant spacecraft with every scientific instrument that could be lifted up by a rocket. Costs soared to a billion dollars or more.
When Mars Observer disappeared, so did a decade's worth of instruments and planning. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin implemented a policy that has become known as "faster, better, cheaper."
sounds of mars
Control the 3D model
On the planet
Under the new regime, spacecraft would be designed quickly, at less cost and launched more frequently than in the old days. Goldin intended to save money and distribute risk among several missions.
But with the failure of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, some critics say NASA has reduced costs so drastically that the space agency's probes are now less reliable and prone to failure.
"The important point is not to overreact," Goldin said. "We have terrific people and we've learned how to do it right and we'll figure out what we did wrong here."
He pointed to the 1997 successes of Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor, which still is sending back science data.
But some experts aren't convinced.
"I've always said about faster, better, cheaper: Two out of three ain't bad," said space policy analyst John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists. "You can pick which of those you want to have, but you can't have all three."
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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