View Full Version : What planetary scientists want

2006-Apr-24, 08:24 PM
Planetary Community Survey to Prioritize NASA Programs (http://www.psi.edu/~sykes/prioritysurvey/results.html)

The survey results supports the uniform testimony of planetary and other scientists before the House Science Committee in March, as well as other public statements and editorials by scientists stating that NASA Research and Analysis programs are foundational to the American space science effort overall. This is of particular importance in solar system exploration. Also, Discovery-class (small, competed) missions are considered to be highest priority among the planetary missions.

Interesting that the planetary scientists prefer the quick-and-dirty missions over the massive, Cassini-style missions.

Larry Jacks
2006-Apr-24, 08:51 PM
What planetary scientists want is funding for their projects. Huge (and hugely expensive) projects like Cassini cost billions of dollars and only come around about once a decade. You can fly a 10 or more Discovery class missions for the cost of each Cassini-style mission. If you were a planetary scientist, your best bet of getting your project funded is to go with smaller projects that can be created and flown in a relatively short time.

This isn't meant to diss Cassini-style missions. There are some projects that are so large that by their very nature, they're going to be big and expensive. Sending an orbiter to a gas giant is a huge undertaking and you can't do it very well inexpensively.

However, as the Mars Observer proved, even billion dollar programs aren't immune to failure. Would it have been better flying 4 smaller missions instead of putting all of your eggs into one big, expensive basket? That was the motivation behind the 1990s mantra of "faster, better, cheaper." However, as most engineers at the time pointed out, in reality, when faced with "faster, better, cheaper", you end up getting at most 2 out of 3. The experiences of 1999 showed what happens when you shortcut testing in order to go all out for "faster, better, cheaper."

2006-Apr-24, 10:41 PM
I can see where a balanced approach between quality and efficiency is required. In production analysis it's called "effectiveness." You can either have high quality or efficiency, but going towards either extreme spells long-term disaster.

The six-sigma concept is born of providing high-quality but at an acceptable level of efficiency.