Yet Another Day Ending in “Y”

Gentle Readers, I do hope you’re not tired of me ragging on NA$A, because I’m sure not, not even close:

First came the Hubble Space Telescope. Now, NASA is finalizing development of the James Webb Space Telescope for launch in 2019. And finally, the space agency is beginning to design and develop its next great space telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST.

This instrument will have a primary mirror of 2.4 meters (7.87 feet), the same size as the Hubble’s, and be designed to hunt for dark energy and spy on exoplanets. Although similar in size to Hubble, the WFIRST telescope’s infrared instrument would have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble, allowing it to observe much more of the sky in less time. It was also supposed to carry a special coronagraph, which could block the light of stars and allow astronomers to observe exoplanets directly.

Sounds pretty cool, right? But you forgot that this is NA$A, didn’t you?

But a new report—released without fanfare on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday—-

Released at a time when nobody would notice, I see. There’s a reason that I advocate taking people out and hanging them, you know.

…calls into question the viability of the project. “The risks to the primary mission of WFIRST are significant and therefore the mission is not executable without adjustments and/or additional resources,” the report states. It estimated the cost of the project at $3.9 billion to $4.2 billion, significantly above the project’s $3.6 billion budget.

Adjustments? Is it too much to hope that one of the definitions of “adjustments” includes public floggings? And just what is it with these cost overruns? See, I had an allowance when I was little, about eight. It ended by the time I was ten, and it never occurred to me, not even once, to ask for any more than what I was given to begin with. Honestly, I just don’t understand people who are given a pile of somebody else’s money and then think that they can burn through it and then ask for more.

And just for the record, the Hubble Space Telescope for which the WFIRST is an add-on was launched in 1990, twenty-seven years ago. Lest you think this was an example of NA$A getting it right, recall that they had to send up a mission to fix the mirror because it had been ground to the wrong shape to focus properly.

But that’s just the preamble. Here’s the good part:

It also offered a scathing review of the relationship between NASA headquarters and the telescope’s program managers at Goddard Space Flight Center. “The NASA HQ-to-Program governance structure is dysfunctional and should be corrected for clarity in roles, accountability, and authority,” the report states.

I’m seeing neither “flogging” nor “hanging” in there, but a fella can hope.

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