Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U. S. Space Programby Howard E. McCurdy
Space Exploration has always been one of the country's most expensive undertakings. The first moon landing cost $21 billion in 1969 dollars. The International Space Station currently under construction will cost at least $65 billion by the time it is finished. A single flight of the reusable space shuttle costs $400 million. In Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost… See more details below
Space Exploration has always been one of the country's most expensive undertakings. The first moon landing cost $21 billion in 1969 dollars. The International Space Station currently under construction will cost at least $65 billion by the time it is finished. A single flight of the reusable space shuttle costs $400 million. In Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program, Howard E. McCurdy examines NASA's recent efforts to save money while improving mission frequency and performance.
Faster, Better, Cheaper takes its title from the initiative of the same name, which officials at NASA adopted after the high-profile failure of the Mars Observer spacecraft in 1993. Although that expedition was conceived in 1981 as the last in a series of lower-cost missions, its budget by launch had grown from $250 million to more than $800 million. To compensate for research opportunities lost during the hiatus since the last Viking mission in 1976, scientists in 1992 added numerous instruments while technicians added equipment to guard against failure. This effort should have resulted in a more reliable and better-performing spacecraft, and yet, as the Observer approached Mars on August 21, 1993, it disappeared.
McCurdy details the sixteen missions undertaken during the 1990s -- including an orbit of the moon, deployment of three space telescopes and four earth-orbiting satellites, two rendezvous with comets and asteriods, and a test of an ion propulsion engine -- which cost less than the sum traditionally spent on a single, conventionally planned planetary mission. He shows how these missions employed smaller spacecraft and cheaper technology to undertake less complex and more specific tasks in outer space. While the technological innovation and space exploration approach that McCurdy describes remains controversial, the historical perspective on its disappointments and triumphs points to ways of developing "faster, better, cheaper" as a management manifesto.
This excellent summary of an important part of NASA's history is recommended for all readers.
It is an engaging story, and the book itself is small enough for bedtime reading.
An excellent overview of Goldin's initiative and of the scholarly literature that bears on the topic.
Michael N. Geselowitz
Readers interested in either the management or economics of complex organizations will find a wealth of material in this well-written exposition. Fans of space travel, like the author himself, will also enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at NASA's operation.
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Howard McCurdy is an exceptionally talented scholar who has made many seminal contributions to aerospace history. His new book, Faster, Better, Cheaper, is the first scholarly attempt to explore NASA's transformation from one in which large-scale space science projects were the norm into one in which projects that are smaller, less expensive, and generally less expansive rule the day. McCurdy offers an excellent introduction to NASA's new management approach and points to further understanding and evolution. It will become required reading for NASA managers and engineers, and it will find a significant audience among space scientists and aerospace leaders around the globe.
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