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NASA Reconsiders DAWN Mission Cancellation 56

amstrad writes "Last month, NASA decided to cancel the DAWN mission to Ceres and Vesta citing 'technical difficulties' and 'budget overrun'. Monday, NASA released a statement reinstating the mission." From the article: "The decision to cancel Dawn was made March 2, 2006, after about $257 million already had been spent. An additional expenditure of about $14 million would have been required to terminate the project. The reinstatement resulted from a review process that is part of new management procedures established by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. The process is intended to help ensure open debate and thorough evaluation of major decisions regarding space exploration and agency operations."
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NASA Reconsiders DAWN Mission Cancellation

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  • I would say that is an impressive use of a Potemkin village to make their own indecisiveness look like a healthy intellectual debate.
  • I see (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bacon Bits ( 926911 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @04:52AM (#15009341)
    So they'd already made their three easy payments of $39.99, and decided that it would be bad form to not pay the $6.95 in shipping and handling just because they didn't check their bank balance first.
    • Termination fee (Score:5, Informative)

      by MyNameIsFred ( 543994 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @05:27AM (#15009393)
      The article doesn't give details, but the statement "$257 million already had been spent. An additional expenditure of about $14 million would have been required to terminate the project. " probably does not mean they only needed to spend $14 million to complete the project. Most government contracts have a termination fee associated with it. If the government cancels the project early, the government pays the contractor to close up shop - dispose of unneeded material, severence pay for terminated workers, etc. etc.
      • Ah, that makes more sense. I read "required to terminate the project" as being the same as "required to finish the project".
      • Re:Termination fee (Score:3, Informative)

        by SirBruce ( 679714 )
        Yes. From reading elsewhere, they have spent $257M; the total price tag is estimated at $446M. So they still have $189M to go. Cancelling the mission would have saved them $175M, which will now probably come out of the CEV-related budgets.

        Bruce
      • From what I read elsewhere, the cost to complete the mission would be about $40m. So, it was a choice between spending $40m, to save a $257m investment, or spend $17m, to just burn the $257m.

        In that light, and since the technical problems were reportedly resolved, cancelling the project seemed pretty stupid.

  • What they need, instead of indecision, is an egomaniac whose single-mindedness of purpose can drive the whole space program forward.

    Someone like Bill Gates who the rank & file can identify with as "one of us" but with extraordinary leadership ability. Not someone like Steve Ballmer who may have the business smarts, but can't relate to the masses.
  • The way we are going humans will be landing on asteroids long before we have a go at flying a mission to mars. The reason is that it is just too hard to reliably launch from mars with hardware and consumables you have shipped from Earth.

    Yes, I know you can use ISRU but the whole thing is so dogy with forseeable technology. So my bet is with a landing on a smaller near Earth asteroid, followed by expeditions to the main belt. Recent missions like NEAR have paved the way and I hope DAWN continues the effort.

  • by Amiga Trombone ( 592952 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @05:05AM (#15009356)
    "We revisited a number of technical and financial challenges and the work being done to address them," said NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, who chaired the review panel. "Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress on many of this mission's technical issues, and, in the end, we have confidence the mission will succeed."

    In other words, threat of having their project canceled scared the team into getting their shit together and their project under control.

    I've got to say, so far I'm impressed with Griffin's leadership. He does seem to have a knack of getting the results he's after.
    • Results are, in fact, only when something gets _delivered_. All that's happened here is one manager has made a promise to another manager. And you all know how that story goes.
    • Not so. Rex Geveden is NASA Associate Administrator, NOT in charge of this mission. the truth is, Mary Cleave axed the mission foolishly - it had had some tech problems but they had been resolved before Cleave's decision, and the program was back on track.
      The quote is NOT a manager promising a manager something to keep his project - the quote is an ADMINISTRATOR acknowledging that a lower-level administrator had made a decision that was not based on the data that the actual program manager had provided.
      • From the letter [nasa.gov] in question. I attempted to format this. There also appears to be a few OCR (optical character recognition) glitches, but I saw nothing major. They come from NASA's end and aren't my fault.

        Following are the technical and management findings:

        • The most significant technical concerns ( e . g . , composite fuel tank qualification, ion propulsion power unit test failures, and spacecraft structural design margins) have been resolved or a credible resolution path exists.
        • Project management and
    • Dawn deserved to die for many reasons. I was glad when it got killed.

      Maybe the problems have been solved, maybe not, but these still stand:

      The hardware is over 15 years old and troublesome. The original proposal and cost savings in funding this mission is that it reused hardware from a previous mission. That proposal was 9 years ago!

      Ion engines don't work well past mars. The mission takes over 9 years, because of that. The Dawn folk have the gall to pr this "as an extended test of the ion engine technology.
      • The hardware is over 15 years old and troublesome. The original proposal and cost savings in funding this mission is that it reused hardware from a previous mission. That proposal was 9 years ago!

        Sounds prudent. Use technology that is known to work. Except, of course, it ends up that it didn't work in the first place.

        Ion engines don't work well past mars. The mission takes over 9 years, because of that. The Dawn folk have the gall to pr this "as an extended test of the ion engine technology."

        You mi

  • It sounds as if NASA has been having some success at 'pushing back' against the Bush administration's reluctance to fund Science.

    Recent embarassment over inflicting political spin on scientific findings may have given NASA a little budgetary leeway.

    There is slightly more detail in this article [chron.com]at the Houston Chronicle.

    • Maybe someone realized he planned to redirect all the scientific funding to "religious studies"
    • It sounds as if NASA has been having some success at 'pushing back' against the Bush administration's reluctance to fund Science.

      Under the Bush administration planetary science has undergone a golden age. To say they are anti-science is foolish. The NASA budget is a zero sum game. Fully funding the Dawn mission will take away from other more important uses of the money, like CEV development. My guess is the Dawn cancellation was a trial balloon floated by Mr. Griffin in order to obtain some budget relie

  • They can't afford to terminate the program?

    Sounds like they can't afford NOT to fly.
  • How can it cost $14m to cancel a project? Are they collecting a satellite from orbit or something?
    • It costs that much because it's NASA, and they like to do things the expensive way.

      Z.

    • Re:$14,000,000! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This kind of thing is actually fairly common in large operations with (many) subcontractors. The fourteen million probably goes to early contract termination fees, materials already taken delivery of but not paid for, etc. The cynical would blame this "tradition" on NASA inheriting the military/government way of doing things, but one should realize that almost all large systems/transactions are handled in this way.
    • Probably has something to do with all the contractors they'd have to pay for breaking off previously settled agreements.
    • Some expense is simple. Say I've got 3 weeks of vacation saved up and then when I get fired I will get a check for three weeks pay plus maybe two weeks severance pay. And then what about the moving company that hauls all the projects stuf off to some landfill or a storage place.

      It's very common for the government to spend say $100M per year of some project and then one yearcongres wants to save $100M so they cut the project (and waste the $500M already spent) this is so common that everyone who does bus

  • by slightly99 ( 741774 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:43AM (#15009752)
    I'm sure I read somewhere on Slashdot that Vesta has been pushed back to 2007.
    • You may be mistaken, sir. I thought I read that somebody called Gates had cancelled 2007 entirely (through a perceived lack of interest, I believe). This cancellation made, Vesta was going to be out next year.
  • ...with expensive shuttle flights instead of cost effective robotic science exploration.
  • ...but Slashdot did cover the cancellation at the time, there were a LOT of unhappy campers on here, and we DO know that the Slashdot Effect is feared by many an admin. I seriously doubt NASA made any decisions based on a fear of Slashdot (but it would be nice! :) - however, it may be possible that this site contributed in some way to the restoration of the mission.
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @01:18PM (#15012019) Journal
    Wow - reading that NASA was going to cancel Dawn was scary - all this Daylight Savings stuff was really getting out of hand. I'm glad to know that we do get to have the sun come up again after all....
  • I'm just happy to see any sort of management admit to need to change a decision. Normally they just keep on going in to the brick wall whilst telling everyone they know what they're doing.

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