NASA’s Apollo and Space Station Programs
Both case studies considered here are examples of Linear Staging: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Apollo Program and its International Space Station (ISS) Program. The cases are compared to the criteria given in Chapter 2 (Section 2.5) and discussed as to whether the Linear approach succeeded. To summarize the lessons of the examples: the Apollo example shows that when criteria for Adaptive Staging are not met, a Linear approach can work well. The Station example shows that when the criteria call for Adaptive Staging, a Linear approach can fail badly: when new information forced NASA to change its design (i.e., to adapt), it responded with a new design (i.e., a new Linear approach) that soon had to be changed again.
C.1 NASA’s Apollo Program1
Does this program meet the 12 Adaptive Staging criteria (see Section 2.5)? It did for two criteria.
C.1.1 Matching criteria to the Apollo Program
Only Criteria 1 and 2 were met. The project was unprecedented. Ten criteria were not met. Criterion 2: The project’s goals were not controversial; there were no dissenting voices when President John F.Kennedy made the commitment to go to the Moon. Criterion 3: The implementing methods (experimental space launches) were noncontroversial. Criterion 4: The properties of the environment, outer space and the surface of the Moon, were somewhat known. The environments, although not fully understood, received substantial scrutiny during unmanned explorations that preceded the Moon landing. Further, ongoing space exploration missions were finding no substantial surprises.
Criteria 5 and 6: Outputs could be correlated with inputs. The project’s consequences developed quickly: the public failures of early (unmanned) launch vehicles in the Mercury Program resulted in highly visible corrective actions. Rocket flights to the Moon gathered prestige for the United States. Criterion 7: Although there were risks to the astronauts, the public did not perceive any personal risk. Criterion 8: Financial resources were generous and a skilled workforce was available. Criterion
9: The public perceived a geopolitical crisis if the Soviet Union were the first to claim the lunar surface.
Criterion 10: NASA’s openness about failures and the eventual success of the Mercury and Gemini Programs, even though limited to Earth-orbit, built societal confidence in NASA. Criterion 11: The public did not want to participate in the program’s decisions; they observed the programs in the media and facing no personal hazard from it, were happy to leave decisions to “rocket scientists.” Criterion 12: NASA, although a new agency, was a stable institution with broad political support. The highly visible successes of Mercury and Gemini solidified NASA’s support and readied the agency for Apollo.
C.1.2 Determining program success
This program was successful. The program’s goal was essentially geopolitical, to demonstrate the prowess of the United States, and this it did on schedule. It achieved the goal by accomplishing what President John F.Kennedy had promised in 1961: to land a man on the Moon within a decade. The Apollo Program is a successful example of Linear Staging.
The program received generous financial resources and political support; cost overruns were not a factor in determining success. Supporters could tolerate a few years of overruns; indeed, annual program costs peaked two years before the Moon landing, and their decline encouraged continued support (Konkel, 1990).
Success was a singular event. As soon as the lunar module landed on the Moon and returned safely to Earth, Apollo was a success by definition. That there were failures cannot be discounted. Three astronauts died in a fire during tests on the ground. Apollo 13 failed to land on the Moon, and barely returned to Earth safely. But these failures did not undermine the program’s overall success.
C.2 Linear Staging: NASA’s International Space Station Program
Does this program meet the 12 Adaptive Staging criteria (see Section 2.5)? It did for seven criteria.
C.2.1 Matching criteria to the International Space Station
Criteria 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 12 were met. Criterion 1: The program is unprecedented. Criterion 2: There is no clear agreement on the project’s goal(s). Criterion 3: The many redesigns of the station demonstrate not only disagreement about the goal(s) but also controversy over the implementing methods. Criterion 5: The history of redesigns suggests that outcomes do not have a known dependence on inputs, at least in the development process. Criterion 6: The program has been so long in development that there are as yet no consequences to assess.
Criterion 8: Financial resources are limited and Congress continues to threaten the program by further limiting financial resources. Criterion 12: Although NASA as a whole is a relatively stable institution, Congress mandated that NASA reorganize the program several times.
Criterion 4 is not met: The technical properties of the environment are now well known. Criterion 7 is also not met since there is no perceived hazard associated with the existence of an international space station. Criterion 9 is not met: the realization of an international space station is not critical. There is no need for action.
Whether Criteria 10 and 11 are met is debatable. Criterion 10: distrust of NASA has increased because of problems and failures in (1) the Shuttle Program (including the Challenger accident, cost overruns, and delays) and (2) the Station Program itself (failure to fulfill promises to foreign partners, cost overruns, delays, and redesigns). Criterion 11: The public does not expect to participate in program decisions, but its representative, the Congress, is restive due to cost overruns, delays, and reductions in performance.
The “score” is: seven criteria for using Adaptive Staging, three for not using Adaptive Staging, and two indeterminate. The score suggests that it would be useful for NASA to move away from its use of a Linear and predetermined approach. At least in the development phase Linear Staging has not succeeded because of many cost, performance, and schedule problems as described below.
C.2.2 Determining program success
NASA’s Space Station Program offers a clear, if disappointing, example of the dangers of applying Linear Staging to managing a complex, first-of-a-kind program. “The International Space Station at Risk” was the title of a recent editorial in Science (Young, 2002), which covered only the recent problems of this program. The point of the following account2 of programmatic failure is that a Linear approach can be very unsuccessful when criteria indicate that Adaptive Staging might be better. In such a case an Adaptive approach could be faster, cheaper, and more effective.
In the early 1980s NASA spent hundreds of millions of dollars gathering information in preparation for designing the space station. This was the first step in NASA’s Linear approach to developing a space station. Much of the effort went to determining the needs of potential users of the station, such as scientists doing experiments in zero gravity. Most of the science needed to build the station was known, but the engineering challenges were great. NASA also relied on its experience in other crewed laboratories in space (e.g., the Skylab Program and the shuttle-borne Spacelab).
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build a station within a decade. Later that year, NASA revealed its design (i.e., the end point of the predetermined path) for a very capable, permanently occupied station, including research facilities at the station and two free-flying automated platforms for research and Earth observation. The cost was $8 billion (this design would have generated electrical power, one rough index of capability, of 75 kilowatts). The next several years saw struggles to contain costs and meet contingencies. Redesigns, cost estimates, and surprises chased each other: for example, the 1986 Challenger accident
caused the program to add a “lifeboat” for emergency return of the crew. The automated platforms (see below) were deleted as were other capabilities (e.g., electrical power was reduced). By 1990, the cost estimate was $38.3 billion for a different, much less capable station.
NASA redesigned again, and in 1991 presented a still less capable $30 billion design. Congressional concern over cost overruns, delays, and reduction of capability led the House Appropriations Committee to delete all funds for the station from the NASA appropriations bill in what was to be the first of 22 congressional votes to kill the program. The funds were restored by the full House. This is evidence of a controversial program. In 1993, Russia joined existing international partners Europe, Japan, and Canada in the program. The station was again redesigned, now as the International Space Station, with a cost of $17.4 billion of additional funds. Russia committed to build and launch some elements of the station. At this point $11.2 billion had been spent on the program and nothing had been launched, although some parts were built.
The costs continued to grow, and the station design continued to change, always becoming less capable. Different cost estimates are hard to compare directly, because they include different items: some include the costs of shuttle launches necessary to put the station in orbit; some include the salaries of NASA civil servants; some do not.
In November 2001, an ISS Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force chaired by Thomas Young released a status report on the station. By now a permanently occupied station with a crew of three was in orbit, partially equipped for research, with the station producing 20 kilowatts of electrical power. The Young committee found that there was little technical risk in designing and developing the balance of the planned station; in other words, the technical design problems were largely solved. Despite having this source of technical uncertainty removed, the committee found that NASA still had no rigorous estimate for the cost of finishing the ISS. The task force found that the estimated cost of completing the station had grown from $17.4 billion to something over $30 billion, and was still growing. Neither the Administration nor Congress want to pay what it will cost to finish the station, but unless it is finished the program will not be able to deliver the promised capabilities to its international partners. At this writing (2003), the issue is not yet resolved but the station may stay with a crew of only three. Smith (2001) explains the many changes made in the program, how the station’s capability has varied over time, and how costs have grown.
For example, the $8 billion estimate from 1984 was only for research and development and was expressed in FY1984 dollars. In the FY1988 NASA authorization bill, however, Congress directed NASA to include other costs in the estimate, including, for example, marginal shuttle launch costs during assembly; tracking and data services; the since canceled flight telerobotic servicer; and ground test facilities. Subsequent estimates for the Freedom Program, therefore, included those additional items. Also, NASA began expressing the estimates in “real year dollars,” meaning that funding shown for previous years is actual costs, while estimates of future-year funding are adjusted for expected inflation. For the ongoing ISS Program, NASA returned to the practice of not including launch costs, for example, but includes the costs of science experiments, which were not included in cost estimates for Freedom.
Another complication when comparing the original $8 billion cost with today’s estimates is that the original design was not only for an occupied base where astro-
nauts would live and work, but also for two automated platforms (one in an orbit near the space station for scientific experiments and one in an orbit around Earth’s poles for Earth observations). Other content changes were made. Thus, the $8 billion was an estimate for a much more capable set of space facilities than the occupied base being built today.
Different cost estimates from FY1985–2000 cover work to complete different stages, either “assembly complete” or “permanent human occupancy”, and do not include operational costs past those dates. “Assembly complete” is the stage at which the space station would be completely assembled. “Permanent human capability” (PHC) was an earlier stage NASA used for budgeting and scheduling purposes beginning with the March 1991 redesign through the end of the Freedom Program in 1993. PHC denoted when a crew could remain aboard the station year-round without the space shuttle attached. NASA explained that it was using PHC instead of assembly complete to illustrate that the space station would continually evolve in an undefined and unbudgeted follow-on phase, and hence would not be “complete” at a particular point in time. With the advent of the ISS Program, NASA returned to the practice of using an assembly-complete date; however, in FY2000 NASA added another benchmark, “development complete,” to denote when a six-or seven-person research capability would begin. (Although NASA said ISS would accommodate six people, for several years it has been suggested that seven could be accommodated if an appropriately-designed crew return vehicle were available.) For FY2000 and FY2001, NASA listed both dates with accompanying schedule and cost estimates (see the definition of Linear Staging, Section 2.1).
The details of the changes in the Space Station Program over its life are given in testimony by Marcia Smith (Smith, 2001, 2002). Smith identifies six major program changes from 1984 to 1993, although other analysts may cite a higher number, indicating unclear goals (Smith, 2001).
NASA’s recent proposal to curtail space station construction once the “U.S. core” is completed is a further change causing $4 billion in cost growth in the ISS budget. Because Congress has not yet approved NASA’s decision, this potential program change is formally “under discussion.” If NASA proceeds in this direction, three U.S. elements will not be built until additional funding is available—the habitation module, crew return vehicle (CRV), and propulsion module. Concern has been expressed that if the CRV is not built, the probable reduction in crew size, from six or seven to three, will limit how much scientific research can be conducted because about 2.5 crew members will be needed simply to maintain the station.
In summary, the Apollo Program is a successful example of Linear Staging whereas the ISS Program is not, at least to date (2003). The challenges of NASA’s space programs are obviously very different from those of a geologic repository program. Nonetheless, these programs represent first-of-a-kind, complex, and long-term projects that serve to illustrate the application of the criteria defined Section 2.5.
IMCE (International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation). 2001. Report by the International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force to the NASA Advisory Council. November 1, 2001. Available at ftp://ftp.hq.nasa.gov/pub/pao/reports/2001/imce.pdf
Konkel, R.M. 1990. Space Science in the Budget: An Analysis of Budgets and Resource Allocation in NASA, FY1961–1989 . May. University of Colorado, Boulder: Center for Space and Geosciences Policy
Logsdon, J.M. 1970. The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Roland, A. 1992. The lonely race to Mars: The future of manned space flight. Pp. 35–49 in Space Policy Alternatives, R.Byerly (ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Smith, M.S. 2001. NASA’s Space Station Program: Evolution and Current Status. Testimony before the House Science Committee, 107th Congress, Washington, D.C., April 4, 2001. Library of Congress. Serial 107–8107–8. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Available at: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/smith.htm.
Smith, M.S. 2002. Space Stations. IB93017. CRS Issue Brief for Congress. April 29. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.
Young, L.R. 2002. The international space station at risk. Science 296:429.
Brunner, R.D., R.Byerly, Jr., and R.A.Pielke Jr. 1992. The future of the space station program. Pp. 199–222 in Space Policy Alternatives, R.Byerly (ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.