The Government Accountability Office’s report on the NASA Constellation program has some interesting information about the space agency’s efforts to send astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars. GAO found that:
- NASA has already spent more than $7 billion on the program since its inception in 2004 – with nearly $230 billion projected over the next 20 years.
- Engineers must close significant knowledge gaps and refine many requirements in order to conduct preliminary design reviews on Ares and Orion scheduled for August and September.
- The space agency’s efforts involve a high-risk strategy of “concurrent” technology development – working on different systems at the same time and integrating them later.
- NASA has a confidence level of 65 percent that it will be able to begin operational flights in 2015 with its projected budget; for 2013, the agency’s budget confidence level is only 33 percent.
- The space agency’s development plan is very tight. “NASA’s schedule leaves little room for the unexpected. If something goes wrong with the development of Ares 1 or the Orion, the entire Constellation Program could be thrown off course and the return of human spaceflight delayed.”
- Lockheed Martin’s contract for developing the Orion spacecraft has risen from $3.9 billion in August 2006 to nearly $4.36 billion, an increase of about 11.8 percent.
- The change in Orion costs occurred after NASA added two years to the design phase and a pair of flights for Orion’s launch abort system; the agency also deleted a cargo variant for the International Space Station.
- NASA shaved 1,500 pounds off the Orion capsule last fall by redesigning it to touchdown in water as opposed to land.