Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate

Whereas NASA’s human spaceflight program is capturing a lot of the headlines nowadays, instances are equally busy within the house science enviornment, with flagship missions nearing launch or coming into their peak growth years and local weather monitoring focused a significant money infusion.

Ed Weiler, who oversees NASA’s science portfolio, plans to make use of the funding improve to speed up work on measurements recognized as priorities within the Nationwide Analysis Council’s Earth science decadal survey, partly by initiating a collection of low-cost scientist-led Enterprise-class probes.

In the meantime, Weiler is gearing up for launches subsequent yr of some $4 billion value of planetary missions, together with the lunar Gravity Restoration and Inside Laboratory, the solar-powered Juno probe to Jupiter and the nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory rover.

However Weiler has complications to cope with as nicely, together with continued value development and schedule slips on the James Webb House Telescope (JWST), NASA’s next-generation astronomy flagship. JWST’s ballooning prices are seen by some as a menace to different missions funded inside NASA’s astronomy funds is predicted to stay comparatively flat for the subsequent 5 years.

Weiler spoke just lately with House Information workers author Amy Klamper.


What’s your response to the latest Nationwide Analysis Council (NRC) report urging NASA to, amongst different issues, sink extra money into the early growth part of missions to manage prices?

I lived by way of the good observatories and I noticed all of the sins of the previous. I noticed Hubble overrun 300 %. Its unique Section C growth begin value was $420 million. It got here in seven years late at $1.6 billion. The JWST is an element of 100 higher than Hubble. We knew this was going to be a technological problem, so we tried one thing we by no means tried earlier than: We put in 40 to 50 % of the run-out value into Section A and Section B definition and early design growth. We decided we’d not begin Section C growth till we had been at Expertise Readiness Stage-6 on each essential expertise. And we had a super-long Section A, a super-long Section B, we obtained to Section C and Expertise Readiness Stage-6, and the remaining is historical past. On one thing like a one-off JWST, you’ve obtained so many variables that you just don’t even know you might have.


Is the continued problem of precisely estimating prices going to have an effect on the NRC’s forthcoming decadal survey of astronomy missions?

The underside line is I believe the Nationwide Analysis Council and NASA have agreed that earlier than we put out one other decadal, let’s attempt to put somewhat extra meat into these value estimates. What I’m hoping is that we would get value estimates that we would have the ability to belief to the possibly 50 % stage. That might be an enormous change.


How would possibly JWST’s value development have an effect on the decadal survey?

Clearly it could decelerate something that got here out of the decadal. However I wish to say this unequivocally, not less than at my stage: I don’t intend to decide to pump extra money into Webb with out taking it to the neighborhood that’s going to be affected.


Are you elevating the chance that JWST might be scaled again or canceled?

There’s no extra money in 2011. The president’s funds is on the Hill. Which means one thing’s obtained to provide. We [could] loosen up testing, with out taking any extra dangers; we [could] loosen up expectations, if that’s applicable. We even have an impartial value overview group what’s going to be the true value. I don’t have all of the solutions. I’ve achieved what I can. I’m at wit’s finish. I imply, this appears like an excuse, wonderful, however Mars Science Laboratory is a basic instance. Who would have thought that the motors on Mars Science Laboratory would trigger all the issues they triggered?


Some have argued that sustaining money reserves on applications acts as a efficiency disincentive for contractors. What’s your view?

Value reserves are supposed for use in mission administration concept to unravel the unknown unknowns. They shouldn’t be used simply to cowl underestimated labor prices or underestimated time to fulfill a schedule. On JWST it’s been a number of the former however extra of the latter. However I assumed the expertise would have been the largest downside. The truth that we obtained to Expertise Readiness Stage-6 on the schedule we thought we’d is simply phenomenal. We aren’t modeling a star. Modeling a star is straightforward.


Apart from the Enterprise-class missions, what else is in retailer for Earth science because of the proposed funding improve that might start subsequent yr?

We’re additionally going to hurry up different initiatives, together with the Soil Moisture Energetic and Passive satellite tv for pc. We’re going to take care of the schedule for the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite tv for pc 2, and we’re dashing up dramatically the Deformation, Ecosystem Construction and Dynamics of Ice, and the Local weather Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory, although what we did is scale back them to the minimal dimension required to perform the [Earth science] decadal survey goals.


NASA has had hassle making the transition from experimental to operational Earth commentary measurements. Is there now an expanded operational position for NASA on this space?

Clearly we’re taking part in a task in sustained Earth science measurements. We’re not solely constructing the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, however we’re additionally constructing an engineering copy of the instrument that might be flight-worthy so finally we might put it on a spacecraft and have steady carbon measurements. Plus the Energetic Sensing of Carbon Dioxide Emissions over Nights, Days and Seasons satellite tv for pc is within the funds — one other follow-on. So we’ll be doing carbon/CO2 measurements for a very long time. Finally, hopefully, the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will take these missions and that expertise over. I believe the difficulty there’s we’ve obtained to have continuity, and if there’s not a transparent particular person or company main it then we’ve obtained to maintain that continuity going.


Will Landsat proceed to be a NASA-funded mission?

The plan is that the U.S. Geological Survey, or the Division of the Inside, would be the funding authority however they’ll use us for administration and procurement. They do the mission operations. They’re going to make use of us — like NOAA makes use of us as mission administration — for the follow-on to the Landsat collection that’s being negotiated now.


Does the president’s new course for human spaceflight current new alternatives for house science analysis?

We do issues based mostly on competitors and peer overview. If the Exploration Programs Mission Directorate, once they lastly get a funds and we all know what’s happening, determine to go to some object and so they’ve obtained room for a science instrument, then we’d make that house accessible by way of considered one of our bulletins of alternative.


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has requested the Science Mission Directorate to pitch concepts for utilizing the worldwide house station as a platform for analysis and expertise demonstrations. What, if any, alternatives exist?

House station is a platform; some folks would possibly discover methods to make use of it which are of worth. We’ve obtained an Explorer announcement of alternative that’s going to go on the road in a short time, and a Analysis Alternatives in House and Earth Sciences announcement that’s on the road proper now principally saying should you’ve obtained concepts that might go on station as an alternative of a sounding rocket or a balloon, we’ll compete them.

However to place an astronomy instrument on there you’ve obtained to have a pointing system that’s always monitoring the item; it’s obtained to have the ability to survive the contamination atmosphere; it’s obtained to have the ability to level and maintain stability whereas astronauts are on board. It’s not very steady for Hubble-class science, however probably for devices that don’t have pointing necessities, like cosmic ray experiments. For planetary, it’s onerous to conceive of doing in-depth Mars pattern return science. For heliophysics it’s the identical factor. However expertise growth is an space, and NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun is planning to make use of the station for a few of that.


Some within the science neighborhood have expressed concern that science carried out aboard the house station will come on the expense of different missions. What’s your response?

Positive, if we take a station experiment within the suborbital program, meaning there’ll be much less cash for some rocket or balloon experiment. However by definition the one we take for station might be higher science than the one that might have been proposed for rockets or balloons. One factor that’s unequivocal — there’s no new cash particularly solely to do station science. We’re attempting to acknowledge we’ve obtained a possibility up there; we don’t have any extra new cash, however we would have the ability to do higher science by doing it this fashion.

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