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Shooting the MoonThis story is about an unlikely NASA mission to the Moon. It was unlikely because it was started with far too little time and too-little money to complete. It was unlikely because it was able to take chances to accept risk of failure. It was unlikely because it was searching for the unthinkable: water-ice on the moon... Figure 1-1: LCROSS Mission. The mission of the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was to investigate the possibility of water ice in craters on the Moon s poles. This is certainly an interesting scientific topic in itself, but I intend to focus on the compelling experience of managing the LCROSS Project in the context of this storied Agency. Perhaps most interesting are the implications this story has for managing any development effort, lunar or not, and working a balance to achieve success. NASA is by design a risk-taking agency within the US Government. It could be argued that NASA s purpose in the aerospace community is to take on the really big challenges that either the corporate world can t afford, are not yet profitable endeavors, or are just too risky for private corporations to entertain. However, expectations of the Agency have evolved. A combination of grim human tragedies and some very public cost and schedule overruns have challenged the public s and Congress s tolerance for risk-taking within the Agency. NASA, which is supposed to be in the business of taking risks to do bold, difficult things, has become less and less able to do so within its cost framework. Yet effectively replacing prudent risk management with attempts to "risk-eliminate" is completely unaffordable. So where does risk-taking fit within the Agency, or within private/corporate organizations for that matter? Where astronauts play there is clearly concern about risk. When an organization puts humans in harm s way, it is understandably going to take extra effort to assure nobody gets hurt. Doing so, of course, costs money - a lot of money to pay for labor and hardware which is attempting to assure nothing will go wrong. Sophisticated designs, with doubly- or triply-redundant systems, extensive testing to verify those systems, and numerous engineering test units built to learn and evolve a hardware design, all drive the cost and time required to implement. Human spaceflight is an expensive business because of the exceptional system complexity and levels of assurance required for human space travel. What about missions that do not involve human spaceflight? What about missions whose potential failure will not take a human life, whose costs are small and whose urgency and importance are limited by design? A portfolio consisting of this type of mission can be designed to be risk tolerant, not requiring large expenditures to guarantee against failure. With the money saved, the number of missions that can be executed within the portfolio grows, or the total cost of the portfolio can be reduced. The NASA LCROSS mission is a pathfinder example of a low-cost, quick turn-around mission which struck a balance on mission risk, while accomplishing big objectives, like defining how we understand the Moon.
Document ID
Document Type
Andrews, Daniel R.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 27, 2013
Publication Date
December 1, 2011
Subject Category
Lunar And Planetary Science And Exploration
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

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