Mistakes Will Be Made

NASA's money pit.


In a September interview with USA Today, National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief Michael Griffin agreed that most of what NASA has been doing for the last few decades–the shuttle program and the International Space Station–has been a mistake. Don't confuse that concession with fiscal conservatism: Just a week earlier, he'd announced a $104 billion plan to revisit the moon by 2018.

Ordinarily Americans are suspicious of politicians whose backbones have been replaced by opinion polls. Griffin embodies the opposite extreme. NASA announced its new spending spree while Congress was scrambling for money to put the Gulf Coast back together. Asked about the timing of the announcement, Griffin insisted that we "deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments in our future."

As for those other "long-term investments" we've been underwriting, the expectations for what the space station can contribute to science keep shrinking, even as its cost swells past $100 billion–about a dozen times the original estimate. So don't be fooled by the apparent precision of the new moon shot's $104 billion price tag; no one has any idea what the real figure will be. The only safe bet is that it will be more expensive than advertised.?