7th Space Policy and History Forum: “Low-Cost Innovation in Spacecraft Projects: Boon or Bust?”

I would like to invite anyone in the Washington, D.C., area on March 25, 2013, to join us for the upcoming 7th Space Policy and History Forum on “Low-Cost Innovation in Spacecraft Projects: Boon or Bust?” As noted below, please mark your calendars for the afternoon of March 25, 4-5 p.m., when Howard McCurdy will be speaking at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. You may RSVP to either Nathan Bridges,  nathan.bridges@jhuapl.edu, or myself,launiusr@si.edu.


Low-Cost Innovation in Spacecraft Projects: Boon or Bust?

Space Policy and History Forum #7

Presented by Howard E. McCurdy, Ph.D.


Beginning in 1992, officials in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) undertook a concerted effort to fund a series of low-cost space exploration missions, including projects conducted by the Applied Physics Laboratory.  Initially, the approach worked well.  The effort fell into disfavor after a succession of mission failures between 1999 and 2002.  Following those failures, NASA officials allocated additional funds and reinstituted a more traditional systems management approach for projects in the low-cost line.  Based on an analysis of thirty-one projects with launch dates between 1992 and 2008, the presentation draws lessons from NASA’s experience with low-cost innovation.  It suggests that both the initial team-based approach instituted for the early low-cost projects and the systems management approach have merit so long as managers pay close attention to the requirements individual projects impose.  Analysis further suggests that the troubled projects suffered from a misapplication of management techniques developed for the team-based approach.


Dr. Howard McCurdy divides his time between American University in Washington, D.C, where he is a professor in the School of Public Affairs, and the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where he is helping to organize a graduate program in innovation, technology, and science policy.  He has produced seven books on the U.S. space program, including Space and the American Imagination, winner of the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, and Inside NASA, a study of NASA’s organizational culture that received the Henry Adams prize for that year’s best history on the federal government.  A new edition of Space and the American Imagination was recently released by the Johns Hopkins University Press.  Professor McCurdy also authored Faster, Better, Cheaper, a critical analysis of cost-cutting initiatives in the U.S. space program and Robots in Space, coauthored with Roger D. Launius, which examines the continuing controversy between advocates of human and robotic space flight.  Dr. McCurdy is often consulted by the media on space policy issues and has appeared on national news outlets such as the PBS News Hour, National Public Radio, and NBC Nightly News.  He received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Washington and his doctorate from Cornell University.

Date and Time

March 25 (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M. Refreshments may be served from 3:30 – 4:00.

Location, Parking, and Access

Building 200, room E100, Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD. This is on on the south side of Johns Hopkins Road, right off of Route 29 (http://www.jhuapl.edu/aboutapl/visitor/mapcampus.asp).  Those using GPS should enter address 11101 Johns Hopkins Road, Laurel. There is ample parking right next to the building and access to room E100 is unrestricted.

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