Mars Curiosity – Over Budget, Big Success?

This crops up all the time.

What’s the definition of a ‘failed project’?

Look at Mars Curiosity.

The program was initially budgeted at around $1.5B and came in at $2.5B for development and launch.

Sure, some people question that expense, but for the most part I think they just don’t ‘get it’ on the importance of basic science research and exploration, and the tremendous ROI they have demonstrated over and over again – even if we can’t predict what technologies or other advances will come of them.

Look at the F-22 Raptor – an awesome aircraft that will likely never see active duty with a program cost of $66.7B.

I’m not saying the F-22 was necessarily a waste of money either, but in comparison Curiosity was a minor expense to the F-22 and indeed many of the major defense programs.

What I am saying is this: Anyone who is a key stakeholder of Mars Curiosity and actually understands the impact of science in general and this program in particular knows it has been a major success already – with more value to come.

But, it was almost $1B over budget.

So was it a successful project/program? Or not?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Success is defined by achievement of outcomes, in my opinion. To me, it’s not just sticking the landing, but extracting information that can lead to improved life on earth…and not just the prospect of prime real estate on Mars. 🙂

Josh Nankivel

Agree Andy. Outcomes are what matter. I’ve seen projects that were executed on time and within budget but the user acceptance piece was botched either due to lack of buy-in or just no engagement during project planning and implementation, resulting in a product that no one really wanted in the first place.

“The overarching science goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life, both its habitability and its preservation.”

All of science is exploration – discovering more truths about the universe we find ourselves in. Some may not find the exploration to find truth worthwhile. I don’t understand that perspective, especially when compared with other spending. In just this one example, the US space program has achieved from the most accurate numbers I can find an ROI of 800% – for every $1 the US economy and direct patent royalties to the US Treasury have garnered $8 in returns.

The MSL has already had astounding success at launch though – the engineering feat was amazing and paves the way for the future. I’m excited to discover the new knowledge about our universe that comes back from the rover when it reaches it’s target for the laboratory.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Considering that the average project comes in at 200% of the original budget estimate, at least 150% of the original schedule, and with a reduced scope, then Curiosity is a successful project as it only went over budget but met schedule and scope.

Of course, if life on Mars is discovered than it will be the most successful project in human history so far.