In the years after the Cold War ended, the Pentagon’s space program fell to its lowest ebb since the launch of Sputnik in 1957. Most of the new orbital systems being developed for the military and the intelligence community went way over budget and fell far behind their intended schedules — to a point where some had to be canceled. In retrospect, this decay was caused by a lack of funding, a corresponding need to accept more risk, an erosion in oversight capabilities, and an unfounded belief that reliance on commercial practices would enable everything to work out in the end. Instead, the Pentagon’s Clinton-era space program was a debacle, but one that few people today remember. Which may explain why some of the same mistakes seen in the 1990s are being repeated today. Faced with tight budgets, space managers are turning to unproven commercial technologies and practices in the hope of saving money — in the process taking more risks. If we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it, to the detriment of national security. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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