Project Morpheus

I recently discovered an interesting tidbit; NASA has been quietly developing the technology necessary for landing a humanoid robot on the Moon. Now, this is not a particularly interesting goal on its own.

Morpheus lander in flight

However, the point is not the end goal. Project Morpheus, as it is now called, is really an experiment with different work flows. Morpheus is based on the principle of working quickly and efficiently, rather than the slow-and-steady plod that NASA generally adopts. Instead of planning for every possible contingency, the small team is designing low-cost systems with a rapid iteration rate.

The project is also an integration of a number of technologies — methane-oxygen engines, advanced robotics, advanced landing techniques, etc — which are being developed in parallel. Instead of breaking the goal down into small steps and working straight at it, Project M seems to be making more generalized progress, so that the technologies it develops can be used in a variety of applications. This is good, as it will lead to cheaper, faster development cycles for other missions.

Finally, it is not high-profile. Low-profile projects are less likely to get bloated politically and bureaucratically; politicians want to pork-barrel big projects, which leads to missed deadlines and overshot budgets. Keeping projects out of the limelight means they are less likely to get axed for inefficiency, and keeping them low cost means they are less likely to get axed for budgetary reasons.

So I wouldn’t mind if NASA created more of these low-cost, fast-paced projects. Sure, not every one of them would get finished, but the approach is appealing — don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and all that.

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