by Atif Ansar and Bent Flyvbjerg

The traditional approach to space exploration is to treat each project, meaning each rocket launch, as a one-off customized megaproject. NASA provides the classic example of this approach. It treats each launch as a big, bespoke investment—trying to deliver a “quantum leap” or “big bang.” Donna Shirley, a manager on NASA’s Pathfinder mission, describes them as “magnificent mission[s] in the grand old style.”1

The problem with that approach is that the various missions are constructed independently from each other. Components and systems are not updated and transferred from one project to the next—they are instead reimagined.

The result is illustrated by the Mars ...

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