Lapse in space

July 9, 2004

The Declaration of Helsinki says that "it is unethical to conduct research which is badly planned and poorly executed". Where scientific project management is concerned, and as shown by Richard Feynman's Minority Report to the Space Shuttle Challenger Inquiry , where rigour is not maintained and managerial discretion imposes an excessive risk penalty onto the project, the loss of the project may lead to more than equipment failure.

It is thus understandable that Colin Pillinger (Letters, July 2) should be defensive about his apparent lack of managerial rigour over Beagle 2 , noting that "two-thirds of missions to Mars don't make it". Where managerial standards are sufficiently lax that they neither work to "best business practice" nor deliver any project with a reasonable chance of success, then it is debatable whether the taxpayer should foot the bill.

Conversely, if project investigators wish to sponsor successful space missions, then the allocation of finite resources should be justified by forecast project success. If Pillinger bids for future work, he has a responsibility to ensure the bid has integrity and the project offers sufficient reliability.

John G. McLackland
Newcastle-upon-Tyne

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