|The 1990s brought major changes at JPL. In 1991, Lew Allen retired and Edward C. Stone, the Voyager project scientist, became JPL's director. The following year, Daniel S. Goldin became NASA administrator. Goldin hated the slow, expensive and not necessarily reliable approach of the past two decades, and set out to reform all of NASA. His favorite targets of ridicule were the failed Mars Observer and a Saturn mission, Cassini/Huygens, which had been recently approved and was expected to cost $3.3 billion. His goal was to reduce the cost of planetary missions all the way down to $150 million. He challenged JPL to adapt itself to his new "faster, better, cheaper" techniques in a 1992 speech.
The result was the most vibrant and exciting period of planetary exploration since the 1960s, and a great deal of pain as Ed Stone and the rest of the lab's staff tried to find ways to meet Goldin's challenge. The era ended abruptly in 2000, after JPL lost two more spacecraft, both at Mars.
The Faster, Better, Cheaper Challenge
Goldin, who had been an executive at aerospace giant TRW, thought that by using new management techniques, new technologies and accepting more risk, NASA could dramatically reduce the cost of missions. More could be done without more money.
Doing more with less was important because a major political focus of the Clinton administration was achieving a balanced budget. NASA's budget shrank 18 percent between 1992 and 1999. Without finding ways to cut costs substantially, JPL faced extinction. The NASA budget would not support enough Cassini-scale missions to keep the lab operating.
In a speech at JPL on May 28, 1992, Goldin laid all this out for JPL's staff. "We need to stretch ourselves," he said. "Be bold -- take risks. [A] project that's 20 for 20 isn't successful. It's proof that we're playing it too safe. If the gain is great, risk is warranted. Failure is OK, as long as it's on a project that's pushing the frontiers of technology."