Space Needs More Risk Tolerance, Says NRO Director

Colorado Springs, Colo. Staying ahead of US adversaries in space will require “more risk-taking on our part” and “more risk-tolerance on the part of those who oversee us,” National Reconnaissance Office Director Betty Sapp said Tuesday. The NRO, in its collaborations with Air Force space operations, needs to be focused on “doing, not reviewing,” Sapp said at the 33rd Space Symposium. During the development of the Corona reconnaissance satellite in 1959-60, Sapp said the program experienced “12 failures in less than 20 months” before its 13th launch produced a successful mission. Instead of stopping to perform a review of early failures, she said, the Corona program architects simply kept trying until they got the program right. Today, she said, “other countries, and some of them are not our friends, are behaving exactly the way we did in the ’60s,” which means “they recognize the fundamental importance of space” and “they don’t seem to mind a few failures on the road forward.” Sapp said that, at the NRO, “a small, flat, end-to-end organization fosters innovation” and that “more money and more authority” for the agency itself would help mature the NRO’s space mission.