Maintenance of infrastructure has been a popular topic for news media this past year, with outlets reporting on the degradation of dams, bridges and even the U.S. highway system. At NASA, the challenge of balancing rising maintenance costs and renovating, replacing or repurposing decades-old infrastructure grows with the end of each major program and with flat or declining budgets.
In 2014, the cost of not performing maintenance on a low-risk system became apparent when Langley Research Center’s Transonic Dynamics Tunnel suffered a cooling coil breach and subsequent water intrusion. Due to the unique operating parameters of the tunnel, mitigating the leak was a lengthy and challenging process. Moreover, the inoperative tunnel lost Langley potential testing revenue upwards of $2 million. Although a series of fiscally sound decisions may prevent systematic maintenance in the short run, we must be aware of the long-term risk involved with every system.