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The Difficulty of Dismantling Constellation 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the contract-termination-fees-are-out-of-this-world dept.
Last month, we discussed news that President Obama's 2011 budget proposal did not include plans to continue NASA's Constellation program, choosing instead to focus on establishing a stronger foundation for low earth orbit operations. Unfortunately, as government officials prepare to shut down Constellation, they're warning that it won't be a quick or simple process due to the contracts involved. From the Orlando Sentinel: "Obama's 2011 budget proposal provides $2.5 billion to pay contractors whatever NASA owes them so the agency can stop work on Constellation's Ares rockets, Orion capsule and Altair lunar lander. But administration officials acknowledge that this number is, at best, an educated guess. ... Many inside and outside of the space agency, however, think the number is too low. The agency has signed more than $10 billion worth of contracts to design, test and build the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule that were the heart of Constellation. But government auditors said last year that the costs of some of those contracts had swelled by $3 billion since 2007 because of design changes, technical problems and schedule slips. How much NASA will owe on all those contracts if the plug gets pulled is unclear. Many of the deals are called 'undefinitized contracts,' meaning that the terms, conditions — and price — had not been set before NASA ordered the work to start. That means the agency will need to negotiate a buyout with the contractor — and that can be a long and painful process, according to government officials familiar with the cancellation process."
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The Difficulty of Dismantling Constellation

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  • Of Course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:28PM (#31298298) Homepage Journal

    We could continue the Constellation project - or sell out to private companies - and quit letting the government take over health care.

    Since neither will happen, not sure what else we can do. We've lost our backbone for adventure as we've continued to reinforce the entitlement mentality that is draining our country dry of resources.

    • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:41PM (#31298422)
      One of the best lines I have heard in a movie in a long time is from The Incredibles.

      They keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity!

      I should put that on a bumper sticker.

    • false dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mdwh2 (535323) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:02PM (#31298610) Journal

      I wish there was more money for space, but for heaven's sake - if it really was a choice between socialised healthcare for people, or socialised manned space travel, I'd still put the former first.

      But it's not one or the other. Curiously this false dichotomy is used by people against manned space travel. After all, the argument against the common "But the are more important things to spend money on than manned space travel" is not to somehow argue that manned space travel is more important than people living and having basic needs, but to point out that there can be money for both. As one example, perhaps if they spent slightly less on a socialised military, there'd be plenty of money for both socialised healthcare and socialised manned space travel.

      We've lost our backbone for adventure as we've continued to reinforce the entitlement mentality that is draining our country dry of resources.

      Yes, obviously it's those evil people who are ill who are just draining resources, obviously they should be paying for those who have a sense of entitlement to go travelling in space. There's no "entitlement" here - your view on how taxes should be spent is no less an "entitlement mentality" than anyone else's.

      • Re:false dichotomy (Score:5, Informative)

        by nido (102070) <nido56&yahoo,com> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:18PM (#31298782) Homepage

        I wish there was more money for space, but for heaven's sake - if it really was a choice between socialised healthcare for people, or socialised manned space travel, I'd still put the former first.

        Here's a nice graphic that puts the budget in perspective:
        http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html [nytimes.com]

        To make things even more clear, hit the button at the top that says 'Hide Mandatory Spending'.

        To save NASA's Constellation program, methinks the military-industrial complex should take a haircut. I've read that the pentagon's off-budget items dwarf what's officially spent...

        • Re:false dichotomy (Score:4, Insightful)

          by c6gunner (950153) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:46PM (#31299504)

          Heh. I think it's really funny that medicare is considered "mandatory spending", while defense - one of the few legitimate duties of government - is considered discretionary. It's also interesting that the FBI and the Department of Energy also fall under the "National Defense" label.

          Unlike the parent poster, I'd much rather have a socialized space exploration program than socialized medicine. The medicare budget alone could fund NASA 20 times over. You could have had Americans walking on Mars by now, instead of paying for gang members to get stitched up after their weekly gunfight.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nido (102070)

            I didn't mean to imply that I approve of Medicare or any of the other medical-based wealth transfer schemes. I'm just saying that the Pentagon's budget is disproportionately huge, compared to everything else.

            When you're to balance your budget, it helps to look at the big items first.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            That just shows that you don't understand the terms. You think that, in this case, mandatory spending is spending that someone decided was going to take precedence over other spending, and decided they wouldn't cut one way or the other. All it means is that it is spending the government doesn't get a choice in, because it is either required by law (medicare) or a preexisting obligation (interest on debts). Discretionary is everything else. While SOME spending on national defense is necessary, there is no la
        • Re:false dichotomy (Score:4, Informative)

          by sadler121 (735320) <msadler@gmail.com> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:31PM (#31299774) Homepage

          Medicare and Social Security are NOT Mentioned in the Constitution, yet the national defense is. If you want to start cutting programs, go for Social Security and Medicare NOT National Defense.

          Now, there are problems with the "Military Industrial Complex" that Eisenhower famously warned us of. Much of NASA's woes come from the boon doggle that are Cost Plus contracts. This is why switching to the COTS program is a big step in the right direction. Companies don't get money until they produce results, they can't just suck at NASA's teat.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mdwh2 (535323)

            Does the constitution specify how much must be spent on the military? Because no one suggested scrapping it completely.

          • Re:false dichotomy (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ppanon (16583) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @05:18PM (#31300076) Homepage Journal
            Oh, for goodness sake. When the constitution was written, doctors still thought bloodletting was a commonly useful treatment. Modern medicine didn't really get started until nearly 100 years later when the American Civil War demonstrated the usefulness of things like aseptic work areas. Of course the Founding Fathers wouldn't have thought it was important to socialize the support of glorified witch doctors! They didn't foresee the potential of modern medicine just like they didn't foresee Ingram Mac 10s or whatever the drug dealers' automatic pistol of choice is these days. The question is, would they think it's worthwhile if they were alive today? For the most part, they were really bright rational people who would look after the common interest, unlike nearly all Republican politicians (and far too many Democrats) around these days.
            • by nido (102070)

              The Flexner Report [wikipedia.org] is the reason why "modern medicine" costs so much. To quote the article:

              One of the consequences of Flexner's advocacy of university-based medical education was that medical education became much more expensive, putting such education out of reach of all but upper class white males. The small "proprietary" schools Flexner condemned, which were contended to be have been based in generations-old folk traditions rather than relatively recent western science, did admit African-Americans, women

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by RogerWilco (99615)

                Though this might be a contributing factor, the medical education is organised in a similar way in most western countries. Still in the USA health care costs about double of what it costs in countries like the UK, Germany or Sweden.

                http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_hea_car_fun_tot_per_cap-care-funding-total-per-capita [nationmaster.com]

                Compare
                UK: $1764 per capita
                USA: $4631 per capita

                This huge difference is mainly due to other factors, not the way medical specialists are organised as that is very similar in both countries.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by inthealpine (1337881)
              The founding fathers did take health care as a serious issue. Benjamin Rush was a physician and is considered the Father of American Psychiatry. You have a very obvious limited view of history and think that all the problems we have now have never been an issue before. Your delusional...!! You don't think that there were major advances in weaponry when the founding fathers considered the 2nd amendment? The founding fathers in the American War for Independence used war tactics that started to show how d
          • by weston (16146)

            Medicare and Social Security are NOT Mentioned in the Constitution, yet the national defense is.

            National defense may be mentioned, but there's not a lot that's mentioned with regard to implementation. If we chose to, we could probably get away with a Swiss-type national militia option.

            Similarly, medicare and social security may not be mentioned in the constitution, because they're implementation details. It is, however, clear that part of the raison d'être for the Constitution is to "promote the genera

        • by petsounds (593538)
          Speaking of the military-industrial complex, I'd love to see a comparison of cost overruns between the DoD and NASA. I'd wager that NASA has a much better track record at shipping product, and at a substantially less cost excess.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by guruevi (827432)

          Everybody is complaining about how much health care would cost but if you can replace Social Security, Health Care, Veterans Benefits and Medicare with "Universal Health Care" you would be able to spend $5000/person in the US on health care. That is a about as much we currently spend per capita on health care and a whole lot more than many of the countries that already have government run healthcare.

      • Yes, obviously it's those evil people who are ill who are just draining resources, obviously they should be paying for those who have a sense of entitlement to go travelling in space.

        It's funny that you believe that people with a sense of entitlement to health care are somehow 'better' than those with a sense of entitlement to go traveling in space.

        I say keep them both the hell out of my wallet.

      • I wish there was more money for space, but for heaven's sake - if it really was a choice between socialised healthcare for people, or socialised manned space travel, I'd still put the former first.

        In that case I'd definitely pick the latter, since we can better withstand mediocre manned space travel than mediocre healthcare.

    • Re:Of Course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:04PM (#31298642)

      In case you didn't notice, Constellation in many ways was a much bigger sellout to private companies -- these undefinitized contracts seem to be a handy way to funnel money to the big contractors with little oversight.

      Space exploration is not about adventure for its own sake -- for that we can send all our astronauts to climb Mt. Everest instead. Its about advancing the frontier, and learning to live and work sustainably in space, and Constellation wasn't doing that. Even at the time of Apollo, Von Braun et.al. knew that that architecture was not the way forward, because each mission was individually incredibly expensive. Rebuilding Apollo in the form of Constellation was always doomed to repeat flags and footprints with little else, and without the political impetus of cold war and a mission from a martyred president, it was quite frankly stillborn. A cheap LEO launch vehicle with true spaceships that never re-entered the Earth's atmosphere was always a better long-term plan, it just couldn't get built as quickly, so didn't fit the goals of the time.

      This was what the original Bush VSE said, until CxP hijacked it, and its what the Augustine commission said. Sustainability is key, and the FY2011 budget, despite the piss-poor PR to go along with it, lays out a path for sustainable, flexible exploration.

      • Perhaps there is no better way to do space travel than Constellation. Everyone assumes there is a better way, but, the fact is, it may not and probably is not possible to make space travel affordable enough for a large number of people. The costs will always be extraordinarily expensive. We say we cancelled constellation to look for better alternatives. I believe that either we will see private space existing entirely on public subsidies, and either providing inferior technology to constellation, or essenti

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nyeerrmm (940927)

          Constellation as an architecture was fatally flawed. This is not a question of privatization, of the viability of human settlement or anything like that -- the program of record was an unsustainable throwback to the Apollo era that was simply unviable in the current environment and didn't complete the goals laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration. The fact that it was based on shuttle technologies is besides the point -- they screwed this up anyway by using 5-meter tankage and 5-segment SRBs that e

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:10PM (#31298706)

      I hear Americans so often talk of this so-called "entitlement mentality". It is a confusing concept for us non-Americans.

      On one hand, many Americans claim there are certain abstract concepts that are inalienable. That is, things that everybody is entitled to, without having to earn it. Freedom of expression, the right to life, the right to bear arms, and so forth.

      Yet those same Americans will turn around seconds later, and complain about how other Americans have an "entitlement mentality" when these other people want such basic things as affordable (not even "free"!) health care, or even a slight degree of job security.

      What differentiates between those ideas that it's okay to feel "entitled" to, versus those that lead to a "entitlement mentality"?

      • by paiute (550198) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:32PM (#31298890)

        What differentiates between those ideas that it's okay to feel "entitled" to, versus those that lead to a "entitlement mentality"?

        FOX News

      • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:43PM (#31298982)

        Most Americans believe that they pay an inordinate amount of money on taxes, and therefore anything they can possibly take from the government is rightfully theirs, and any money the government gives to anyone else is "stolen" from them.

        It doesn't help that the country is full of loonies on radio and TV that are telling them the exact same thing.

        Of course, it all boils down to selfishness. If it benefits you in some way it's a right. If it benefits someone else it's an entitlement.

        • Any money they can *take* from the government is rightfully theirs? Methinks you have it backwards. The government doesn't have their own money, they have that of taxpayers. How can one take one's own money?
          Honest question, and answer with your first, gut instinct: Does the government grant rights to the people, or do the people grant power to the government?
      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:32PM (#31299398)

        What differentiates between those ideas that it's okay to feel "entitled" to, versus those that lead to a "entitlement mentality"?

        The one set is free, the other set involves taking my money and giving it to someone else.

        If the "someone else" then gets the notion that he has a "right" to my money, problems come up.

        Note, by the by, that few Americans are categorically opposed to a social safety net. The debate is usually over the size (and cost) of the net, not the presence or absence of a net.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The one set is free, the other set involves taking my money and giving it to someone else.

          Which rights, pray tell, are the "free" ones, that cost no money, effort, or lives to enforce?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        Yet those same Americans will turn around seconds later, and complain about how other Americans have an "entitlement mentality" when these other people want such basic things as affordable (not even "free"!) health care, or even a slight degree of job security.

        What differentiates between those ideas that it's okay to feel "entitled" to, versus those that lead to a "entitlement mentality"?

        The fact that inalienable rights are things which nobody has to give you - the only reason we even talk about them is because others have tried to take them away. Whereas the "rights" you're talking about inherently depend on someone else. Health care isn't something you're born with, or something you'll find in the middle of a jungle - it's something that requires the labor of another person. You can not have a right which requires someone else to do things for you.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The fact that inalienable rights are things which nobody has to give you - the only reason we even talk about them is because others have tried to take them away. Whereas the "rights" you're talking about inherently depend on someone else. Health care isn't something you're born with, or something you'll find in the middle of a jungle - it's something that requires the labor of another person. You can not have a right which requires someone else to do things for you.

          How delightfully theoretical! Our society and economy are definitely not a jungle; and haven't been for at least ten thousand years. Your very existence depends on "the village", which defends your inalienable rights as well as your private property. Back in the jungle there were no inalienable rights; you'd be killed, robbed, enslaved and/or raped by whoever could do it.

          Since the whole economy is a man-made game, the society gets to decide how to apportion its fruits. It will always be a compromise between

      • As explained by the likes of John Locke, the idea of fundamental human rights stems from the idea that you are your own sole master -- or in a religious wording, that nobody can claim ownership over you but God. Therefore, if anyone kills you, or enslaves you, or forces you to work for their benefit, they've infringed on this ownership. This idea of life, liberty and property stands in sharp contrast to ideas like a "right to health care", because the modern "rights" necessarily involve using force to viola
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Adventure" is what you have when you are too lazy to plan for the long term. We don't need humans in space for other than entertainment reasons at this point in time. Our robots and other remotely operated systems which are preconditions for effective human exploitation of space need vastly more development, and the benefits of making these systems clearly outweigh the entertainment value of sending humans so early.

      Master space with spacefaring machines, exploit the expendability of those machines to gain

      • by SirWinston (54399)

        > We don't need humans in space for other than
        > entertainment reasons at this point in time.

        I disagree entirely. We're never going to answer the big questions by manipulating tiny little payload-limited rovers from millions of miles away on a speed-of-light-imposed time delay. As an example, if there really is microbial life on Mars, we've probably been accomplishing nothing but cooking it with the primitive methods we've been trying to use to find its traces. If instead we'd had either a manned la

    • and quit letting the government take over health care.

      needs a kneejerk /kneejerk tag

    • Re:Of Course (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:51PM (#31299072) Journal

      It would be quite bad for NASA to continue the Constellation project, as it miserably fails to achieve any of the goals which were set forth for in the Vision for Space Exploration; the VSE is what Constellation was ostensibly designed to fulfill. From the 2004 VSE:

      http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration2.pdf [nasa.gov]

      Goal and Objectives
      The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program. In support of this goal, the United States will:
      * Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and
      beyond;
      * Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations;
      * Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and
      * Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

      Let's look at these original goals one by one and compare them to Constellation vs. the new plan:

      Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and
      beyond

      Constellation was pretty much the opposite of sustained and affordable, with costs constantly increasing and an ever-slipping deadline. Not only that, but Constellation's going overbudget resulted in the cancellation of many human and robotic projects which would have contributed to making exploration sustainable and affordable.

      The new plan for NASA [nasa.gov] places sustainable and affordable exploration as its primary goals, allowing us to make steady progress towards expanding into the inner solar system, with key near-term development and in-space tests of technologies like propellant depots, cost-effective access to orbit, nuclear propulsion, lightweight manned modules, in situ resource utilization (asteroid/moon mining), and nuclear electric propulsion. All of these things were unfunded under the old plan.

      Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations

      According to the Augustine Committee's report [nasa.gov], Constellation wouldn't have been able to even produce the Ares I (essentially an in-house duplicate of the existing Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9 rockets) by 2017-2019, which would have only been able to transport astronauts to the ISS several years after the ISS had splashed into the ocean. They wouldn't even be able to develop a lunar lander until "well into the 2030s, if ever," or the mid-2020s if NASA got a massive funding boost.

      Under the new plan, IOC for several competing commercial crew vehicles is 2014/2015. The precise plan is still being formulated, but it's likely to involve propellant depots in low-Earth orbit and the EML-1 lagrange point in this decade, which makes the Moon (and near-Earth asteroids, and Phobos, and ultimately Mars) much easier to access for both robots and humans, using already-existing rockets.

      Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration;

      If you read through the documents which established Constellation, innovative technologies were deliberately excluded, as they didn't want to have to re-adapt the 15/20-year program if any of those technologies worked out differently than expected. Avoiding innovative kind of makes sense for short-term projects, but for a long-term project pretty much guarantees that your end product is going to

    • by Frnknstn (663642)

      Your entitlements:

      1. Life
      2. Liberty
      3. Pursuit of happiness.

      Health care fall under number 1. Why do you believe you are entitled to adventure?

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Your entitlements:

        1. Life
        2. Liberty
        3. Pursuit of happiness.

        Health care fall under number 1.

        lol. So when you inevitably die, your relatives can sue the government for failing to keep you alive? Awesome idea! As soon as you get that clarified in the laws, I'm SO getting a green card.

      • by tftp (111690)

        Please note that you are not entitled to life. You are only entitled to your right to life. How you implement this right is up to you.

      • by lgw (121541)

        Your rights never extend to forcing other people to do things for you. I mean, I understand the appeal of forcing someone to give me heart surgery, or build me a Ferrari, or whatever, but we decided early on that slavery is a no-go.

        Life, liberty, and property are rights, not entitlements. Entitlements are bullshit leeching. When the government takes your liberty or property in order to fund others' "entitlements", that's the opposite of protecting our rights.

        Should we anyway provide minimal health care f

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mano.m (1587187)

      We've lost our backbone for adventure as we've continued to reinforce the entitlement mentality that is draining our country dry of resources.

      If the Nordic countries can run some of the most competitive free market economies in the world while assuring poverty does not become a leading cause of death, I'm sure the Greatest Nation on Earth can manage to manage.

    • Sell it to the Chinese. Whatever their flaws, at least they're a society that hasn't taken up skullfucking itself as a new national past time. Obama is just the symptom, the US is in decline, visionless, pointless, militarily overextended, and it might as well admit it. If an American ever lands on the Moon again, it will be in a Chinese spacecraft.

    • Re:Of Course (Score:4, Informative)

      by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @09:28PM (#31301742)

      The fact is, the US spends twice as much per capita on health care than ANY country with a socialised system. If we got rid of private health insurance companies and socialised health care in this country we would be able to cover everyone for what we pay already on health care. Government run health care would actually improve quality and access and reduce costs.

      I also believe we should place primary priority on human life. A large number of people either cannot find jobs or work very hard for low pay. The amount people make has no relation to how hard they work, otherwise we would have people like Bill Gates penniless and the hard working factory workers would be millionaires. Capitalism, is based on greed, and this means exploitation of other people to enriches a wealthy elite that control capital.

      People need to get out of their ayn rand fantasy land and her destructive ideology which worships greed, arrogance, cruelty and corruption, and leads to a society where everyone is out to exploit others, one that eventually tears itself to pieces. This can be seen with the real estate speculators who so overpriced housing that average families could not afford it, and ignoted the bomb that was the over leveraged financial system created by greedy bankers. Most real technologies and developments came from compassionate, passionate people who intensely enjoy what they do and like making the world a better place and achieving useful things, not people who look to get rich with as little real contributions as possible. Ayn Rand cannot imagine a world where people are not driven by greed. The fact is, the world is kept running by people who put compassion and responsibility to the common good before greed. Einstien was not interested in money, money was only the means, not the end, he was interested in making the world a better place to live and expanding knowledge.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RogerWilco (99615)

        I've already posted this twice in this discussion, but most people only seem to believe this when they see the numbers, so here goes again:

        http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_hea_car_fun_tot_per_cap-care-funding-total-per-capita [nationmaster.com] [nationmaster.com]

        Compare
        UK: $1764 per capita
        USA: $4631 per capita

        Providing free/cheap health care to your entire population is in the end much cheaper than only providing it to those who can pay, because it leads to a much healthier population, which results in lower hospital bi

  • by Manfre (631065) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:28PM (#31298300) Homepage Journal

    They seriously signed a contract that stated "do work and we'll pay you"? I know a pretty good way of getting the budget under control. Don't do that!

    • by Bruiser80 (1179083) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:45PM (#31298460)
      In our business, it's called a "Time and Materials" project. Keep throwing money until the buyer gets a finished project, or they run out of money.

      For projects like this, they probably set up contracts to do the engineering and development to manufacture with a promise of a minimum quantity of product ordered once finished. Cutting the contract at this point should just be a simple matter of paying the contractor for the work already accomplished and NASA getting any drawings, models or work produced in exchange (if specified in the original contract).

      The sticky question is defining how much work was done and how much will be paid out to these companies.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by hanabal (717731)

        Because of sarbanes oxley, all of the companies would have impeccable records of time and materials spent on projects so it would be a simple matter of billing what was used. Time and materials contracts get cut short all the time, I'm not sure how this will be very complicated, unless the contractors are out to fuck NASA over. But you can't blame Obama for that

        • by Teancum (67324)

          Because of sarbanes oxley, all of the companies would have impeccable records of time and materials spent on projects so it would be a simple matter of billing what was used. Time and materials contracts get cut short all the time, I'm not sure how this will be very complicated, unless the contractors are out to fuck NASA over. But you can't blame Obama for that

          If in real life it were so simple. Depending on the contract that was signed and the interpretation of that contract in courts or by attorneys for both the contractor and the government, there is a whole lot of gray area to wiggle around here. It certainly is not so simple as to say "show me how much you spent, we will pay for that".

          As for who to blame for this, I suppose we could blame the Roosevelt administration, who came up with these kind of contracts for World War II. It wouldn't surprise me if som

        • by tftp (111690)

          I'm not sure how this will be very complicated

          Here is an example then. NASA orders a rocket made. The contractor orders tons of materials, hires 1,000 engineers, buys computers, software, rents a vehicle assembly building for 5 years, and signs a contract for range time. If at some point the "stop work" order comes, these costs and obligations must be accounted for. Some of those expenses are huge.

      • If it was a T&M contract it would be easy to track cost, all charges made by an employee are to a specific charge code which gets billed to the customer. The government requires a certain level of accounting practices for contracts to be awarded keeping track of money is not a problem. The problem is that the project simply can't be stopped immediately, NASA would own everything and will need to collect it, this means everything has to be inventoried and shipped most companies will charge for the spac
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        In our business, it's called a "Time and Materials" project. Keep throwing money until the buyer gets a finished project, or they run out of money.

        Which works pretty well in my limited experience with cost-plus contracts as long as the buyer is regularly paying the contractor, because it means at any point when the buyer or contractor wants to back out, the buyer isn't on the hook for a lot of promised payments, and the contractor isn't on the hook for a lot of extra work.

        If NASA has a lot of back payments

    • Hard to say whether that's better or worse than the common NASA "cost plus" contract where they agree to pay development costs plus an agreed profit margin. Where's the incentive for the developer to keep cost under control?

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Hard to say whether that's better or worse than the common NASA "cost plus" contract where they agree to pay development costs plus an agreed profit margin. Where's the incentive for the developer to keep cost under control?

        None at all. Well, relatively little incentive.

        There is the potential for somebody to come in that will do the job for such a drastically cheaper price (*cough* SpaceX *cough*) that it starts to get the attention of the powers that be in the government.

        Of course this is where you have military bases now authorized to head over to the local Wal-Mart or Home Depot to purchase things like hammers and toilet paper, when they can buy it from local suppliers cheaper than from a central military logistics command

      • T&M can have the same problem most of the time they are funded in stages so cost can be controlled.
      • by tftp (111690)

        Where's the incentive for the developer to keep cost under control?

        The "plus" part is usually small, smaller than the profit that could be had under other types of contracts. That makes "cost plus" contracts not always interesting. As I recall, they pay just enough to keep you afloat, but not much more. Also, the "cost" part is audited frequently; you can't go out, get a yacht [stanford.edu] and charge its upkeep to the contract - and get away with that.

    • by greg_barton (5551)

      They seriously signed a contract that stated "do work and we'll pay you"?

      Bush Administration 101: this was considered "more efficient."

      Which is probably the main reason Constellation is being scrapped: rampant corruption that needs to be purged, and the only way out is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • They seriously signed a contract that stated "do work and we'll pay you"? I know a pretty good way of getting the budget under control. Don't do that!

      I've been in contacting situations with the Fed Gov where the contractor (us) was set, and the scope and price were agreed upon, but the contract itself was held up for various reasons (sometimes political, sometimes mundane, sometimes related to a family emergency that the contracting officer is dealing with). If it was a situation where a delay would increase costs, we would be told to start work ("Notice to Proceed") with the indication that we would be paid our negotiated rates & expenses, and the c

  • Is anyone surprised shutting down Constellation isn't any easier than shutting down any other government program? How often does that happen?

    OTOH, I suppose if they're successful, it's a one-time cost. But I'm skeptical that it will ever actually be shut down. There's too much pork for too many districts for Congress to ever let that happen. The cost of the political horse-trading to make it happen will probably be expensive enough that it would be cheaper just to complete the damn program.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Is anyone surprised shutting down Constellation isn't any easier than shutting down any other government program? How often does that happen?

      OTOH, I suppose if they're successful, it's a one-time cost. But I'm skeptical that it will ever actually be shut down. There's too much pork for too many districts for Congress to ever let that happen. The cost of the political horse-trading to make it happen will probably be expensive enough that it would be cheaper just to complete the damn program.

      In this case, it is debatable if letting the Constellation program continue will be cheaper in the long run. Perhaps some interesting R&D can come from the development effort, but as was said in the Augustine Commission report, "if Constellation was ready to go and already developed, it would have to be canceled tomorrow because we can't afford it."

      It shouldn't be surprising, however, that the contracts were set up in such a way that it couldn't be easily canceled. Many government projects are set up

  • "Many of the deals are called 'undefinitized contracts,' meaning that the terms, conditions -- and price -- had not been set before NASA ordered the work to start."

    Oh, that sort of thing always ends well. /sarcasm

    I thought the previous administration had thought itself good at business dealings?

    • Well, yeah. What part of "Create unrest and bad political will for the succeeding and opposing party" isn't a good business deal?

    • "Many of the deals are called 'undefinitized contracts,' meaning that the terms, conditions -- and price -- had not been set before NASA ordered the work to start."

      Oh, that sort of thing always ends well. /sarcasm

      Actually, that thing ends quite well in most industries. Work that is done as 'Time and Materials' is often mutually beneficial to both contractor and client due to the inherent flexibility (client requirement changes) and predictability (set percentage for contractor.)

      The more you horse around with deviations of processes, the more attractive T&M work becomes...unless of course mounds of paperwork and scope creep is your thing.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      "Many of the deals are called 'undefinitized contracts,' meaning that the terms, conditions -- and price -- had not been set before NASA ordered the work to start."

      Oh, that sort of thing always ends well. /sarcasm

      I thought the previous administration had thought itself good at business dealings?

      I suppose it is all relative. The U.S. Federal government is so screwed up fiscally that perhaps the Bush Administration was better at management compared to the previous presidencies. In other words, they got a "D" grade instead of an "F".

      You are also forgetting that the point of contracts like this is to reward political constituencies, not to necessarily save money or to find the best contractor for the job. The only thing that really matters in Washington is if the elected official can make it to the

  • by Wardish (699865) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:57PM (#31298564) Journal

    The fact that Nasa is contract stupid (I'm guessing deals to placate various legislators, but hey, I'm paranoid.) is only part of the problem.

    Nasa lives and dies over gee wizz flashy programs to get funding. Nasa has to impress the powers that be, President, advisors, legislators, defense contractors, and even lobbyists, to get decent upper management and funding. They have to be even more impressive to maintain the needed funding over multiple years and administrations.

    Because...

    Most ventures having to do with space require a lot of time as well as consistent funding. Congress, who holds the purse strings, is motivated by short term goals and is easily swayed by other vested interests (see above).

    The only way I can see to fix this would require a law or constitutional amendment, if necessary, to enable congress to assign budgetary funds, ideally multi-year, that are paid in advance and very difficult to change. At least a 2/3 or even a 3/4 vote should be necessary to remove or repeal. This sort of protection will have to include the top management at Nasa as well.

    Not a lot else you can do unless you can make all three branches of government reasonable, honorable, and able to think and plan on a long range basis.

    • The only way I can see to fix this would require a law or constitutional amendment, if necessary, to enable congress to assign budgetary funds, ideally multi-year, that are paid in advance and very difficult to change. At least a 2/3 or even a 3/4 vote should be necessary to remove or repeal.

      Constitutional Amendment. Congress is only allowed one year budgets.

      On the other hand, making NASA an entitlement would more or less get around the problem.

      • by crow (16139)

        Wrong:

        http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A1Sec8 [usconstitution.net]

        Appropriations for the army are limited to two years. Other appropriations may be for any period of time. There has, in fact, been talk from time to time of changing the procedure in congress to make all the major appropriations bills two-years bills, so that they only have to deal with half of them every year.

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:00PM (#31298590) Journal
    Like they negotiated the bank bailout ("you will take this money or we will spend the next 10 years auditing you")? Like they negotiated the GM bailout ("sorry bondholders with a legal contract, we're fucking you over in favor of the unions")? Or like they negotiated the Fanny Mae, Freddy Mac, and AIG bailouts ("how much money do you want? Let's triple that just in case. Come back in 3 months and we'll give you some more.")?
  • Where rather than paying about $10B for a giant accelerator we paid something like $3B for a useless hole in the ground. Spending billions of dollars on a marginal project may not be a great idea, but its a LOT better than spending billions and getting nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by elwinc (663074)
      I can't remember if the funding for the supercollider was already allocated. What I do remember is that the cost projections had a nasty habit of doubling every few years. Whatever was allocated was inadequate. I know it wasn't a case of bait-n-switch, but it smelled just like it. And it should have been built on the grounds of Fermilab so the existing ring could be an injector. Too much politics was played with the supercollider.

      In 2004 George W Bush gave NASA the ambitious mission to send men to th

      • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:35PM (#31299430) Homepage Journal

        The final funding bill to allocate the required funds is what ultimately failed in congress. No, the funds really weren't allocated, but the project had started earlier and the land purchased to get the project built.

        As for why they didn't use the grounds of Fermilab, that is located in the middle of Illinois and the real estate was valuable enough that they couldn't afford to buy out the required land to get it built. The land for the SCSC was available in Texas, which is why it was done there. Yes, I know that CERN was built in land that was about as valuable as that found in Illinois, but that was a European decision and not an American one.

        This is actually a pretty good analogy, although at the time I was a supporter of the SCSC and let my elected representatives know that too. Little good that did.

        As for the "Blame Bush" crowd.... I should point out that Bush knew full well that he was not going to be the president to see people get back to the Moon and that any such program would be at least a couple of presidencies beyond his own. The time to make decisions on this is now, and that onus belongs to Obama... for good or ill. Bush did what he could at the time, as did his father before him. Neither were willing to do a JFK-type moment and strongly commit a substantial fraction of the federal budget to spaceflight activities like the Apollo program.

        Keep in mind that the Apollo project ate up about 5% of the federal budget. At the moment, NASA is only 0.5% of the budget. That is a huge difference and something that I don't see Obama changing either.

      • I saw a long talk on the sad history of the supercollider some years ago. My take is that the basic budget increase was moderate (~25%), and that the apparent budget increase was much larger as changes were made to how the budget was described (escalation, whether the detector was included, whether other site facilities were included, etc).

        The conclusion of the talk was that the supercollider was basically a cold-war project that could no longer be supported as the war died away. Not that it was a military

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:36PM (#31299446)

      "Superconducting Super Collider": that just sounds too expensive.

      When Congressmen are hunting for some pork for their district, they look for the biggest beast to slaughter. So that there will be enough pork to go around for a group of them. This collider project got their attention, just because of the name.

      So my advice to physicists: avoid "super" and "collider" in the name of your project. Call it something like, "mini-micro particle separator." That name will not draw any attention, because it sounds innocuous.

      Oh, and the reactions of Alabama's politicos seemed like a giveaway: it just smelled like someone had just stolen their pork.

      Unfortunately, Congress is more interested in pork procurement, than science.

      We lose.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:09PM (#31298696) Journal

    plus reasonable shutdown costs to complete archiving of documentation. That's the way it should be.

    The problem is that all the people who have regular contact with the contractors and their employees are good friends and colleagues, so they're far more likely to make sure their "friends" has a soft landing.

    Now we'll see what kind of idiots work on the contract negotiation side of NASA. Time for the blood sucking lawyers to get to work...

  • I heard NASA are engaging in a new project far more ambicious than the colonisation of the moon:
    http://punchbaby.com/2010/02/nasa-scientists-plan-to-approach-girl-by-2018/ [punchbaby.com]

  • fair (Score:3, Informative)

    by DaveGod (703167) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:03PM (#31299170)

    People carrying out plans need to make contractual commitments, otherwise nobody would invest in it (either their money, capital equipment, reputation, education or career). It can seem disgusting to be paying out for things you no longer require, but these guys made investments and plans based on promises and they shouldn't suffer - unduly! - because they lived up to their bargain but the other guy broke his word.

    True, they shouldn't be compensated for nothing. They should be paid for work they have done and everything else is to take them to a position neutral to what he would have had if the contract had never taken place.

    The question really is on whether the contracts were reasonable in the first place. People entering into contracts tend to be convinced there will be no backing out on their part and therefore are happy to agree to a 100% commitment in return for a 2% price cut. This is where protocol and leadership comes in - people with foresight concerned about risk. But much of the time with any major organisation (government, corporation, whatever) the guy who makes the decisions to commit is actually short sighted - he knows, assumes or at least fears he will lose responsibility for it well before it becomes an issue.

    Worse, the detail is being arranged by guys who are aware that their ultimate boss is relatively short term. They are wont to make contracts solid basically to make it as unappealing as possible for the next guy to back out - acting against their employer's best interests in order to entrench their position and secure their own jobs.

    Agency risk does not only apply to deliberate action against the interests of the principal, most of the time it's just people acting human.

    P.S. In evaluating whether Obama is making the right decision here, it's a fallacy to consider all this money as being wasted. The money was already committed, it's a sunk cost - irrelevant to decisions. The decision today must be based on whether a) the additional money to continue Constellation or b) the additional money to pursue the new plan is better. If you want to discuss this committed money, you're appraising decisions made in the past.

    • by azrider (918631)

      True, they shouldn't be compensated for nothing. They should be paid for work they have done and everything else is to take them to a position neutral to what he would have had if the contract had never taken place.

      That includes compensation for not pursuing other projects.

  • Project Dynasoar was nearly complete when they canceled it. It is probably they way we should have been going into LEO. Then we could have started building a nuclear powered VASIMIR. Heck project Orion might have been done by now.
    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:32PM (#31299400) Journal

      Project Dynasoar was nearly complete when they canceled it. It is probably they way we should have been going into LEO.

      Coincidentally, the Air Force is getting ready to launch a vehicle to orbit which could be considered in many ways a spiritual successor to Dyna-Soar. I submitted an article about it yesterday (unfortunately rejected, but that's the way it goes sometimes), and have pasted the text below for the curious:

      Air Force Spaceplane Preps For Launch

      The US Air Force is currently preparing for the launch [spaceflightnow.com] of the secretive X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) spaceplane; NASA had previously dropped the project in 2004 so it could devote more funds to the Constellation project. The reusable spaceplane is set to launch in April on top of a commercial Atlas V rocket, orbit for up to 270 days while testing a number of new technologies, reenter the atmosphere, then land on auto-pilot in California. The X-37 [wikipedia.org] previously conducted drop tests and autonomous landing tests [space.com] using the Scaled Composites White Knight carrier aircraft.

      • by Macrat (638047)

        Project Dynasoar was nearly complete when they canceled it. It is probably they way we should have been going into LEO.

        Coincidentally, the Air Force is getting ready to launch a vehicle to orbit which could be considered in many ways a spiritual successor to Dyna-Soar.

        They likely are going to space today already.

        How long has it been since the Air Force used the shuttle for a mission? A long time ago.

    • Project Dynasoar was nearly complete when they canceled it.

      And one of the reasons they canceled it was because in the form it was nearly complete in - it wouldn't have worked. The shock wave coming off the nose tended to impinge on the wings, burning the wingtip rudders off. This is one of the reasons the Shuttle 'bellyflops' through reentry rather than flying the entry entirely nose first. (That and it avoids the heavy and complicated jettisonable heatshield the Dyna-Soar required over it's cockpit wind

      • by RoboRay (735839)

        The Dyna-Soar was a prototype of the mistakes NASA would make with the Shuttle just a few years later - trying to leap too far too fast in a single bound

        Ok, so let's back up, get back to basics with the old-school, time-tested rockets and capsule techniques that took us to the moon before...

        ...and cancel that, too.

  • I'm a little amazed about complains - people voted for these programs (through their politicians), why to complain now? Governments, as anyone else (except of course the banks and car companies - used to be mining, copper, banana, chemicals, etc) are supposed to honor the contracts, or?

    Until someone is kept responsible on bad deals / ideas this will go on and on. And today keeping responsible is nicer than it used to be - in old times you lost your head, today it should be money, position, maybe ended with

  • Pretty much any government contract can be canceled on a moment's notice. Yes, there is usually a penalty and some associated 'closeout' costs but just because there is a contract, it doesn't mean there is an obligation to continue the work. or pay the contract in full.

    As an aside, I almost feel ashamed to be an American right now since after this year, we will no longer have ANY manned space flight capability. The Russians, Chinese, and even the Indian's have active manned space flight programs but the

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