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NASA The Almighty Buck United States Politics

NASA Attempts To Cut Back Constellation 132

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-stop-sending-checks dept.
FleaPlus writes "In a surprise move in the battle between NASA and certain members of Congress over NASA's future direction, NASA has told its contractors to cut back nearly $1 billion on this year's Ares/Constellation program, stating that the cutback is necessary to remain in compliance with federal spending laws requiring contractors to withhold contract termination costs. While complying with budgeting laws (and in line with NASA's desire to cancel Constellation), this move is also potentially in violation of a 2010 appropriations amendment by Sen. Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Bennett (R-UT) which prohibits NASA from terminating any Constellation contracts. If NASA's move goes through, the biggest liability is $500M for ATK, the contractor who is/was responsible for the first stage of the Ares I medium-lift rocket."
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NASA Attempts To Cut Back Constellation

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  • Augh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:50AM (#32534054) Homepage

    It pisses me off to no end that we can afford to spend trillions of dollars killing each other, but we can't afford a few billion dollars exploring the universe around us.

    What the fuck, people.

  • Re:Augh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by flitty (981864) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:57AM (#32534116)
    Well, more accurately, we can only support exploring the universe around us if we find a way for private companies to sell tickets.
  • Re:Augh. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:02AM (#32534166) Homepage Journal

    I know that's just a joke (well, I hope it is) - but as Pojut says, the money is clearly there if they just get their priorities straight. Definitely no need for any other sources of income.

  • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:04AM (#32534194)

    I do not care whether it's Ares V, which doesn't really quite exist yet, the even more vaporware "new heavy lifter" that president Obama spoke of, or some weird hybrid that the nerds down in propulsion dynamics wrote up on the back of a napkin 2 or 3 years ago and havn't told you about yet...

    But will you PLEASE get our monkey asses to Mars before I die?

    I'd love to see the beginings of a manned Mars base (even, dare I dream, a colony?!), but at this point I'll take Neil Armstrong's grandson standing there holding a flag with 50 (or even 52) stars on it.

    Pick a heavy lifter that can get the job done, put some intelligent technial people in charge of it, give them the money and resources to get it done, and LEAVE THEM ALONE for the next decade. Also, if it's absolutely necessary to get the job done again, I'm ok with you telling them that the russians (or maybe the chinese, the're more likely to believe that nowadays) are going to take over the world (scratch that, the galaxy) if they don't succeed.

    That is all.

  • by ccarson (562931) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:06AM (#32534200)
    Too bad this is happening because I've always been a fan of private industry gaining more experience in the space exploration industry. It seems, not only was NASA inefficient and bureaucratic when it came to building space vehicles, they're impotent when charged with the simple task of doling out cash to competent private companies who are better equipped to handle the job. Yet another example of how large government is broken. I've worked in both the private and public sector and know from experience the problem lies with accountability. There is a serious disconnect between reality (i.e. what works vs. doesn't) and politics. Policies in private industry are based on getting the job done quickly, efficiently and competitively whereas there is no such incentive in the government sector.
  • Re:Augh. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:19AM (#32534310)

    It pisses me off to no end that we can afford to spend trillions of dollars killing each other, but we can't afford a few billion dollars exploring the universe around us.

    What is even more depressive is that even a small fraction of the US military spending could grant you full health-care coverage for the entire population. The Iraq war alone could have accounted for half a century or so.

  • Re:Augh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:21AM (#32534334) Journal
    That is annoying, true. But what is more annoying is that these senators are clinging to this expensive program when there are cheaper, safer alternatives that would save jobs, and eliminate the necessity of going to the Russians and saying "Hey Ivan. Can you possibly give me a lift to the ISS?". They are clinging to this program simply because it brings money into their state. They are willing to sacrifice the US manned space flight program, the prestige of the nation for pork. I think Shelby in particular is in a position of conflict of interests. He controls how much money NASA gets AND he represents a state that is home to some major NASA contractors.
  • Re:Augh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:31AM (#32534420) Homepage Journal

    It pisses me off to no end that we can afford to spend trillions of dollars killing each other, but we can't afford a few billion dollars exploring the universe around us.

    It pisses me off that the decision over which program survives and which dies has more to do with which senator's district the plant that's going to build it resides in.

  • Re:Augh. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:35AM (#32534500)

    I want space exploration as much as the next guy.

    However, *RIGHT* now it is way to expensive. You end up with a lot of 'on-off' shots. Even the space shuttle had to be torn down and rebuilt every time. Making all these new programs fantastically expensive.

    That they are cutting costs says something. It means it is already wildly overbudget. Which means it is a bunch of unicorny features.

    We need better and most importantly cheaper (fuel, money, and personal wise) ways to go into space. If you have 1 giagantor program sucking up all the resources you have, you can do nothing else. I dont mind 'up front costs'. Those you can live with, so long as they are reasonable. Its recurring that gets most people (and apparently the government) into trouble.

    Right now we have dozens of these gigantor programs going on in the government. They have *MASSIVELY* overspent themselves. So you are going to see many programs cut. If they do not do so we will never get ourselves out of this debt mountain. Then you will *NEVER* get the program you want at all. Also they are going after programs that as you point out are small fry in the budget. They need to go after the heavy duty ones. Right now they are just going after the 'controversial' ones. But all of the programs need to be up on the chair for a buzz cut.

  • Re:Augh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:40AM (#32534578)
    No, private companies are only selling tickets to LEO. There is a big difference between running circles around the world we have been on since pre-history and actually exploring another one.
  • Re:Augh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:49AM (#32534682)
    Constellation had a heavy lifter and plans to go to the moon. The cheaper alternatives end at the ISS. Is that the whole point of the space program now? Astronauts just sit in a can and look at the planet they just left for a while and then come back down? Choose a heavy lifter in 2015? Come on, that's just punting it to the next administration with no real plans to go anywhere.
  • Re:Augh. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:01AM (#32534848)

    What is even more depressive is that even a small fraction of the US military spending could grant you full health-care coverage for the entire population. The Iraq war alone could have accounted for half a century or so.

    My understanding is that even including medical and retirement costs, the Iraq/Afghanistan military efforts cost around two trillion dollars. The US in 2008 spent 2.3 trillion dollars [kaiseredu.org] on health care. In other words, that's roughly a year of "full health-care coverage" not half a century. No offense but the war among other things bought increased oil security (not perfect though as markets have indicated) and knocked off a particularly troublesome dictator (who had a history of instigating wars and developing nuclear weapons and other WMD). Instead, it could have been spent to buy health coverage for a situation where roughly 90-95% of the population can already already afford health care covered (I figure 85% currently covered by insurance plus a signification fraction of the remainder who aren't insured but could be insured, if they so chose).

    I'm not particularly impressed by the cost/benefit on the Iraqi War, but at least, it is buying something that average citizens can't afford. That strikes me as being better than buying something that the vast majority of the citizens are getting already.

  • Re:Augh. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nojayuk (567177) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:17AM (#32535072)

    The Falcon 9 did not nail its first flight. The upper stage ended up in an elliptical 240x280km orbit rather than the planned circular 250km one. The upper stage was also yawing and rolling noticeably after orbital insertion -- I watched the web broadcast of the launch and I wondered if that was deliberate or not, it turns out it was not. Hopefully they'll fix those problems in the next few test launches.

    I can't see NASA or any of the other participants in the ISS programme letting a Spacex vehicle make an approach to their fragile space station unless they are sure it's not going to crash into it.

  • by Necron69 (35644) <jscott.farrow@nosPAM.gmail.com> on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:17AM (#32535074)

    Would have bought us two more SpaceX's and four more new rockets, based on what SpaceX has spent in their 8 years or so of existance.

    NASA's Constellation program is a massive budget boondoggle.

    Stick a fork in it....

    Necron69

  • by pnewhook (788591) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:26AM (#32535172)

    This is a great example of how NASA is trying to cut a wasteful program but is having its hands tied by Republican senators with solely their own selfish interests in mind and not caring about the usefulness of the end output. I can't remember the exact number but something like over 90% of the NASA budget is mandated of where it is spent by congress and the NASA administrator has no control over it. NASA has no choice but to be inefficient when saddled with restrictions like that.

    NASA would be far more effective if it wasn't mandated by law to keep current contracts in place. Constellation was mandated by Bush, is completely unrealistic and unsustainable, and they are trying to terminate it which is what any fiscally responsible organization, public or private would do. However senators are passing stupid laws to prevent them from taking the right path. ,

  • Re:Augh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:40AM (#32535352)

    It pisses me off that the decision over which program survives and which dies has more to do with which senator's district the plant that's going to build it resides in.

    What really gets me is that these are the same congressmen who will bleat and whine about out of control spending by Washington. The democrats park their cars outside of the adult bookstore and proudly brag about the porn they watch. the republicans park their trucks down the street and sneak in wearing a hat and sunglasses; on sunday morning they'll decry the filth-flarn-filth that they found in there.

    If you look at the way the shuttle pork has been divvied up across the country it's absolutely disgusting. We can't have nice things because it costs too much to grease all the palms.

  • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Friday June 11, 2010 @12:32PM (#32537040)

    You are correct except for your knee-jerk desire to place blame on a single party. BOTH parties pull as much pork money into their states as possible, and in this case as many of the NASA contracts are in states that tend to vote republican, it happens to be republican senators pushing this particular issue... but do some reading on the subject and you'll find that there are plenty of democrats in the same situation with NASA contracts in their states as well.

    Polictics is politics. No matter what team you're on, you play the same game. Political parties matter about as much as uniform colors. You root for the burgandy and gold team, I root for the yellow and black team.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday June 11, 2010 @12:57PM (#32537524) Journal

    Pick a heavy lifter that can get the job done, put some intelligent technial people in charge of it, give them the money and resources to get it done, and LEAVE THEM ALONE for the next decade.

    You don't need a heavy lifter for space exploration. In fact, it just eats up the funds you'd need for actual exploration. There's a reason that each of the times that a country has developed a heavy lift rocket in the past it's been canceled in a few years due to being far too expensive.

    A better alternative is propellant depots, allowing you to use smaller, pre-existing launchers and refuel in space to get to where you want. Propellant depots play an important role in NASA's new plans:

    http://selenianboondocks.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Depot-Centric_Human_Spaceflight.pdf [selenianboondocks.com]
    http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/viewrepositorydocument/cmdocumentid=230949/Section4.pdf [nasaprs.com]

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