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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