Feed on

To The Moon Alice!

At least when Ralph Kramden said it we all knew he was joking. Yesterday NASA awarded the contract to build a new manned lunar spaceship to Lockheed Martin. Of course, what we really need our government to be spending money on right now is sending people to the Moon and Mars. When will Americans wake up to the reality that NASA is perhaps the most poorly run bureaucracy in the solar system? Let’s look at some of the beauties that came out of the press conference (by the way, I am a big fan of all things outer-space).

NASA clearly has selected the best company for the project – one can only imagine what was going on behind the scenes here:

The last time NASA awarded a manned spaceship contract to Lockheed Martin of Bethesda , Md. , was in 1996 for a spaceplane that was supposed to replace the space shuttle. NASA spent $912 million and the ship, called X-33, never got built because of technical problems.

So, NASA spent $1 billion of taxpayer money on a program that never even was built. Great, I am sure I can deliver an unbuilt lunar module for half the cost of the new Orion project! What, you think I am being sardonic? I’m not – they really should pay me. Look what else they’ve done:

This is hardly the first time NASA has made a big deal over a next-generation spaceship. Since the 1980s, NASA has spent about $4.8 billion on shuttle follow-up ships that never were built, according to the U.S.

Think about that. If drug companies claimed that they spent $5 billion on R&D for drugs that never were able to be developed, the public would be demanding an investigation into price gouging – when NASA does it, they get rewarded with multi-billion dollar project to go to the moon … again!

We are just getting started. In the aftermath of two shuttle disasters and a history of cost over-runs and administrative failures, you would think that NASA would be especially cautious in selecting a contractor and proceeding with this project. Well, you’d think and you’d be wrong.

In July, the GAO warned that NASA was heading down the wrong path in choosing an Orion-builder by late August or early September. … “This approach increases the risk that the project will encounter significant cost overruns, schedule delays and decreased capability,” the GAO warned. …“None of these companies know how to cost innovate,” McCurdy said. “They’re basically aerospace divisions that depend on government contracts. Their whole incentive, based on the international space station, is to drive up costs.”

When quizzed on this the NASA spokesman assured us that:

“This time it’s different, NASA claims. That’s because after the Columbia accident in 2003, President Bush proposed a massive exploration plan. It would put astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972, with plans for a home base. The plan also would ultimately send people to Mars.”

How many times do we have to hear that before we reject it? It’s the same story told by drug addicts, alcoholics, spouse abusers, child abusers, etc. and we don’t hand them billions of dollars to “give it another go.” Well, maybe it’s because the President said we could do it. This coming in the wake of the Katrina response should make one shudder. Hey Mr. President, do your job. Maybe we should be more optimistic this time around, Lockheed sounds so ambitious about this project:

Lockheed Martin Vice President John Karas said his company will succeed with Orion compared to its failure with X-33, because “we’re not shooting as far… I’d say it (Orion) is within reach.”

Great – so now we celebrate places that aim low. Well, maybe this time they will get it right … and the reason to stand behind this project is because it will create jobs! This sophistry continues to delude the American mind. I tell you what, everyone who is unemployed can come to my house and dig big holes in my yard – I gurantee that unemployment will be reduced to zero. This from the press conference:

Although all of NASA’s 10 centers will provide engineering support on Orion, the majority of the work will be at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and final assembly will be completed at the

Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Joan Underwood said the Orion project will create about 2,300 new jobs: some 1,200 in Houston; 600 in Colorado, 300 in Florida and 200 in Louisiana.

Although all of NASA’s 10 centers will provide engineering support on Orion, the majority of the work will be at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and final assembly will be completed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida . Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Joan Underwood said the Orion project will create about 2,300 new jobs: some 1,200 in Houston ; 600 in Colorado , 300 in Florida and 200 in Louisiana .

Um … does anyone understand where the money comes from to “create” these jobs? Would taxpayers have voluntarily spent billions of dollars on space travel which would have created these jobs? What about all of the jobs that will not be created because billions of dollars consumers are not able to spend on things they actually want? The NASA and Lockheed folks need to read this.

And here’s a classic case of welfare statism – NASA seems to be aware of the difficulties described above. But they are granting the contract to Lockheed because they believe it is “fair” to do so:

“In picking Lockheed Martin for Orion, described by NASA’s chief as “Apollo on steroids,” NASA bypassed Apollo throwbacks Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles and its chief subcontractor Boeing of Chicago. Northrop Grumman predecessor built the Apollo lunar lander. Companies bought by Boeing built the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury capsules, Skylab and the space shuttle.

“NASA decided to do something different and go with a company that has not been in manned space before, sort of spreading the wealth and making sure they’ve got two contractors that know the manned space business,” said aerospace industry analyst Paul Nisbet, president of JSA Research”

So, a good reason to pick a company to pursue a project is to spread the wealth? What ever happened to being the most qualified? This reasoning makes as much sense as the New York Mets hiring me to pitch Game 1 of the World Series because I have never had the good fortune to do so before – and because they want other people besides Pedro Martinez to have the experience of pitching an important game.

Oh wait – but it gets even better! I wouldn’t believe it it I did not read it three times over:

Lockheed Martin built several unmanned probes, including: 1998’s Lunar Prospector; 1976 Viking probes of Mars; Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which entered the red planet’s orbit earlier this year; and the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, which crashed because of a Lockheed Martin/NASA mismatching of metric and English measurement units (emphasis mine)

Wow. And all of these guys have PhDs. And while it only took the Apollo program 9 years to get to the moon with 1950s and 1960s technology, it seems that by replicating these technologies today will allow us to get to the moon in … 14 years! Just think of how much more money the program is going to cost us the longer it drags out. Someone want to bet that costs will at least double by then?

Upon reading the news from the press cnference you’d think the Orion program was some chimera, but alas it is just business as usual – and no few will bother to try and stop the egregious plundering of the American public as NASA blasts our billions into the netherworlds. For more on the craziness that is a publicly funded space program see here.

Leave a Reply