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The Difficulty of Dismantling Constellation

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the contract-termination-fees-are-out-of-this-world dept.

NASA 200

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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200 comments

Of Course (5, Insightful)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298298)

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.

Re:Of Course (3, Funny)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Of Course (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298442)

I'd buy it.

Re:Of Course (3, Funny)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298774)

Ya, then I would get hit with a cease and desist letter and lawsuit for infringing Pixar's copyright. Thanks a lot.

false dichotomy (5, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298610)

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 (5, Informative)

nido (102070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298782)

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 (4, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:false dichotomy (2, Insightful)

nido (102070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299822)

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:false dichotomy (3, Informative)

sadler121 (735320) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299774)

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:false dichotomy (2, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300046)

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

Re:false dichotomy (3, Insightful)

ppanon (16583) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300076)

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.

Re:false dichotomy (1)

petsounds (593538) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299952)

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:false dichotomy (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299870)

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.

Re:false dichotomy (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300074)

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.

Can you point me to where I said that?

I don't believe such a thing either - my point is that branding views on tax as "entitlement" is nonsense.

Re:Of Course (4, Insightful)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

What is this "entitlement mentality"? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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"?

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (5, Funny)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298890)

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

FOX News

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (4, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (1)

regular_gonzalez (926606) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300034)

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?

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (4, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31299472)

What's funniest is that the same Americans who are against taking money from all Americans to help offset health care costs for some other Americans often turn around and scream the loudest about how important it is to take money from all Americans to fund the military and kill innocent civilians half-way around the world.

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299650)

What's funniest is that the same Americans who are against taking money from all Americans to help offset health care costs for some other Americans often turn around and scream the loudest about how important it is to take money from all Americans to fund the military and kill innocent civilians half-way around the world.

Yep, every citizen I've ever talked to has explicitly told me that they're in favor of killing innocent civilians. They also want the government to go around curb-stomping puppies and raping nuns. Those yanks really are a bunch of evil bastard, eh?

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (2, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299874)

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:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (1, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299638)

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:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31299690)

Let me see if I can explain it to you from what I think is the perspective of the people that usually use the phrase:

The "entitlement mentality" is what the elderly, the sick, the poor, the jobless, the young (education), people in disaster areas, veterans, and so on have when they say the word "help". See, they have this presumptuous expectation that they should receive help from the rest of us via the government. We, the hard-working taxpayers that have never required, used, or benefited from any kind of government assistance ourselves are supposed to tell them "screw off", "solve your own problems", "get a real job, you loser", and other historically successful social solutions.

If we do that enough we will enter a golden age where budgets are balanced and only non-mandatory spending on things as the military, judiciary, border security, and other essential things are necessary, thus enabling us to lower taxes greatly and keep more of our own money to ourselves. If feeling generous, we could then use some of that extra money to set up private poor houses and similar charitable work, but it would be our choice whether or not to do so.

Or something like that. I gather it's a fairly popular sentiment.

Re:What is this "entitlement mentality"? (2, Insightful)

turgid (580780) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299760)

A man after my own heart!

Would you like a tour of my workhouse here in Whitechapel? No able-bodied man over the age of 3 gets gruel rations until he has broken his daily quota of rocks. It's good for their souls! When they have worked off their debt by the age of 21, most thank me for my seemingly unending generosity and are reluctant to leave. Most send their sons and daughters to be brought up in the industrious and humble fashion in which they themselves were moulded.

Next year I am to receive a knighthood.

Rights (1)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299982)

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 violate other people's lives, liberty or property. To grant your right to live -- that is, to not have anyone take your life by force -- all I have to do is not murder you. To grant your supposed right to health care, I have to work and let you take the product of my labor by force. Meaning that you claim partial ownership over my labor and my thoughts, independent of the practical argument that we must tax people to protect their rights against each other's aggression. To turn a "right to life" into a "right to take anything you need to live" has the same problem of innately violating other people's rights.

The fact that Americans are now divided by whether they accept what I (and our Founders) said is why we might, unfortunately, be headed for civil war.

Re:Of Course (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298848)

"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 RAPID development cycles, then send humans for their own amusement after the way has been paved.

The old idea of "humans first" made sense when humans were utterly expendable and wooden ships were cheap. Those days are over. Humans burden their machines by requiring life support systems, resources, and the return of expeditionary systems to bring humans back. We have a thousand years if we like to perfect the machines we must have anyway. Build and deploy the machines first, and perfect VR suits for those who want to interact with new environments. There will always be a barrier between human and the utterly hostile off-world environment, be it the skin of a space suit or a data link back to Earth.

Re:Of Course (1)

EvilDroid (705289) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299300)

How useful is a VR connection to Mars with a 20-minute communication delay?

New HTML tag needed (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298866)

and quit letting the government take over health care.

needs a kneejerk /kneejerk tag

Re:Of Course (3, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299072)

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 be obsolete when it's released. Or at least, it would be obsolete if NASA didn't also manage to end funding for pretty much any innovative space tech.

The new plan uses new technologies as one of its foundations, investing in near-term flagship technology demonstrators. It also restarts the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, which specifically studies blue-sky technologies which would be useful more than 10 years from now, while also ensuring that investments are made to bring technologies through the long process of going from the "blue-sky" stage to fully operating in space.

Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

International and cooperation were regarded as small side-items in the old plan, while the new plan intends to leverage them as much as possible. We learned a lot from the ISS about how NOT to do international cooperation (i.e. don't pay for just about everything in a feeble attempt to keep Russian rocket engineers from going to Iran and North Korea), and take advantage of those lessons learned as we go forwards.

In general though, it's looking like it'll be tough indeed to kill off Constellation. It was designed by Michael Griffin to be such a large behemoth that it would be "too big to fail," but now that it has in fact failed to achieve its goals it's simply become "too big to cancel." With the new plans, the goal is to make sure that more flexible short-term contracts with multiple competitors are used, allowing our space plans to adapt based on how technologies progress and scientific findings. It ensures that contractors have to compete with each other constantly to meet the needs of NASA, rather than the other way around, which is the current state of affairs where NASA has to struggle to formulate their logn-term plans in a way which pleases as many contractors in various Congressional districts as possible.

Re:Of Course (1)

VennData (1217856) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299098)

Take over health care? DarkKnightRadick, you need to direct your comments to the seniors who get the benefit of the gov't's current more-than-50% control of gov't, not slashdotters. What are you? What GOP media machine outlet store are you the secret shopper for?

Re:Of Course (1)

Frnknstn (663642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299264)

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?

Re:Of Course (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299670)

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.

Re:Of Course (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300072)

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.

Re:Of Course (2, Insightful)

mano.m (1587187) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299486)

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.

Re:Of Course (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299526)

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.

undefinitized contracts (3, Informative)

Manfre (631065) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298300)

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!

Re:undefinitized contracts (3, Informative)

Bruiser80 (1179083) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:undefinitized contracts (2, Informative)

hanabal (717731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298548)

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

Re:undefinitized contracts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298654)

But you can't blame Obama for that

Like hell I can't, you commie!

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299032)

Ok I had to do it

In Soviet Russia President blames you

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298698)

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 some of the contracts were mostly broilerplate that was originally written in the 1940's.

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298750)

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 space all the equipment is taking up as well as all expenses from inventory and shipping. Then NASA gets everything and has to account for everything and either store or destroy it.

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298544)

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?

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298708)

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.

There are many reasons why spaceflight continues to be expensive, and this is a good example of why.

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298772)

T&M can have the same problem most of the time they are funded in stages so cost can be controlled.

Re:undefinitized contracts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298828)

I'm working under one of those undefinitized contract right now. Easier said then done. Let say for example that NASA has given a contract to Company A. This company then places contracts with Company Z. After Company Z has gone to contract and started work Company A realize that they need Company Z to change something. Now company A has to go back to NASA to ret approval for the design change. Company Z meanwhile is on hold until this is resolved. If Companies A and Z are reasonably confident that the change will be approved an undefinitized contract used to allow Company Z to keep working: otherwise schedules start to slip.

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298854)

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.

Re:undefinitized contracts (1)

Reverberant (303566) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299552)

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 contract stuff would be worked out.

It's the conflicting between trying to do things by the book ("don't let them work without an itemized contract!") and responding to concerns about efficiency ("you could have saved $1 million of taxpayer money if you let them start work early? Why didn't you let them start work?").

the dangers of cancelation (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298304)

I've seen it happen in the software industry... if project after project is canceled, people eventually assume that the next project they work on will *also* be canceled. And when that happens, they subconsciously or otherwise don't do a good job any more, because they don't really believe that what they're building will ever see the light of day.

In aerospace, that can get people killed. Sometimes it's better to actually build something imperfect, then to start and stop program after program after program without ever producing anything. Sooner or later, the institutional knowledge of how to actually do something gets lost.

Surprise, surprise... (1)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298348)

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.

Re:Surprise, surprise... (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298752)

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 in a similar manner.... which is why it would be impossible to shut down Head Start centers or repeal the Social Security Act.

GOOD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298362)

cause in 10 years the USA will be a technological wasteland of ancients
YOUR stupid forever almost copyrights and patent systems
the slowing begins now
all the rest fo the world has to do is SAY FRAK ACTA
and your benefits will come longer term.

paying for a dead horse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298374)

Why not make the contractors finish out their work, take what technology and experience we get and at least have something to show rather than saying gee, sorry we can't finish, but here's your billions for equipment and labor you don't need to pay for now.

Brilliant idea! (0, Troll)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298406)

So instead of paying them to finish the project, we are going to pay them what we would have paid to finish it to cancel it! Go Obama!

Re:Brilliant idea! (1)

angelwolf71885 (1181671) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298498)

no kidding the money used to buy out the contracts would of been able to finish the project in record time

Re:Brilliant idea! (2, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298534)

Yes, by all means we should pay many times the cost of cancelling it it to continue it, and then pay ten times the cost for every launch from that point forward.

A big problem in this country, no matter what side of the political coin you are on, is people like yourself that either deliberately, or because of a lack of understanding, spout bullshit not because there's a real issue, but purely because its against someone you don't like. Your position is not supportable, and yet you'll post it because it gives you a chance to tell everyone how much you don't like Obama.

There are lots of actions Obama has taken that have perfectly valid positions on either side of the coin, but this really isn't one. Politicians, lobbyists and people employed by the project were and are the only ones who *ever* supported it.

That should tell you something.

Re:Brilliant idea! (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298804)

Errr, the article is about how canceling it is going to cost about as much to finish it. Pretty much all the posts I've read here so far say pretty much the same thing, ie, just finish it.
Yet since I dared mention the great Obama, you pick me to bash. How about this little tidbit from the article.

The agency was careful to point out that the letter "is in no way to be construed as direction to cease [work]." Congress has forbidden NASA from canceling any part of Constellation without its permission, which so far it shows no signs of giving. Indeed, about 30 members of Congress wrote Bolden recently to warn that his efforts to prepare for termination without permission from Congress — including gathering information about closeout costs — could be viewed as illegal.

So really, Obama has no authority to really cancel it. Its just more fingers into a pie that he isn't supposed to be touching anyway.

Re:Brilliant idea! (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298962)

Errr, the article is about how canceling it is going to cost about as much to finish it. Pretty much all the posts I've read here so far say pretty much the same thing, ie, just finish it.

In hindsight, the space shuttle program should have been shut down in the 1970s. Given its astronomical operating costs, even if it had cost 5X as much to shut it down as finish it, we still would have come out way ahead if we had replaced it with a sane launch system.

Since this project is based on recycled shuttle hardware and people, I'm sure it's the exact same situation. Shutting it down now and replacing it with a more cost-effective launch system will save money in the long run, even if it doesn't cost any less right now.

Re:Brilliant idea! (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299160)

Errr, the article is about how canceling it is going to cost about as much to finish it.

False. The cost of "finishing" Constellation is estimated [nasa.gov] to be $100-$160 billion dollars from 2010 through 2020 (on top of the $9B or so already spent), at which point it wouldn't have even accomplished a lunar landing yet -- the Apollo-style landing would be in either early 2020s or late 2030s depending on whether you spent closer to the $100B or $160B. Most of these costs are for developing the Ares I and V rockets, and the Orion capsule.

This article is about how the cancellation costs may be higher than the anticipated $2.5B, but it'll still be quite a bit lower than $100-$160 billion.

Re:Brilliant idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298944)

I personally think ALL government projects should get the cease and dissist order. NASA needs to be scrapped completely. Or privatize and say screw the politics. Every government program is a waste at this point. Fraudulent as well. I'm tired of all this politicizing of what WAS a great program. It has been muddled down into politics so much, it has become nothing more than some bargaining chip on someones desk in Washington. So much has already been spent on this already and I am MAD as hell. And all you just quibble between Obama and Bush and who's fault it is. Small minds.....

Re:Brilliant idea! (2, Insightful)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298658)

What does it have anything to do with Obama? Constellation is a Bush project and it's the Congress that's preventing the cancellation. Obama inherited the white elephant and trying to get rid of it and others are preventing that.

A little premature...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298434)

Hey, I don't think it's time to be talking about scrapping Constallation yet. It seems a bit unlikely as this proposed budget will get through Congress anyway, as it seems to be generally disliked by both parties... :P

http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/asd/2010/02/26/01.xml&headline=NASA%20Plan%20Falls%20Flat%20In%20Congress&channel=space

Re:A little premature...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298764)

http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/asd/2010/02/26/01.xml&headline=NASA%20Plan%20Falls%20Flat%20In%20Congress&channel=space

Link [lmgtfy.com] fail, you fucking wannabe dufus.

Say what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298446)

Hey, I know I signed a contract so that you'd build a house for me, but I no longer want it. Of course, by our contract, I'll still pay you as though you would have built it.

Yeah, great plan.

Clever of someone (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298474)

"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?

Re:Clever of someone (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298638)

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

Re:Clever of someone (1)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298670)

"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.

Re:Clever of someone (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298792)

"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 next term and get re-elected. They seem to do a pretty good job of getting that to happen too.

Not just contract stupid (2, Insightful)

Wardish (699865) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298564)

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.

Re:Not just contract stupid (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298796)

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.

As sad as I am to see space funding wasted like this, be careful for what you wish for. How would this work for say a scheme we might disagree with? E.g., a Government pledges billions to be spent implementing some draconian scheme like a centralised DNA database, which the following Government wants to cancel?

(As a real world example, here in the UK the Government has been spending years implementing compulsory ID cards and centralised database. They are likely to be out of power by May this year, and the opposition parties say they will cancel the scheme. But one of the Government's tactics has been to spend as much money as possible on getting the scheme implemented anyway, and to tie themselves into contracts, so that to cancel it will look like a "waste of money".)

Re:Not just contract stupid (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299618)

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.

Re:Not just contract stupid (1)

crow (16139) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299696)

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.

"negotiate a buyout with the contractor" (4, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298590)

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.")?

Re:"negotiate a buyout with the contractor" (1)

Rozine (1345911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298740)

Mod parent up. This is actually one of the first posts I've seen on slashdot that's actually gotten the bailouts factually correct.

Re:"negotiate a buyout with the contractor" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31298956)

Why negotiate? The Government should unilaterally cancel the project and all attendant contracts without paying any penalties or corporate welfare payments. Tell the military-industrial complex to F itself and the mistresses the executives visit weekly. If the politicians left Washington, DC, the prostitutes would be the second group to pack and depart.

Break the stranglehold (1)

unixguy43 (1644877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298624)

I know this won't happen because the government likes maintaining it's stranglehold on US space exploration, but why they don't just privatize NASA?

We're far away from the the 60's where the government had a mission to get to the moon. For the last 15 years, NASA's manned missions have all been about international cooperation. The government hasn't been able to do it all on it's own- it's needed help from virtually every technologically advanced country on the planet in order to (A) keep the shuttles flying, and (B) put the ISS in orbit.

The level of cooperation needed in order to allow NASA to go beyond the shuttle program, and beyond the ISS is going to be enormous, and is going to need involvement from everyone to make it happen. Privatize NASA- yes it will take some time, and won't happen overnight, but it can put them into a position to try and become a global space exploration company that can bring in resources from wherever it finds them in order to fulfil a GLOBAL mission of putting a human being on Mars.

If there's anyone out there watching us, let's give them some indication that we can work together as a planet to do something spectacular.

Re:Break the stranglehold (2, Insightful)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298770)

While I'm a big proponent of privatizing LEO launch and things like that, NASA (or an entity like it) will be the critical partner in exploration for a long-time to come.

Exploration is very high-risk, and theres not a whole lot of guaranteed reward in term of monetary profit. Pushing the sphere of humanity is something that (at least I feel) has great value for society, but its not good business. Like the national defense and laying out infrastructure, the 'Lewis and Clark' role will always be best handled by a government entity.

However, after the initial exploration, its then time to consider privatization. Boeing, Bigelow and SpaceX aren't going to take us to NEOS, the Moon or Mars, but they're damn sure going to be able to get us to the near frontier, 500-miles up. From there they can get on a NASA vehicle and push on to the far frontier. As NASA keeps going, more of what was once the far frontier becomes the near frontier, responsibilities shift, and progress is made. What we're seeing now is the growing pains of learning how to hand off the torch.

Re:Break the stranglehold (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299642)

Exploration is very high-risk, and theres not a whole lot of guaranteed reward in term of monetary profit.

Given the Treaty forbidding anyone other than the UN from making any money from any body in space other than Earth, I rather imagine that there is no reward in terms of monetary profit whatsoever, and never will be.

Reminds me of the super collider (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298678)

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:Reminds me of the super collider (2, Informative)

elwinc (663074) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298838)

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 the Moon and Mars, but he never allocated significant funding for Moon-Mars, see http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/01/14/bush.space/ [cnn.com] So all NASA could really do was "study" the mission. And even to do that NASA had to cannibalize other (unmanned) space science missions (maybe that's the explanation for the delay of DSCOVR http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0903/01dscovr/ [spaceflightnow.com] a mission to Lagrange 1 that had already been paid for designed and built). Just like Bush, Obama is not funding Moon-Mars. However, unlike Bush, Obama is not pretending someone else will fund it.

I agree that wasting NASA money sucks. And I know this sounds more like a "blame Bush" rant than I would like. But I think most fans of space science agree that ordering Moon-Mars without funding it was going to lead to grief at some point.

Re:Reminds me of the super collider (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299430)

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.

The problem was the name . . . (3, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Time and materials, baby (2, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298696)

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...

Assuming.... (1)

m509272 (1286764) | more than 4 years ago | (#31298858)

Assuming this is true, then if they idiots spend $5 billion on alternatives then the idiots really spent $15 billion. That's just beautiful.

USS Constellation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31299000)

According to Wikipedia, CV64 is to be cut up for scrap sometime in the next 5 years. It will be a big job.

cement.... (1)

XeroSine (1067136) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299108)

This just goes to cement the fact that obama and his entire administration are a pack of fudging idiots. Leave it running, or sell it off to private contractors.....oh wait, then they put caps and tariffs on them for breaking atmosphere and producing those much abused and misunderstood greenhouse gases the media is always using out of context. Then boom, they turn a loss into a profit and the industry dies....if we lose our space program, we lose our country. Everyone i speak with says "we will just use russian rockets to get to the iss and satellites....that, is the most idiotic thing i have ever heard. What happens if russia decides they don't like us anymore? Or what if one of our spy sats goes down and needs maintenance? Will they allow us to go up in THEIR rockets if a satellite of ours that circumvents and watches THEIR bases? It makes no sense to me, am i alone in that?

fair (2, Informative)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

.TacO (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31299202)

Escape them by Are 7000 Users ultimately, we

What about saying fuck it? (1)

markass530 (870112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299308)

how many time has the American gov been screwed by contractors? Why not pay back the favor and pull out

Re:What about saying fuck it? (1)

Warped-Reality (125140) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300042)

For the same reason that if you build me a house, I can't pull out halfway through construction and leave you out $50,000?

Dynasoar Was Also Canceled (2, Insightful)

RudyHartmann (1032120) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299324)

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.

Re:Dynasoar Was Also Canceled (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299400)

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.

Re:Dynasoar Was Also Canceled (1)

Macrat (638047) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300006)

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.

Re:Dynasoar Was Also Canceled (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31300082)

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 windows.)
 
Then there is the issue of it's booster, significant work on which had just begun. It has started out just needing a Titan - but by the time is was done it was heavy enough to require uprating the Titan core and adding solid fueled boosters. (Not to mention the huge question of the effects of the massive fins required on the first stage to counteract the aerodynamic effects of the Dyna-Soar and maintain stability during launch.)
 

It is probably they way we should have been going into LEO.

No, no, a thousand times just fucking no. 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 coupled with an unwillingness/inability to stop and rethink the design when the numbers started going south.
 
I agree we should have stayed with aerodynamic craft rather than spam-in-a-can, but the way to go was to extend from what we knew (I.E. the X-15) rather than trying to leap from the DC-3 to the Concorde in one fell swoop. We keep trying that in space, and it just doesn't fucking work.

Hot Air (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31299490)

I sense a lot of hot air in those numbers. And I predict the numbers will keep growing the closer you get to the actual deadline.

After all, the involved people have no incentitive to make the shutdown seem - or even in reality be - cheap. "Look, you can't shut us down, it will cost just as much as letting us finish, or maybe even more!"

Again, anything new (1)

tuomoks (246421) | more than 4 years ago | (#31299528)

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 a concrete booths, etc instead of a promotions or votes to make more mistakes?

So - what else is new?

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