Friday, January 21, 2011

Analysis of NASA Woes

An article in the January 16 Orlando Sentinel detailed all the problems facing NASA as it struggles to survive in an era of limited budgets and shameless porking by members of Congress.

With the space shuttle set to retire this year, and no successor imminent, today's NASA is being pulled apart by burdensome congressional demands, shrinking federal budgets, greedy contractors, a hidebound bureaucracy and an ambitious new commercial space industry that wants to shake up the status quo.

I wrote on January 13 about Senators insisting NASA build a heavy-lift rocket within the parameters, cost and timeline they dictated, despite NASA's conclusion it wasn't feasible. The Senate design used parts from existing contractors.

The article notes:

In recent weeks, key aerospace companies have demanded that NASA open the new rocket project to competition or face the prospect of lawsuits.

One, aerospace giant Aerojet, told NASA in a letter Dec. 1, that "we do intend to compete" for the solid-rocket boosters and engines that Congress wants put on the new rocket.

Aerojet makes solid rockets as well as liquid-rocket engines. The company has long been unhappy that NASA awarded a no-bid contract for the first stage of the Ares I rocket to rival solid-rocket manufacturer ATK, in part on the erroneous grounds that it was the country's only producer of large solid-fuel rockets.

The article quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk as saying he could build a rocket that could go to the Moon for $3 billion. That dubious number appears to have the space-industrial complex fearful for its pork. The article states:

But members of Congress are skeptical and reluctant to allow upstarts such as Musk to muscle in on what they regard as a unique government franchise. And traditional aerospace companies such as Lockheed Martin are furiously lobbying against the idea, not least because Musk is a threat to their bottom lines.

Hat tip to Rand Simberg's Transterrestrial Musings for the link.

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