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It is nothing but pork: A GAO report says that NASA has been hiding the true and very expensive cost of the SLS/Orion projects by specifically excluding the cost of any actual missions that go anywhere.
NASA so far has put only two SLS missions on the manifest: a late-2017 test launch of an unmanned Orion into lunar space followed by a repeat of the mission in 2021 with crew onboard. NASA officials told GAO auditors it expects to have spent at least $22 billion on SLS and Orion through 2021, an estimate that does not include the cost of building the SLS launcher for the second mission. … Moreover, NASA provided no cost estimate for the more powerful SLS rocket NASA would need to mount a crewed Mars expedition the Obama administration envisions happening in the 2030s. According to NASA’s early plans, such a mission would entail multiple SLS-Orion launches.
The cost estimates NASA has offered so far “provide no information about the longer-term, life cycle costs of developing, manufacturing, and operating the launch vehicle, crew capsule, and ground systems” the agency has identified as crucial to the eventual Mars mission, the GAO wrote in its report.
In other words, they are going to spend $22 billion to launch the thing once. Meanwhile, NASA’s commercial manned space effort is producing three different spacecraft for about $3 billion total. If anyone in Congress had any brains, picking between these two programs would be easy, a no-brainer. Sadly, they have no brains, and really aren’t making their budgetary decisions with the needs of the nation in mind.