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Another look at the cost of building NASA’s heavy lift rocket

Clark Lindsey takes another look at the cost for building the Congressionally-mandated heavy lift rocket, what NASA calls the Space Launch System and I call the program-formerly-called-Constellation. Key quote:

Finally, I’ll point out that there was certainly nothing on Wednesday that refuted the findings in the Booz Allen study that NASA’s estimates beyond the 3-5 year time frame are fraught with great uncertainty. Hutchison and Nelson claimed last week that since the near term estimates were reliable, there’s no reason to delay getting the program underway. That’s the sort of good governance that explains why programs often explode “unexpectedly” in cost after 3-5 years…

In other words, this is what government insiders call a “buy-in.” Offer low-ball budget numbers to get the project off the ground, then when the project is partly finished and the much higher real costs become evident, Congress will be forced to pay for it. Not only has this been routine practice in Washington for decades, I can instantly cite two projects that prove it:

  • The Hubble Space Telescope: Initially budgeted at $350 million. Final budget: $1 billion
  • The James Webb Space Telescope: Initially budgeted at $1.2 billion. Present budget: more than $8 billion

I just happen to know the budget numbers for these two projects off the top of my head. However, if I did a little digging I could add numerous others to this list, from high-speed rail to nuclear submarines to Mars rovers to ISS. Why should this new rocket be any different? Unlike privately built and financed projects, there is no incentive for a government-mandated, government-built, and government-financed project to keep costs down. The money comes from coerced tax dollars, and there are no profits expected at the end of the rainbow.

With the new commercial space companies, they are building their rockets not for NASA but for themselves, in order to make money by selling a good product at a reasonable costs. NASA just happens to be one of their customers. The result is the cost is much less, the rocket gets built much faster, and everyone wins.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

2 comments

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