NASA’s failed spacesuit
A NASA inspector general report released today [pdf] bluntly slammed NASA endless and much delayed project to develop a new spacesuit for its Artemis program.
After noting that the project has been ongoing at NASA for fourteen years, the summary then blasts the program hard:
NASA’s current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs [NASA acronym for spacesuits] by November 2024, but the Agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal. This schedule includes approximately a 20-month delay in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit, and two lunar flight suits. These delays—attributable to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges—have left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready xEMUs. Given the integration requirements, the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest. Moreover, by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over a billion dollars on the development and assembly of its next-generation spacesuits.
Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible. [emphasis mine]
This bears repeating: NASA will spent more than a billion dollars and fourteen years to build two spacesuits. What a bargain! Imagine if we have to pay a tailor for fitting!
And yet, despite this incredibly inefficient use of money, the report also finds that NASA doesn’t have enough to get the suits made on time!
Besides the endless managerial incompetencies noted in the report, it also notes several technical issues contributing to the problems, including one case where “staff used the wrong specifications” causing a unit’s failure.
Overall, the entire management of this program by NASA and the government appears to have been confused, incoherent, wasteful, and unable to get the job done, a pattern quite typical of almost every government project for the past four decades. Yet, though the report notes that in October 2019 the agency had finally decided to dump this failed program entirely and instead hire private companies to build the suits, the report criticizes this change, noting that the commercial contractors will not be required to use NASA designs, meaning the $420 million NASA has spent will literally be wasted.
So what? That money has been wasted already. I am quite willing to bet that for no more than a quarter of that cost, two private companies could get new spacesuits ready, and do it quickly, as long as our entirely incompetent government gets out of their way.
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