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NASA's 'Journey To Mars' Initiative Might Be Delayed Due To Government Audit (natureworldnews.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Christian Science Monitor: NASA has taken bold steps toward crewed Mars exploration in recent years. But according to a new audit, the agency may be moving too hastily. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns this past week about the feasibility of NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS). In two government-requested audits, the GAO questioned NASA's ability to meet program deadlines, citing insufficient funding and internal management issues. According to the GAO, however, the agency's schedule just isn't realistic. By pushing for earlier launch dates, NASA is increasing the inherent risk of a deep space mission. NASA's budgeting practices are also scrutinized in GAO's audit. In September, the agency asked for $11.3 billion to prepare Orion for launch. "Ideally, if these programs go forward, NASA would be taking actions to reduce the risks we see now, which are being caused by management issues," says Cristina Chaplain, who led the GOA audit, in an interview with the Monitor. "They're going to face the technical issues no matter what. But they're exacerbating them with management concerns, like not having accurate cost estimates." The report adds: "NASA's 'Journey to Mars' initiative has been a source of both excitement and controversy. The Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which the agency will send four astronauts to redirect an asteroid into the moon's orbit, is slated to launch sometime in the next decade. The mission is designed to test new propulsion technology for future crewed Mars missions. In the 2030s, NASA hopes to send an Orion crew to the red planet. NASA plans to complete the first SLS launch in 2018. In the test mission, called Exploration Mission 1, the rocket will carry an empty Orion into orbit around the moon. In subsequent missions, SLS/Orion will launch with a full crew. NASA has scheduled Exploration Mission 2 for April 2023, but administrators hope to launch as early as 2021."
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NASA's 'Journey To Mars' Initiative Might Be Delayed Due To Government Audit

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  • I expect an expensive audit.

  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @03:40AM (#52633967)
    If this sort of nonsense had gone on during the Apollo program we would have never put anyone in orbit in an Gemini or Apollo capsule, much less made it to the moon.
    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @04:24AM (#52634065)

      Today there are no Russians to 1up.

      Maybe we should wait for the Chinese to get their program up to speed, before that we probably won't get to see any funding for a decent space program.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Today there are no Russians to 1up.

        Correct, we've ceded manned spaceflight to them and most of the US space launch companies are using obsolete Russian rocket engines.

        • Umm... obsolete or not, but the last Russian fatality in space was while they were still called USSR. Actually, if they manage to be without accident for a few more years, we're looking at half a century of safe space travels.

          Meanwhile, in the free world...

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            You missed the point - the rocket engines being purchased are not the current models but the older ones that the Russians have moved on from to improved versions.
            We are not only a step behind but paying them to be a step behind.
            • Not quite. RD-180 is more or less current, just a different version of what will be used in future Russian rockets. Soyuz engines, on the other hand, are much, much older.

    • If this sort of nonsense had gone on during the Apollo program we would have never put anyone in orbit in an Gemini or Apollo capsule, much less made it to the moon.

      If this sort of "nonsense" had gone on during the Apollo program, we might not also be a country $20 trillion dollars in debt.

      Sure, I'm all for space exploration, when we can fucking afford to go off and play in space. Anyone care to calculate the ROI for the handful of humans we put on the moon? Yeah, I thought not.

      Sorry, but the whole bigger-dick syndrome we suffered from in the 1960s shouldn't be allowed to cut it today. Common sense.

      • "Sure, I'm all for space exploration, when we can fucking afford to go off and play in space. "

        Meanwhile, Silicon Valley can not only afford it but is willing to assume the risk that manned space programs involve.

        • by mi ( 197448 )

          Silicon Valley can not only afford it but is willing to assume the risk that manned space programs involve.

          That's a good thing, actually. People betting their own monies — assuming the risks and hoping for rewards. That's how Capitalism works.

          Government officials with no "skin in the game" deciding, how to spend the monies of the captive taxpayers — that's how you do not want to live.

          • The deeper problem with government missions is the omnipresence of politics. The astronauts whose literal skins are in play may be perfectly willing to assume the risks of advanced missions, but the political fallout associated with any loss of life means that NASA can't let them do it.

      • Anyone care to calculate the ROI for the handful of humans we put on the moon?

        The Federation of American Scientists did: NASA Technological Spinoff Fables [fas.org]

        But the fact that the total NASA investment of $55 billion yielded a paltry $5 billion in true spinoffs, creating entirely new products or industries, suggests a very poor return of ten cents on the dollar. Again, this should not be surprising, given the highly specialized nature of much of the engineering and development work conducted by NASA. So rather than being an unusually good investment paying 7:1 or 22:1 for each dollar invested, NASA has an astoundingly bad 1:10 payoff -- about a factor of 100 worse than the commercial economy as a whole.

      • Yes, the ROI was massive and made the moon landings one of th cheapest events in human history based on return on investment.

        They would have been a bargain at twice the price and we have a nation full of morons such as yourself who don't understand this, which is why we stopped going.

        We should have a base there by now, with large ships going to Mars, if it was not for idiots such as yourself.

    • Nonsense? Really Potsy? You're not familiar with Project Management are you. Things get done when you have good project management. Things don't get done and blow up when you have poor project management.

      Moron.
    • But our goal then was to make it to the moon.
  • by Joao Cordeiro ( 3780295 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @03:54AM (#52634013)
    The progress was delayed because of the lack of funding...... The audit only writes it down into paper.. The congress is directly responsable for the lack of funding and the need of such huge funding. GAO makes a great job and titles/articles like this are directed to slam their name into the trash...
    • Good point. Required Snark, above, overlooks one detail: for the Apollo program, funding was essentially unlimited, which is far from being the case now.

      • How do you kill a program that is already has budget troubles? Shut it down and do an audit. It's the bureaucratic way to eliminate something while pretending to be responsible.

        And how often have over budget military programs been halted because of money? It has happened, but it's very rare. Meanwhile, we got the B-2 at over $1 billion per copy and the F-35 which is "Three years behind schedule and some $200 billion over its original budget" [cnn.com]. The original projected cost was about half what has already bee

        • GAO does reality checks, it does not control the reality. GAO my be asked to audit something but it is usualy required to do audits from time to time on certain projects, defined o the start of the project. What GAO does is compare milestones/spending from the inicial proposal with current state. Then they identify probable causes. Then they make Several recomendations. They dont close or delay projects! Some one else reads those reports and decides what recomendations it wishes to folow.
        • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @06:28AM (#52634335)

          So who is worse when it comes to being "responsible" about managing technical risk? Did anyone suggest shutting down the F-35 program while they decided what to do about escalating costs and slipping schedules?

          So we should let a boondoggle continue just because the US military is even shittier at ending bad programs?

          My take on SLS is that it should have never existed in the first place and it's not too late to end it now. It serves no national interest and we don't need its capabilities; it's enormously expensive and the economics are crappy (particularly, low launch frequency); and it creates a conflict of interest between benefactors of the SLS and the future of a US presence in space.

          That last point bears elaboration. There is a long, seedy tradition of aerospace companies using the law and such to backstab and obstruct each other. Usually, it's relatively minor like a rocket being delayed for a few months by bogus concerns or getting kicked off an Air Force launch pad because some competitor wants to mess up one's launch tempo.

          But with a huge funding stream like SLS gets, that can fund a lot worse than mere bureaucratic obstruction. For example, NASA delayed commercial space launch by a decade by mandating that all US-origin payloads had to go up on the Space Shuttle back in roughly 1975 (which also had the effect of massively delaying US payloads until the policy was reversed [wikipedia.org] in 1984. Read this report to get an idea of the crap NASA pulled [heritage.org] back then.

          We don't need a repeat of that regressive failure. The obvious approach is to end the conflict of interest by defunding the SLS and the parasitic ex-Shuttle supply chain. Then there's no one left to care enough to prevent the US private industry from delivering heavy lift vehicles that will actually get used.

          • > Then there's no one left to care enough to prevent the US private industry from delivering heavy lift vehicles that will actually get used.

            Space industry in total was $335 billion in 2015 ( http://www.sia.org/wp-content/... [sia.org] ), two-thirds of which are satellite-based. There were 1,381 active satellites by the end of last year. NASA just isn't driving space development any more. They account for a little over 5% of the total. A rocket like the Falcon 9/Heavy is a good combination to address the whole

            • by khallow ( 566160 )

              A rocket like the Falcon 9/Heavy is a good combination to address the whole market.

              Only if it's allowed to launch.

              We already have two examples of potential commercial launch operators being prohibited from operating. In addition to the above Shuttle monopoly, a similar thing happened to E'Prime Aerospace which was at one point working on refurbishing decommissioned Peacekeeper MX missiles for commercial launch to orbit. They lost that option in the late 90s when Russia negotiated the Start II Treaty where one provision was that the MX missiles could no longer be used for commercial lau

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @07:33AM (#52634533)
    Audit NASA, which has hardly any budget. Do not audit the Pentagon, where trillions disappear regularly.
    • The whole DoD budget for multiple years wouldn't permit "trillions" to disappear. The DoD gets audited constantly, you just aren't paying attention.

      Lastly, when briefing Congress, the DoD uniformly briefs out issues of national survival, while NASA, however much you like it, is a "nice to have" cost center with no criticality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03, 2016 @08:11AM (#52634711)

    There is something NASA does very, very well. Deep space exploration. It is the premier organization on the planet for this, with by far the most impressive record. It is the only organization to send probes to the outer solar system. Something it started doing in the early 1970's) with Pioneer 10, the first Jupiter flyby. It operates the only Mars rovers. It has a better record at Mars landers than anyone else, by far. There have been a few brilliant successes by other organizations, but in terms of scale, it's very much "NASA", and then distantly, "everyone else" when it comes to solar system exploration.

    There is something NASA does NOT do well. Space trucking. It could contract with SpaceX for heavy launch at under 5% of what it's going to spend doing so itself. It could contract with ULA, who are highly reliable and currently reducing their own costs, although still pricer than SpaceX. Rather than the US govt dictating that 5-segment SRBs must be used because those are providing jobs in this congressional district, they could simply approach SpaceX, say, "this is the capability we want", and save billions of dollars.

    Let NASA do what it does better than anyone else in the world: deep space science. Get it out of the space-truck business, where it will never provide value for money. As it stands, SpaceX's own private effort to land humans on Mars is likely to beat NASA's on both budget and time, raising a lot of questions about just what happened.

    • This is an interesting debate.

      On the one hand, I agree with you. Why is NASA wasting money developing SLS? The heavy version isn't going to be that much better than Space X's heavy launcher.

      On the other hand, the SME-derived engines that NASA is using on SLS are beasts and I have no problem spending money to research making them better because, realistically, where is Space X's incentive for building a rocket more powerful than their heavy?

    • This may yet happen once Falcon 9 Heavy proves itself with manned missions. The problem is that, right now, SpaceX's human-rated heavy lift spaceflight is theoretical. It's hard to cancel NASA's plans for a commercial alternative that doesn't actually exist yet.

  • Well maybe NASA wouldn't have internal management and budget issues if congress didn't keep using it to play political football with.

    Is it any wonder that NASA hasn't done anything spectacular in the past several decades, with all the bullshit games that various senators play, whether it's trying to keep federal funds funneling into their state, or some anti-science moron forces NASA to be managed by conspiracy theorists?

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