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Senator Makes NASA Complete $350 Million Testing Tower That It Will Never Use 342

Posted by Soulskill
from the pork:-the-final-frontier dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Phillip Swarts reports in the Washington Times that NASA is completing a $350 million rocket-engine testing tower at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi that it doesn't want and will never use. 'Because the Constellation Program was canceled in 2010, the A-3's unique testing capabilities will not be needed and the stand will be mothballed upon completion (PDF),, said NASA's inspector general. The A-3 testing tower will stand 300 feet and be able to withstand 1 million pounds of thrust (PDF). The massive steel structure is designed to test how rocket engines operate at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet by creating a vacuum within the testing chamber to simulate the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Although NASA does not expect to use the tower after construction, it's compelled by legislation from Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS), who says the testing tower will help maintain the research center's place at the forefront of U.S. space exploration. 'Stennis Space Center is the nation's premier rocket engine testing facility,' says Wicker. 'It is a magnet for public and private research investment because of infrastructure projects like the A-3 test stand. In 2010, I authored an amendment to require the completion of that particular project, ensuring the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands.' Others disagree, calling the project the 'Tower of Pork' and noting that the unused structure will cost taxpayers $840,000 a year to maintain. 'Current federal spending trends are not sustainable, and if NASA can make a relatively painless contribution to deficit reduction by shutting down an unwanted program, why not let it happen?' says Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union. 'It's not rocket science, at least fiscally.'"
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Senator Makes NASA Complete $350 Million Testing Tower That It Will Never Use

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  • by PKFC (580410) <pkfc.hotmail@com> on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:13PM (#46131017)

    a $350 million rocket-engine testing tower at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi

    compelled by legislation from Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS)

    will cost taxpayers $840,000 a year to maintain.

    Hey let's pour money into my home state plzkthx

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:23PM (#46131067)

      It's a pretty big part of what MS does. Measured as a percentage of GSP (the state-level version of GDP), Mississippi is the 4th-largest net recipient of transfers from other states, which equal about 20% of the state's economy. The only three larger are South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida (a whopping 50% of Florida's economy consists of net transfers).

      • by DarkOx (621550) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:57PM (#46131281) Journal

        and Florida (a whopping 50% of Florida's economy consists of net transfers).

        Just curious does that number include SS payments to individuals? For the sake of argument if it does SS is national program after all, and Florida tends to have lots of retirees relocating to it.

        Sure they have adopted some policies that make it more favorable for that demographic but that is because the retirees were already there to vote for them; so it might be less fair to tar Florida with the same "hand in the federal cookie jar" brush as MS, and SC.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:30PM (#46131439) Journal

        It's a pretty big part of what MS does. Measured as a percentage of GSP (the state-level version of GDP), Mississippi is the 4th-largest net recipient of transfers from other states, which equal about 20% of the state's economy. The only three larger are South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida (a whopping 50% of Florida's economy consists of net transfers).

        Eh, it's not particularly abnormal for 'developing' nations to depend heavily on foreign aid and diaspora remittances...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:41PM (#46131181)
      But they only shower federal dollars on business owners in Mississippi. No medicaid expansion for the poor in Mississippi. Fuck the poor!
    • I think states like Mississippi are perfect examples of this hypocrisy about pork spending just like with the Lockheed F35 boondoggle costing over 1 trillion dollars because they employ workers in Georgia.
  • Typical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:17PM (#46131039)

    I have several friends that work at General Dynamics here in Metro Detroit and the government spending has them in a quandary: they are forced by politicians to create a bill as high as possible - mandatory junkets and overtime, even when there's nothing to do. "Research" projects are the only thing that they do and they just post youtube videos, cancel the project and start something new. None of them can quit, even though the economy has recovered, because they are being paid so well as a result of the requirement to bill taxpayers so much.

    Does anyone know why the Republicans came right to the table on the sequester this time around? Because offense spending (thinly veiled as "defense" spending) was to be rolled back to 2003 levels. That is absolutely evil if you are a member of the Republicans.

    • Re:Typical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stenvar (2789879) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @11:43PM (#46131875)

      Does anyone know why the Republicans came right to the table on the sequester this time around? Because offense spending (thinly veiled as "defense" spending) was to be rolled back to 2003 levels. That is absolutely evil if you are a member of the Republicans.

      Both parties love wasting tax dollars on useless things on a massive scale. Republicans pay lip service to small government but fail to deliver; Democrats swear and complain about big corporations and bankers but then use legislation for economic stimulation, job creation, and consumer protection to shove even more money in the hands of the groups the claim to hate. Both are "absolutely evil". Pick your poison.

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      It's funny that the area hasn't voted blue since the 40s. I've worked in the industry for 37 years, and never once heard of such a thing as any contractor being "forced by politicians to create a bill as high as possible". That's the kind of thing that you can't simply hide under the rug...there are too many audits, and too many potential whistle blowers. So, until someone shows some evidence, this is nothing but tin-foil hat conspiracy theory.

  • Tower to Nowhere... (Score:5, Informative)

    by theodp (442580) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:24PM (#46131073)

    ...meet Bridge to Nowhere [wikipedia.org]

  • by Zorpheus (857617) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:31PM (#46131111)
    The article acts as if they are wasting $350 million by completing it. But it does not say how much has been spent already. Maybe there is not that much money to save by cancelling it?
    And I can't believe that the NASA will not use it in the future, the article also gives no real reason for that.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The amount already spent is irrelevant because it is a sunk cost. [wikipedia.org]

    • by Fnord666 (889225)
      From the article:

      [In 2010] NASA already had spent $292 million on the A-3 structure. Since then, it's spent an additional $57 million to keep building it, according to a February 2013 report by the agency's inspector general, Paul Martin

    • Don't forget the $1.2 billion spent on the J-2X Constellation upper-stage rocket-engine which will also be cancelled as soon as it is developed. And which was the only reason for the A-3 test stand being built in the first place.

      (Stennis has other more general purpose test stands, some of which go back to before the Apollo program. The A-3 was a specialised single-purpose stand for one specific test of the J-2X. Essentially it simulates the ignition for a single specific sized engine at a single specific al

  • "It is important that a large emphasis be placed on safety and testing, and we cannot launch any type of vehicle until we test it extensively using NASA's best tools for testing," Cochran said after a 2011 hearing on the agency's budget.

    How did the Saturn V ever get off the ground without such a rigorous test infrastructure as this?

  • ... War on Savings.

  • I wouldn't trust them to properly differentiate between a scientific boondoggle and useful scientific research.
    Maybe this facility is useless, maybe it's not. But the NTU doesn't share an agenda with those who would fund a program of basic reasearch in this country.

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:59PM (#46131297) Homepage

      Maybe this facility is useless, maybe it's not.

      NASA thinks it's useless, and I think they are the ones most likely to know.

    • There is very little basic research in a rocket launching pad unless it likely to be used for space exploration, which evidently this boondoggle is not, which is why NASA has been trying to kill it for years now but MS politicians keep preventing US taxpayers from saving money. (and Yes, I live in MIssissippi).

  • Because, there is no way they can lease it out to all those wonderful commercial space ventures.
  • by rossdee (243626)

    Why did the rest of the senate go along with this? And what about the house?

    • Re:Pork (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:33PM (#46131455) Journal

      Why did the rest of the senate go along with this? And what about the house?

      They'll need his vote when a project in their state comes up...

    • this is a neo-con, so the house of neo-cons/tea* is backing it. Personally, I am fine with this because SpaceX WILL be using it.
      The real pork are things like SLS and manufacturing of more M1A2s. And just the SLS is 3-5B PER YEAR.
      So ppl pissing about 350 million while ignoring the neo-cons/tea* push on the SLS and M1A2s is a joke.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        this is a neo-con, so the house of neo-cons/tea* is backing it

        Do you have anything backing this assertion that doesn't solely exist in your mind? Wicker is being targeted by the Tea Party in MS to remove him from office. Seems sort of contrary to your assertion.

  • ... I know it's another day, so Slashdot has to find another Republican to bash, but a lone senator can't keep a program funded.
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @01:07PM (#46134561) Homepage

      but a lone senator can't keep a program funded

      Sure he can. Here's how: Put a hold on all legislation going through his committee. Any senator can do this, and the effect is to gum up the works so much that the rest of the Senate can either do as the one senator asks, or not be able to engage in any legislative activity at all that relates to whatever committee he's on. The other senators will likely decide that it's easier to fund his pork project than to deal with the hold.

  • "I already promised my friends they will get the job, so IT HAS TO BE DONE."
  • Jesus? (Score:4, Funny)

    by AndyKron (937105) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:43PM (#46131491)
    Maybe they can rework it into a 300 statue of Jesus?
  • by Jiro (131519) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:57PM (#46131529)

    You tella car company that you're going to pay them a half million dollars for a special custom car. You sign the contract, which requires that you pay them $500000 and that they give you a car when it's completed. Halfway through the process you suddenly decide that you don't want the car after all.

    Well, tough. You already signed the contract and they're already building the car. You have no choice but to pay for a car that you aren't going to use.

    That's what goes on in vases like this. The government signed the contract saying that they'll pay. They can't renege on the deal just because they decided they didn't want what they were paying for any more, so instead they have to pay for it and let it gather dust once they have it. I can guarantee that if you or I signed a contract that said we'd pay for something we wouldn't be able to get out of it just because we no longer wanted what we were paying for.

    This isn't so much about grandstanding politicians that want money for useless programs, but about grandstanding politicians who like to decide the government doesn't want something for which the contract has already been signed.

    • "The government signed the contract saying that they'll pay. They can't renege on the deal just because they decided they didn't "

      Of course they can't renege on the deal just because they decided they didn't.

      On the other hand, they can renege on the deal because they added a clausule that regulated such a possibility as it's done on any contract of the kind.

    • At least any I've come across. Yes, the Gov't has to pay for work already performed, but it's a recognized fact that one Congress can't bind future ones to financial deals, and money to finish a particular contract may never arrive.

      So by and large, as someone else pointed out, the Government has a clause in contracts allowing it to terminate the contract for convenience.

      --PM

  • and the bureaucracy for getting reimbursed for anything is crazy enough that sometimes I just take the loss (getting parts from Digikey, etc). And this is where the money goes?!? I dig doing my little bit to help the space program, but this is frustrating.
  • SpaceX anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @10:29PM (#46131617) Journal
    SpaceX just cut a deal with stennis for testing of their new raptor family. The first engine of this family will be 1/3 of an F1. And yes, it is using these towers. So, this is wrong.
  • by morgauxo (974071) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @11:23PM (#46131815)

    Don't get me wrong. I want NASA spending that money on something useful, not a 'tower to nowhere'. I do kind of relate to the senators too. Jobs shouldn't be temporary. I know, a lot of younger people think they are.It can be nice to regularly change things up for a while. Eventually one has to grow out of that. Staying in place is what gets you benefit time, raises, etc... It used to be how one gets a pension too back when they had those. I save a lot in my 401k but I don't see how I am ever going to retire!

    This stuff becomes important when one goes to have a family. Even without the family, one day hopefully we all realize that we need to work to live, not live to work. Stay and build up that vacation time!

    NASA projects unfortunately aren't stable enough for this kind of life. The problem is every politician has to go and cancel whatever the one before had NASA doing and build their own legacy. Of course they actually have no legacy because the next one will just cancel it anyway but I guess they all expect the next guy to be better than themselves... Meanwhile jobs are created and destroyed. Workers are hired and layed off. At least these porky senators are helping workers have a reason to want to work for NASA. Any organization that wants to do great things like space exploration is going to need to attract the best people. Why would they go to a place that will lay them off every time the whitehouse changes it's curtains?

    Of course, a tower to nowhere is still a stupid way to spend taxpayer's money. The real problem isn't the pork, it's the politicians that keep changing the goals!!!

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @09:36AM (#46133455)

    The Ghosts of Jamie Whitten and John Stennis live on in Mississippi. Bringing federal dollars to pork barrel projects.

    Jamie Whitten was the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee and any appropriations bill that passed by had to have something for Mississippi. Stennis was the same way in the Senate and together they always got something for Mississippi it seems in every appropriations bill.
    That was true when the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor [google.com] was mandated by Congress after the Challenger incident. NASA didn't want it but if they wanted to fund the shuttle and other programs, they had to take the ASRM too. Things like having to deliver the ASRM rockets on barges were put into bid contracts to prevent Thiokol (the supplier of RSRM engines for the shuttle) from bidding on the contract. Oh, they just happened to have the site at Iuka MS, which among being the site of a defunct Nuclear Reactor project by the TVA [wikipedia.org] and was also a former weapons depot.

    You see that's the problem with the seniority system in Congress, you can get politicians re-elected by people and they just move up the ladder on all these committees and it's the committees where all the power is in Congress. You can't just put legislation on the floor of either the House or Senate, it has to go through Committee first and if you have ranking congressmen and senators blocking projects until they get what they want, then important legislation can be held up indefinitely. It's been that way since our Federal Government was formed and handcuffs well meaning legislation with bad things that garner support from fringe members of Congress to get the votes necessary to pass the whole package.

    Even though everybody thinks that Earmarks are supposedly a thing of the past [nymag.com], they're still around. The testing facility in MS shows again that port barrel spending is alive and well and a lot of things still get through, for example with the recent budget deal. [washingtontimes.com] Did you also know we have a STARBASE [dodstarbase.org] program as well? Well in 2012 it received $5m [cagw.org] in funding and while most won't consider it a lot, it's really a glorified recruiting program.

  • by Jos Geluk (3521957) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @02:43PM (#46135005)
    Name the tower after the Senator. Boy, will he look foolish.
  • by spasm (79260) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @03:38PM (#46135319) Homepage

    NASA should rename the tower after Wicker, and hold a big press conference combining the naming ceremony and the commencement of mothballing, just to make it really clear.

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