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posted by martyb on Friday March 09 2018, @03:55PM   Printer-friendly
from the pork-is-expensive dept.

Trump on Falcon Heavy: "I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA"

During a cabinet meeting on Thursday inside the White House, President Donald Trump called attention to several model rockets on the table before him. They included an Atlas V, a Falcon 9, a Space Launch System, and more. The president seemed enthused to see the launch vehicles. "Before me are some rocket ships," the president said. "You haven't seen that for this country in a long time."

Then, in remarks probably best characterized as spur of the moment, the president proceeded to absolutely demolish the government's own effort to build rockets by noting the recent launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. He cited the cost as $80 million. (The list price on SpaceX's website is $90 million.)

"I noticed the prices of the last one they say cost $80 million," Trump said. "If the government did it, the same thing would have cost probably 40 or 50 times that amount of money. I mean literally. When I heard $80 million, I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA.''

NASA has not, in fact, set a price for flying the SLS rocket. But Ars has previously estimated that, including the billions of dollars in development cost, the per-flight fees for the SLS rocket will probably be close to $3 billion. Indeed, the development costs of SLS and its ground systems between now and its first flight could purchase 86 launches of the privately developed Falcon Heavy rocket. So President Trump's estimate of NASA's costs compared to private industry does not appear to be wildly off the mark.

[*] SLS: Space Launch System

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After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
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NASA Moving to Scale Back the Space Technology Mission Directorate

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Grishnakh on Friday March 09 2018, @05:44PM (8 children)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday March 09 2018, @05:44PM (#650113)

    Maybe this will be the start of the shakeup that NASA desperately needs to adapt to a reality of aggressive space activities by a good portion of the world and financial constraints on the US government.

    NASA isn't really the problem here. Look at all the stuff they have done on much smaller budgets, that have been massive successes. New Horizons is a good example of this, as well as some Mars rovers, and various other probes.

    The simple truth is that NASA simply can't get anything done that takes more than one Presidential administration's worth of time. If it's going to take more than 8 years to do, they just shouldn't even bother, because it's going to be a failure. Really, if it needs more than 4, they should think twice.

    There's simply nothing that NASA can do about Congressional micromanagement and pork-barrel financing ("you need to do this, but it has to be in some flyover state that makes no sense to do it in because that's where my constituents are"), or about presidential administrations changing course every 8 years. So many decisions are made not because of technical needs, but political ones (using a particular supplier because of political connections for instance).

    There's really nothing that can be done about all of this.

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  • (Score: 1, Flamebait) by khallow on Friday March 09 2018, @05:46PM (4 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday March 09 2018, @05:46PM (#650114) Journal

    There's really nothing that can be done about all of this.

    Except, of course, having a disciplined organization present a coherent plan and stick to it. Drop cost plus contracts while they're at it.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by Grishnakh on Friday March 09 2018, @06:07PM (3 children)

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday March 09 2018, @06:07PM (#650129)

      The organization can present all the plans they want, it doesn't matter. They'll be overridden when there's a new election and the makeup of Congress changes or there's a new Administration.

      There's nothing that can be done about it unless you either stop having elections so often (maybe every 20 years), or you somehow make it so NASA doesn't have to answer to Congress or the President, and can do whatever they want once they have some money. Obviously neither of those is going to happen, so NASA will never be able to have successful manned missions. It only barely managed to do as well as it did with the Apollo program because the political leadership was scared shitless about the Soviets and got into a "space race" when they were beaten by Sputnik, so they managed to stay politically focused long enough, and poured enough money into the project, to get it done. And even then they defunded it after they succeeded in landing on the Moon a few times and truncated the program.

      • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday March 09 2018, @10:56PM

        by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday March 09 2018, @10:56PM (#650291) Journal

        ... And made it clear to the rest of the world that they could put way-more-than-necessary-of-mass nuclear payloads precisely anyplace they wanted to within 240,000 miles - one of the most major objectives of the space program.

        This sig for rent.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by frojack on Friday March 09 2018, @11:14PM (1 child)

        by frojack (1554) on Friday March 09 2018, @11:14PM (#650296) Journal

        Pretty sure khollow wasn't serious about fixing NASA. He well knows that ship has sailed.

        With three (or is it four) companies competing for space launch capabilities, prices are coming down fast.
        The best use of NASA is being a standard's body. Sure, it will be regulatory-captured eventually. But you should be
        able to get a few decades of safety oriented standards review out of them.

        Maybe they could used be like the Highway Department, keep the facilities maintained, clean up the mess after an accident, etc.
        Set standards for vehicle minimum equipment.

        Its sad, but that's what government does. Happened to ESA. Happened to the Russians (who actually beat the US to quasi-privatized hardware development).

          I use to be NASA's biggest fan. They use to do crazy and cool shit like fly shuttles around the country on the backs of Airplanes ffs.

        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09 2018, @07:12PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09 2018, @07:12PM (#650166)

    Why do you hate flyover states? Doing something in a flyover state makes more sense than doing it in 17 different non-flyover states.

    Flyover states are affordable. The space industry is well-established in Huntsville, Alabama. That's a fine place to get things done. The same might be said of Stennis Space Center in Louisiana.

    • (Score: 1) by Sulla on Friday March 09 2018, @07:19PM

      by Sulla (5173) on Friday March 09 2018, @07:19PM (#650169) Journal

      I think the problem is not that it is being done in Alabama or Louisiana but that keeping these facilities open is a reason to continue to fund a program or to ignore waste in the system.

      Ceterum censeo Sinae esse delendam
    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Sunday March 11 2018, @02:34AM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Sunday March 11 2018, @02:34AM (#650739)

      Frequently, facilities are put in those states not because it makes any actual sense, but because some politician wants to bring home the pork. If it makes the most technical and logistical sense to put it there, fine, but it frequently isn't the optimal location. This process usually results in spreading work out all across the country, instead of more efficiently concentrating it.

      Also, to get work done, you need people, usually with very specialized skills. You can't just plop a government facility someplace and expect people to come there; this isn't "Field of Government Dreams". You have to go where the workers are, at least when you have a competitive job market. If you build something out in bumfuck iowa or wherever, you could very well be missing out on more talented workers because they don't want to move to the boonies. There's a reason Musk put Tesla in Silicon Valley: there's a critical mass of tech workers there (plus an unused factory he could buy up cheap, but I'm really addressing the engineering here). I've seen this myself with the government: they just can't seem to figure out why they have a hard time getting experienced engineers to move to rural places where they thought it'd be a great idea to have a R&D facility. I guess it works OK if you're just looking for nuclear engineers (who don't have a lot of other commercial alternatives for work), but for software engineers in particular, it doesn't work that way. "Affordability" isn't very important when it comes to finding qualified workers. If NASA decided to do a ton of software work at the Stennis center, how much success do you think they'd have recruiting people? Not much. Slidell LA is the closest civilization within reasonable commuting distance (~30min), and that place is not going to attract many software engineers.