back to article US Government Accountability Office dumps sack of coal on NASA's desk over Moon mission naughtiness

Those within NASA hoping for some festive treats were in for disappointment this week as the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) administered a kicking over the agency's beleaguered Artemis programme. The GAO's report spelled out just how much trouble the over-budget and behind-schedule Moon mission is in, and remarked …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Infinite loop

    If president == republican:

    . keep funding Boeing

    . say "america great, beat commies, go space"

    elif president == democrat

    . # if we don't people will call us commies

    . say "go space"

    . ironically fund commercial space company

    else:

    . actually go to space

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Infinite loop

      Well, it is beginning to look as if NASA will end up buying seats on a SpaceX Starship to the Moon. Probably long before Artemis is ready.

      1. Tom Paine

        Re: Infinite loop

        Given the unprepared and somewhat unpredictable mechanical properties of the lunar surface and regolith, how long a run on consecutive successful landings would you want to see before you got on one yourself? Obviously if a landing leg pad hits a rock, or they happen to hit an area with soft, loosely compacted topsoil, or.. various other things, and it tips over on landing, it's a TLV,TLC accident.

    2. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Infinite loop

      I think you will find that a Democrat spent a hefty percentage of GDP (almost 5% of federal spending in the late 60's) on the first moon landing - today its less than 0.5 %

      https://www.thespacereview.com/article/3737/1

      Most of that went to Boeing the first time round.

      While the Orion has cost over 17bn to date, its a fraction of apollo in 'todays' money the eagle cost....

      Its not all a trump-bash-fest. anyway, if the US doesnt support Boeing now, its screwed after loosing its commercial flight arm for years to come.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Infinite loop

        "While the Orion has cost over 17bn to date, its a fraction of apollo in 'todays' money the eagle cost...."

        In today's (well, 2019's) money, the Apollo program cost about $160 billion. The included the full development, manufacture and launch of the whole rocket, capsule, landers, and everything else involved. It includes the cost of actually getting to the Moon 10 times (and 11 past Earth orbit counting Apollo 13), plus four orbital and three sub-orbital test flights of various bits.

        Orion has cost over $21 billion in today's money just for a capsule that has had a single orbital test flight and one abort test. The actual intended launch system has so far cost $19 billion and has never flown. Yes, Apollo was expensive. But at this point you can't compare the costs to Orion because there simply isn't anything to compare it with - $160 billion for a successful program with multiple Moon landings, and $30 billion for a half-finished capsule and a rocket that has never been tested. If Orion ever actually achieves anything, then we can start comparing the cost of getting there.

      2. fishman

        Re: Infinite loop

        Yes, we spent alot on Apollo. But we went from a suborbital 15 minute manned flight to walking on the moon 8 years later. Orion isn't doing anything new, and is just the capsule.

        NASA contracted with SpaceX to design, test, and send crew to the ISS in the Crew Dragon capsule. The testing included an abort test, an unmanned test mission to the ISS, a test manned mission to the ISS, and up to 6 crewed missions to the ISS. The contract is for a maximum of $2.6B. While the Crew Dragon is smaller than Orion and isn't currently moon capable, it costs pennies relative to Orion.

        And then there is SLS........

      3. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Money for Boeing

        Keep in mind that it was the _old_ Boeing, run by (mostly) engineers. Nothing at all like the "new" Boeing.

        1. A random security guy Bronze badge

          Re: Money for Boeing

          Yup. I live close to NASA Ames and the scientists I ran into during non Covid days said that THEY used to look up to Boeing till the 737 Max fiasco.

          The Boeing of today is a joke.

      4. A random security guy Bronze badge

        Re: Infinite loop

        You will also need to take into account that the Boeing of yesteryears had real engineering that that the world looked up to rather than the shady idiots running the system with $7/hr Cognizant so called engineers.

        Also, at that time, people took pride in their accomplishments and the fear of USSR was real.

  2. Notas Badoff

    Money for nothing and votes for free

    Another article I read recently brought out that the impetus for the project came from Congress. Not so much caring about national reputation (who, them?) but about spreading the contracts all over hither and yon. Thus the Congressoids probably see no problem 'tall about continuing funding for years and years and...

  3. DS999 Silver badge

    The schedule was driven by Trump

    Trump dictated the schedule to have the boots on ground happen while he was still in office. Since he won't have a second term, there's no reason NASA can't reset the schedule next year to something achievable.

    Though given how republicans in congress always seem to remember "the deficit" they forget with republican presidents anytime democrats come to power (despite deficits having historically been higher under republican presidents for the past 50 years) I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing gets shitcanned via the combination of "oh no the deficit suddenly matters again" on the republican side and "we need to help people that are suffering, not go back to the moon" on the democrat side.

    1. First Light Silver badge

      Re: The schedule was driven by Trump

      So painfully true.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    None of this was unexpected

    We all know you can't dictate a schedule. It will take as long as it needs to take, and it take as much money as it takes to buy all the things and pay all the people.

    The reason the schedule is a row of dominoes is that each one builds on the other. If a test fire goes titsup, then you need to stop and investigate why. If an engine produces less thrust than expected or part A does not talk to part B, ditto.

    This is why Musk is not afraid to break things. He does it "mostly right" and learns to do it differently as necessary.

    NASA expects perfection the first time, because Congress expects perfection the first time, and that costs time and money.

    1. iron Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: None of this was unexpected

      Congress expects to get paid (in the form of subsidised jobs in their state), actual science is just gravy.

  5. HAL-9000
    IT Angle

    Which list then?

    Does this mean that NASA is officially on Santa's naughty list then? No more fat servings of pork barrel

    1. keith_w Bronze badge

      Re: Which list then?

      Surely you jest. So much pork fat is spread around the states by NASA (and the entire defense industry) that you slide from one coast to the other - downhill both ways!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even then, is it really up to the task?

    It will only just about be able to get a capsule into orbit around the moon. The SLS booster (block 1B, not yet built) will be able to get 43t to the moon, where as the Saturn V could get 48.6t there. Flights will also take longer (something like 5 days each way vs 3).

    And then getting into the moon's orbit need to be taken into consideration - the service module only has enough fuel to give a highly elliptical orbit with a period of 6 to 8 days (Apollo was circular with a period of about 2 hours).

    Everyday Astronaut has a good comparison on Saturn V, SLS and Starship on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA69Oh3_obY), along with another showing the mission profiles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O15vipueLs).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Even then, is it really up to the task?

      Don't forget the time scales. Artemis has been running for 10 years, and that's on the back of 5 years of the cancelled Constellation program.

      Probably to be expected when the contracts are "cost plus".

  7. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Cost plus?

    The problem is less the cost plus contracts and more the votes plus program (and the boobs on the moon deadline didn't help).

    Artemis was structured, from the beginning, to put Boeing and its contractors and its subcontractors in every State and Congressional District that they could. They have a direct lobbying line to every major player. They have become one of the few non-DoD programs that's too big to fail. Even if the moonshot is ruled out, the program will go on in a new guise.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Cost plus?

      Far be it from me to point out a typo / spelling error. Something I'm often guilty of. But I feel that "boobs on the Moon" does merit comment...

      If an error, then an instructive one. If deliberate, then a tip of the hat.

      I actually came here to comment that it would be easy to get boots on the Moon. They're not heavy. Simply launch a lander equipped with a pair of boots on the bottom, instead of landing legs. Perhaps with a pleasing tread pattern, to make the photos look nicer.

      However if we're going for boobs on the Moon, it's probably better that they're attached to somebody.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: Cost plus?

        It had been declared that the mission would be the first female American on the moon, so I'd take "boobs on the moon" as a witty bon mot.

        (That's why Trump designed the transparent space suit. "That's one small step for woman, one giant wow for mankind")

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So Biden can kill off the US manned space program, again?

    Biden as Vice President oversaw the shutdown of the manned space program. Will he kill it off completely this time?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So Biden can kill off the US manned space program, again?

      Remind me what he did?

      1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

        Re: So Biden can kill off the US manned space program, again?

        At best, he didn't argue when told to kill it off. At worst, he helped draft the paperwork.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: So Biden can kill off the US manned space program, again?

      GWB43 announced the retirement of the space shuttle (probably because it was expensive and dangerous but perhaps you should check the official record of his emails to be certain). The shuttle was kept in service to build the ISS (and until Constellation was ready to replace it) so the the final flight was early Obama/Biden. I would call the attempt to replace the space shuttle was half done well by both sides. The Space shuttle is mostly dead but the replacement took a long time.

      The Constellation program was created during the Bush era but there was a clear bi-partisan effort to make it expensive and continuously delayed (by requiring use of space shuttle hardware and suppliers). Obama/Biden tried to cancel Constellation but it had too much support. They achieved compromise: Constellation would get renamed SLS and would continue as a Boeing handout disguised as a jobs program and a new commercial crew program would be started so America would not be dependent on Russia to send astronauts to the ISS.

      There was a bi-partisan effort to loot the commercial crew program to funnel extra funds to SLS/Boeing. Obama/Biden and Pence/Trump restricted this to manageable levels so commercial crew was delayed rather than destroyed.

      I have no idea what Pence/Harris will actually with the US space program next year but cancelling SLS/Orion is beyond their reach. Congress will turn their backs on thousands of Americans dying from poverty if it allows them to continue shovelling money to Boeing. There was only one idiot great enough to believe that SLS would get Americans to the Moon by 2024. Changing the nominal landing date to something achievable will get support because it extends purpose of SLS - which has nothing to do with actual space flight.

      SpaceX will be going to the ISS and probably to the Moon and Mars whatever the US government does. I am sure SpaceX will get enough support so politicians can take some credit for the achievements. I would love to say Blue Origin will show some progress towards catching up with SpaceX but so far the evidence is rather thin.

      If you want someone to blame for the slow and expensive progress of the US space program I would point at US voters who do not know or care how their taxes are being spent. NASA used to have an educational outreach program that would have helped but that had its funding cut (to provide funding for a magnificent wall when the Mexicans didn't bother to pay for it?).

  9. sitta_europea Silver badge

    For pity's sake kill it.

    I wouldn't contract with Boeing to build an electric kettle.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why can't they just reuse the blueprints from Apollo? They usually worked....

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