Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mark my words -- a monumental waste of time

I'm going to go out on a limb with a prediction, one that will stay on this blog as long as I keep it running, and one that will be used one day to determine if I am to eat crow or revel in my prognosticatory acumen.

It's this:

(Photo credit Reuters / Rick Fowler)

NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin Corp a $3.9 billion contract to develop the Orion Moon spacecraft.

Will Orion work? No. At least not for that price, and not by 2014.

Now, I'm not saying that Lockheed is somehow unable to do the necessary engineering, or that they are somehow incapable of grasping the management of the project. But conditions are wrong, wrong, wrong. Huge military/government contractors have shown themselves, over the last several years, to be unable to organize and execute large, complicated projects without massive cost overruns, inefficiency, corruption. The bidding process has led contractors to vastly undershoot cost and duration.

These are not the 1960s. Then, a sense of national pride and sacrifice led contractors (and there were lots) to adhere to unbelievably high standards of timeliness and efficiency -- today, profits have proven to be far more important. Watch as Lockheed subcontracts out most of the work, turning a profit by doing hardly any of the actual work.

And do really want to go to the moon now? NASA, the only US agency with a global focus (though not anymore), is now diverting precious money from unmanned astronomical, climate and remote sensing satellites toward a mission that promises to yield virtually no scientific reward. What's more, with this mission we are now spending money on a Moon mission while at the same time borrowing vast sums of money that our children and children's children will have to pay back to fight a war that only a minority of Americans now believe in.

This is a scam of the highest order, and a stupid, visionless scam at that. Come 2014 (the date that Lockheed proposes to first test Orion with humans aboard), there will have been no launch. Orion will go the way of Lockheed's 1996 X-33, the supposed space shuttle replacement, which the NYT says, "never got built because of technical problems."

No comments: