Is NASA’s Constellation Program “Too Big to Fail?”

by Space Frontier Foundation on May 3, 2010

Space Frontier Foundation Dares Congress
to Apply Their Own Logic to Their Own Space Pork

The Space Frontier Foundation today dared members of Congress to apply their own rhetoric about taxpayer bailouts of the financial industry to the failed multi-billion dollar Constellation rocket program in their home states. As an example, the Foundation cited a recent quote about the Wall Street disaster from Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama:

“The message should be, unambiguously, that nothing’s too big to fail.

And if you fail, we’re going to put you… put you to sleep.”

“Just as the Senator says, nothing’s too big to fail. The Ares launch vehicles being developed in Senator Shelby’s state are a total failure by every honest measure.  They will cost too much, are years behind schedule, and our nation’s top experts say they could not fulfill their intended mission even if they were built,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “It is the space equivalent of Wall Street vultures who happily collected huge profits selling bad investments but then demanded our tax dollars when everything fell apart. It’s time for Ares to be put to sleep.”

The Foundation agrees with a blue ribbon White House panel, and other experts across the space field, who have found that the Constellation Program announced under former President G.W. Bush is failing to meet its original goals. In particular, the outrageously expensive Ares rockets, initiated in 2005, have already eaten the seed corn of exploration technology funding.   President Obama is cancelling these failed projects in favor of a more affordable and innovative path that sustainably opens the space frontier.

But many in Congress oppose this change, and instead want to throw more money at Constellation and Ares – as much as an extra $5-6 billion per year – even as they criticize federal bailouts of the automotive and financial industries.

“We think Senator Shelby, and many others trying to protect their local pork, should apply the same logic to the space program they apply to Wall Street,” said Foundation Chairman Bob Werb. “Just because Ares is based at his Marshall Space Flight Center is no reason to ignore the complete disaster it has become.”

“We agree with Senator Shelby and his colleagues when they worry about taxpayer bailouts.  When an institution has repeatedly failed, we need to clean up the mess and try something new, instead of doing the same thing over and over expecting a miracle to occur,” added Tumlinson.

“That applies to NASA and the Marshall Spaceflight Center too” concluded Werb.”  “Protecting organizations from their own failures is not good for the nation or the hard working people at NASA.  The people on the ground in Alabama deserve better than an unaffordable program that will have to be cancelled sooner or later anyway.  They deserve a shot at success – success that will secure their jobs regardless of shifts in the budgetary or political winds.”

Is NASA’s Constellation Program “Too Big to Fail?” (pdf)

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