The NASA Launchpad To Nowhere

Congress ordered the space agency to complete a $350 million structure that may never be used

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Congress ordered NASA to complete a $350 million rocket-testing structure that may never be used, Bloomberg News reports.

The 300-foot tower at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was designed to test how the Ares I and Ares V engines would work at high altitudes, for rockets under development that would send people into space and up to the moon. But the project was scrapped after the Constellation program spearheaded by former President George W. Bush was cancelled in 2010.

And yet, under orders from Congress, NASA is still building the A-3 tower at a cost of $57 million to complete and $840,000 annually to maintain. The stand could conceivably be used to test engines for future rockets, most likely developed by private sector firms, but NASA is not developing any rockets that would need engines tested under the high-altitude conditions.

The A-3 tower is another example of rampant “pork barrel” spending by lawmakers looking to channel funds to their own districts despite spending cuts. Sen. Roger Wicker (R—Miss.) ensured the tower construction would outlive the Constellation program by crafting a provision in 2010 ensuring its completion.

Wicker told Bloomberg News that the provision will ensure “the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands.”

A NASA spokesperson declined to comment on the mandate to finish the stand.

[Bloomberg News]