Thursday, May 23, 2024

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

I don't think I've ever led with a quote from William Shakespeare, so there's a first time for everything. The quote, of course, is from Macbeth - Act 5 Scene 5 - and is one of the best known soliloquies in all of Shakespeare's plays. 

So why am I invoking this? What does this apply to? 

There was a congressional hearing today in which NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was confronted about the cost and schedule performance of the Artemis program and the hardware systems it depends on.  

At a May 23 hearing, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice and science subcommittee, pressed Nelson on costs associated with Artemis and suggested that the agency convene an independent review of those costs.

She asked Nelson to describe “what NASA is doing to hold contractors accountable for cost overruns and scheduling delays” including whether the agency withheld payments to contractors for those overruns. She did not cite specific cases with Artemis but rather past studies on the overall costs of the program, including one estimate by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that each of the first four Space Launch System/Orion launches will cost $4.2 billion.

Nelson argued that NASA docks the contractors bonuses if their performance doesn't meet objectives. He also pointed out their fixed price contracts, such as for the Human Landing System - a contract awarded to both SpaceX and Blue Origin. Sen. Shaheen responded by asking if NASA had considered an independent review board, citing the benefits of independent reviews on the James Webb Space Telescope program when it encountered additional overruns and delays late in its development.

Nelson responded that it was unnecessary. 

“We are constantly having other eyes” on Artemis, he said, citing reviews by OIG as well as the Government Accountability Office. “The fact is, when you go to the moon in order to go to Mars, it’s hard.”

NASA officials have, in fact, expressed some frustration with the level of outside scrutiny on Artemis. The agency’s response to the most recent OIG audit related to Artemis, regarding the agency’s readiness for the Artemis 2 mission, complained that OIG had not found any issues they were not already addressing and that working with the auditors caused “disruptions to ongoing workflow and priorities” for those working on the upcoming mission.

There's frustration with the progress of the Artemis program. Nothing they can do now will have any affect on the $4.2 billion per launch price tag of the missions. The costs are very likely to go up from that, but that cost goes back to the problems with getting SLS flyable. Until they resolve the Orion capsule's heat shield issues, there can be no real mission. The Artemis program is stalled. The big, slow-moving wheels of "big gubmint" have gummed up SpaceX's progress on getting Starship - the prototype of the Human Landing System - working properly.  

Artemis 2, the lunar flyby mission, is currently scheduled for September of 2025 and the first lunar landing mission is scheduled for September of 2026. I don't know that I'd take a bet that either one will go on time.

Senator Shaheen and NASA Administrator/former Senator Bill Nelson. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Nothing in this meeting will help the missions or help the whole Artemis program get back moving. "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."


  1. SpaceX, of course, would probably be much farther ahead if Blue Origins hadn't been such a crybaby and all development of human Starship was halted for so long.

    And, of course, we'd be far ahead if Obama et al hadn't cancelled Ares.

  2. "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

    Pretty much sums up most of the hearings in Washington, DC.

    1. I've been thinking this whenever I see one of those confrontational hearings being replayed on the news. "Oooo - look at the way our guy scored a point!" or, more recently, the "your false eyelashes are keeping you from seeing..." cat fight. All this "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

  3. If the government had been contracting out the first heavier than air flight, we would still be flying craft built with pine and linen.

  4. Boondoggle, boondoggle, all is boondoggle. Get the Gubmint OUT of space. NASA has become totally ossified that it needs to be put back out to pasture.
    Bring back NACA!!

    1. One of the problems with getting spending under control is that every group lobbies for whatever they're in favor of - or getting money from. Every group has a "cut everyone's budget except the one I care about" mindset.

      I crossed that bridge around 2010. Cut it all.

  5. Bill no doubt explaining that the Moon is made of cheese. But not a normal kind, of cheese, some sort of space cheese.

  6. Good thing she does not mention federal reserve printing fiat bucks out of thin air or Joey bidet