Tags: Barack Obama | George W. Bush | Mississippi | tower | A-3 | moon | mars

NASA Builds $349M Tower, Then Promptly Mothballs It

Tuesday, 16 December 2014 07:28 AM

A massive $349 million NASA tower completed in June has been "mothballed" in Gulfport, Mississippi, without ever being used.

The construction of the 30-story tower, designed to test a new rocket engine, had actually continued for several years after the project was officially scrubbed, according to The Washington Post.

The building, called the A-3 test stand, has been empty and locked up for months, but in fact, it already hads been rendered useless in 2010 after the expensive rocket program had been canceled.

"You lock the door, so nobody gets in and hurts themselves," said Daniel Dumbacher, a former NASA official who ran the project.

The tower contains a pressure chamber that is meant to mimic the vacuum of space to test a rocket engine called J-2X, which would carry Americans to the moon, and eventually to Mars.

But as NASA’s costs kept mounting, the moon mission was scrubbed in 2013.

However, agency officials, aided by Congress, were reluctant to pull the plug on the expensive A-3 boondoggle, which was launched in the late stages of the George W. Bush administration.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi stepped in to save the tower in 2013, in fact, with an amendment to a bill that said NASA "shall complete construction and activation of the A-3 test stand with a completion goal" of September 2013.

After it was passed by the House and the Senate, President Barack Obama signed it into law in in October 2010.

"Administrations come and go," Wicker said earlier this month about the project. "I think it [made] sense not to leave a partially constructed asset sitting there.

"I do believe, a decade from now, we’ll look back and see that it has been used in a very positive way."

Wicker, who was unable to identify a specific NASA program that the tower could be used for, was asked how he managed to get the amendment through Congress even though the moon project had been put on hold.

"Just talented legislating," he replied.

"It’s heartbreaking to know that you thought you’d done something good," David Forshee, who was a general foreman for the pipefitters on the project, told the Post. "And all you’ve done is go around in a damn circle, like a dog chasing his tail."

The A-3 tower ended up costing nearly three times the amount that the NASA had estimated, and had taken close to seven years to build, twice as long as had been expected.

"A-3 could not be used for testing right now, if we wanted to," said Dumbacher, who’s now a professor at Purdue University, while noting that instruments still needed to be installed, and the pressure chamber needed to be tested to see if it would hold a vacuum.

He guessed that it would take "probably another two to three years" to have it ready for use. And that would only occur if NASA plans another mission to the moon or Mars, which are both deemed too expensive at the moment.

Instead, the agency wants to employ the far more affordable project of grabbing an asteroid in space, one about the size of a house, and then send up a scientist to study it, according to the Post.

Meanwhile, the A-3 test tower lies in mothballs while costing a whopping $700,000 a year to maintain.

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A massive $349 million NASA tower completed in June has been "mothballed" in Gulfport, Mississippi, without ever being used.
Mississippi, tower, A-3, moon, mars, nasa
Tuesday, 16 December 2014 07:28 AM
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