Lunar Lunacy

Space waste


Congress may not be very invested in sending Americans back to the moon. It is nevertheless forcing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to spend millions of dollars on a lunar program going nowhere.

In March, Congress voted for a three-week continuing budget resolution that compels NASA administrators to continue spending $1.4 million a day—about $29 million over the course of the three-week budget extension—on Constellation, an initiative aimed at sending American astronauts to the moon. This despite the fact that the Obama administration shut down the program last year.

This isn't the first time Congress has voted to continue funding the zombie program. Last summer the legislature approved a short-term extension of Constellation's funding while attempting to negotiate a new budget. As negotiations dragged on, Congress passed more short-term continuations. Each time, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) inserted language forcing NASA to continue funding Constellation even though it had been closed. Not surprisingly, much of that money goes to Shelby's constituents.

Nor was Congress unaware of the problem. In June 2010, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden wrote a letter to Shelby warning that continuing to fund the defunct lunar program would waste more than $200 million. By the time the March extension passed, NASA had blown more than $250 million on keeping the program alive.