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Watchdog criticizes rising costs, delays of NASA’s next Moon rocket

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The giant rocket NASA plans to use to return to the Moon by 2024 has been beset by delays and spending has overrun by almost 30 percent, an official audit said Wednesday.

The delays threaten the timetable set by President Donald Trump’s administration to place astronauts on lunar soil five years from now, testing the next generation of spacecraft ahead of an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the cost of the first, single-use Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is being built by Boeing, had risen from $6.2 billion to $8 billion, or 29 percent.

Its first flight was set to take place in November 2018, a date later revised to June 2020, but even that target is now “unlikely,” the GAO said, adding “the first launch may occur as late as June 2021.”

The program has previously been criticized by some in the space community as a patronage project kept alive because of its importance for jobs, especially in Alabama, the state represented by the senator who oversees appropriations including NASA’s finances.

The watchdog also accused the space agency of being opaque in its cost calculations.

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“NASA’s management decisions on how to report cost growth is not fully transparent and, in particular, obscures the difficulties the SLS program has faced controlling costs,” the report said.

Costs for the Orion capsule being built by Lockheed Martin that will transport the astronauts had also grown.

NASA estimated this cost overrun at 5.6 percent but GAO said that was based on an inaccurate launch date and the real figure would be much higher.

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The audit also criticized NASA for continuing to award Boeing and Lockheed Martin millions of dollars a month in “award fees” for good performance and urged the space agency to “reevaluate its strategy to incentivize contractors to obtain better outcomes.”

It singled out Boeing for particular criticism, saying the aeronautical giant had “underestimated the staffing levels required to build the core stage in the time available” and had focused on minimizing the number of technicians, in part to keep its costs low.

It eventually hired the required number of technicians but many did not have a background in spaceflight and time was lost getting them up to speed.


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Here are 5 of Trump’s most unhinged moments as his ‘Showcase to America’ descended into absurdity

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President Donald Trump reiterated his familiar protectionist and “America first” themes on Monday during his Made in America Showcase, bragging about tariffs imposed on other countries and claiming that under his watch, manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States in a big way. But Trump wasn’t content to merely discuss his economic and trade policies. The president also used the speech and a press conference to defend some Twitter comments that are being widely denounced as racist.

Over the weekend, Trump attacked four congresswomen of color and urged them to go back to the countries they came from. The comments were obviously aimed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — the liberal/progressive alliance known as The Squad in the U.S. House of Representatives. All of them are U.S. citizens, and the Somali-born Omar is the only one of the four who wasn’t born in the U.S.

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Republican slams Trump for eroding ‘the very basis of what America is all about’

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On Monday, President Donald Trump doubled down on comments that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) should leave America if they're so unhappy with the status quo.

He posted a series of tweets making the same point over the weekend. In response, former Ohio Governor John Kasich tweeted his displeasure at the President's behavior.

What @realDonaldTrump said about Democrat women in Congress is deplorable and beneath the dignity of the office. We all, including Republicans, need to speak out against these kinds of comments that do nothing more than divide us and create deep animosity - maybe even hatred.

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Trump’s Cabinet exodus is an emergency — and it’s continually getting worse

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One of Donald Trump’s major campaign promises was to “drain the swamp,” an allusion to the cesspool of corrupt and unethical characters crowding the hallways of power in Washington. But in over two years in office, the only major clearing out in the nation’s capital has been of Trump’s own Cabinet.

This article was originally published at Salon

On Friday, Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta announced that he would join the long list of recent resignations out of the Trump administration, bowing out in disgrace over his handling of a major sex trafficking case involving billionaire political donor Jeffrey Epstein.

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