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NASA must spend $500 million on a canceled project

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JEREMY HOBSON: Well from the finances of the Vatican to the finances right here in the U.S. It turns out that because Congress didn’t pass a budget taxpayers will be spending $500 million on a NASA program that’s been cancelled.

Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman is following this for us and he joins us now. Hi Mitchell.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Good morning Jeremy.

HOBSON: So what gives?

HARTMAN: This money is for a program to develope a new vehicle that’s supposed to replace the space shuttle. It would astronauts to the International Space Station. And particular, it’s a rocket called Ares I which would use solid fuel to take the spacecraft into orbit. And there’s just one problem — President Obama announced in October that he was scrapping the return to the moon effort that President Bush was pursuing and that means that the solid rocket fuel booster is also not going to fly. A lot of experts think liquid fuel is actually cheaper and safer. But NASA still has to spend around $500 million on the old, defunct rocket system, and that’s because Congress couldn’t agree on new budgets for 2011 in lame duck. So they just continued last year’s budgets through March.

HOBSON: Can’t NASA just quietly pull the plug?

HARTMAN: No, because Congress specified in the 2010 budget that NASA couldn’t stop the funding until a new budget was in place. Of course a new budget is not in place. That was done to protect jobs in Congressional districts — particularly in Alabama — that are dependent on rocket-building.

HOBSON: Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman, we’ll see what happens with that. Thanks so much.

HARTMAN: You’re welcome.

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