The James Webb Space Telescope is progressing nicely. Just kidding! It’s actually a total disaster of epic proportions that has outpaced its proposed budgets so many times that it’s laughable. The project was originally scheduled to end with a launch planned for 2007 and a price tag of around $500 million. It’s now (barely) on track for a 2021 launch with a total cost of nearly $10 billion.
This is thanks in large part to Northrop Grumman, the company that is building the thing. The company has repeatedly fallen short of expectations and caused the build to balloon in cost with countless delays and missteps. Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush just had to defend his company’s utterly unacceptable performance in front of a congressional committee, and boy was it a bloodbath.
Bush was asked, among other things, how the project could have gotten so far off the rails. He admitted that his company has done some things wrong, but he didn’t have much of a choice after an independent report placed the blame on a long list of stupid human errors made by Northrop Grumman engineers. Some of those mistakes included leaving bolts loose and using the wrong kind of solvent on critical parts of the spacecraft.
Yes, the company that is being paid billions of dollars to build NASA’s next great telescope can’t even tighten a damn bolt correctly.
Members of Congress further grilled Bush over whether any of his company’s employees had lost their jobs over the absurd “mistakes,” to which Bush admitted that nobody was let go. Bush also failed to provide the profit figures for his company, stating that he simply didn’t know them but that it was “a very large number.” I mean, yeah, when you bleed the U.S. space program for billions of dollars you’re probably doing pretty well in the earnings department.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California didn’t hold back when addressing the CEO stating, “This, of course, is very disturbing. This is about the biggest screw job I’ve ever seen, and the taxpayers are getting screwed here.” He wasn’t the only one who had harsh words for Bush.
When asked whether Northrop Grumman would be absorbing the costs for its latest round of mistakes, totaling around $800 million, Bush said that such a move would “significantly impede and impair the relationship between NASA and Northrop Grumman,” and that it “would be the wrong approach.”
Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the committee, fired back. Smith told Bush that having the company pay for its own mistakes “would be justified given the poor record and given the poor management.” Adding “I only wish that Northrop Grumman was willing to take responsibility and show a bit more good faith, both to the taxpayer and for the cost overruns.”
Good luck with that.