Four years ago, NASA knew it wouldn't likely use a giant tower originally intended to test rockets—because the testing program was canceled. Yet the agency kept building the A-3 test stand and finally finished the $349 million project in June. And the costs keep coming, with the Mississippi structure expected to require $700,000 each year in maintenance, the Washington Post reports. "You lock the door, so nobody gets in and hurts themselves," says the project's former boss. Now, the tower is a giant ode to an agency that has lost its "sense of purpose," David A. Fahrenthold writes: "There's no 'why'" at NASA these days, says its former No. 2.
The test stand, near Gulfport, was once expected to send people back to the moon and to Mars, at a projected cost of $119 million. But costs kept rising, and with plans to get back to the moon looking less achievable, President Obama in 2010 called for an end to the program, dubbed "Constellation," that included the tower. But the Senate, in an effort fueled by Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, voted to continue funding the construction. "When it comes down to their pork, they’re always going to defend it," a space policy expert told Bloomberg early this year in a piece that dubbed the stand "useless." Even now, to actually use the stand would require a few more years' work, says a NASA official. It's one of seven stands currently "mothballed," with another being renovated nearby. (In other space news, NASA has an "oh my gosh" moment.)