That thing in the picture isn't an old granary of the side of I-95. It's a half-finished state-of-the-art test stand for a series of planned space rockets that the U.S. decided not to construct. But the stand is getting finished anyway. Enjoy it, America! You paid more than a third of a billion dollars for it.
The A-3 rocket test stand is "the first large test structure to be built at Stennis Space Center since the 1960s," according to NASA. That's a space center in Mississippi, a state where most people don't close their mouths when staring up into space. Stennis is named after an old Mississippi senator who brought the Deep South state an outsize portion of pork; his tradition is being carried on by the main movers of the A-3 tower—Republican Sens. Roger Wicker, a fiscal conservative who calls Medicaid financially "unsustainable," and Thad Cochran, who advocates deficit reduction by "structural changes to government spending."
The A-3 was intended to be used in the testing of a rocket engine for a Bush-era lunar exploration project. But that rocket's production was canceled, and there "are no rockets being developed for NASA that would need their engines tested under the high-altitude conditions for which the A-3 was built," according to Bloomberg. So as soon as the tower is finished, it will go on mothballs.
Why the hell finish a $350 million rocket stand that won't see any use? Because, Wicker says, we need to ensure that "the Stennis facility is prepared for ever-changing technologies and demands." Even if you don't need it now, you might need it in the future, so buy it now!
That reasoning isn't new, especially to contractor meal-ticket agencies like NASA and the military; back in 2011, one congressman blocked an Army plan to stop buying Humvees and use the money for defense of bases in Afghanistan, because he was concerned about "the cost that would be incurred should the Army decide to restart the Humvee program down the road."
This is why we can't have nice things, America: Because we need the money to pay for the useless things that we might need someday to build nice things in the future, assuming we can afford them.
[Photo credit: NASA]