In June, NASA finished work on a huge construction project in Mississippi: a $349 million laboratory tower, designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space.
Then NASA did something odd.
As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially “mothballed” — closed up and left empty — without ever being used.
“You lock the door, so nobody gets in and hurts themselves,” said Daniel Dumbacher, a former NASA official who oversaw the project.
The reason for the shutdown: The new tower — called the A-3 test stand — was useless. Just as expected. The rocket program it was designed for had been canceled in 2010.
But, at first, cautious NASA bureaucrats didn’t want to stop the construction on their own authority. And then Congress — at the urging of a senator from Mississippi — swooped…
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