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Northrop Grumman CEO is grilled over James Webb Space Telescope error




In this photo from 2017, technicians raise the level of the James Webb space telescope mirror at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The telescope is now in California in a Northrop Grumman facility. (Laura Betz / NASA / AP)

The NASA problem James Webb Space Telescope continues to enjoy Congressional support, but legislators Thursday was dismayed at the performance of Northrop Grumman, the big company in the air and aerospace industry, which has made a number of mistakes that delay the launch of the telescope until 2021 at the earliest. Wes Bush, the company's chief executive, was on the defensive when he testified before the House Science Committee. He repeatedly refused to state how much profit his company made in the past year.

The Webb telescope was conceived in 1996 as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA had originally hoped to launch it in 2007.

It is an infrared telescope with a 6.5 meter wide segmented mirror, and it must be kept cold to collect light emitted in the early universe when stars just started to form galaxies. This requires a tennis court-sized, five-layered Sun Shield, which must unfold in space.

A Shake Test in April released bolts from the Sun Shield, just the latest in a series of technical mishaps and people mistakes at Northrop Grumman. An independent review board urged NASA and Congress to run the program this summer, but said there were 344 potential "single-point failures" that could destroy the telescope with a single mistake and pushed for greater care in solving technical problems. The project's latest cost estimate is $ 9.7 billion, most of which has already been spent.

Bush acknowledged that errors at Northrop Grumman had been a factor in the delays. He promised that the company would invest all of its past profits and potential future profits known as "premium fees" into a common pot that would only be awarded if the telescope was successful.

But he retired, as chairman of House Science Committee Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) Asked him if the company would consider paying the $ 800 million costs that came from his own bag. Bush said that this would turn the company's cost-plus deal with NASA into a fixed-price deal and "significantly affect" the relationship between the company and NASA.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Mocked comments from Bush and other legislators on how the Webb will inspire young people.

"I'm sorry that I can not join you in the uplifting testimony you gave today, Mr. Bush, I do not think we should look at our young people and set an example, Eight Time more than the budget and twice as long, "he said.

He added, "You can say 'Will the Jim Webb telescope be worth all the money?' That's not the question." The question is, "Is it worth all the other projects that we do not in this committee He asked Bush how much profit Northrop Grumman made last year. Bush replied that this was in government applications.

"Is it hundreds of millions or billions?" Asked the congressman.

"It's a huge number," Bush said.

The tension in the room culminated in the end of Bush's testimony when Smith Bush urged anyone to be fired for the Webb Project's mistakes and then again tried to persuade Bush to discuss corporate profits.

Smith: "You do not know as a CEO if employees have lost their jobs because of human error?"

Bush: "Regarding the mistakes we are talking about here today, I do not remember that they lost their job. "

Smith:" What was Northrop's last year's profit in 2017, only to the nearest tenth of a billion? "

Bush:" We can get you that for the record. "

Smith: "I'm sorry?"

Bush: "We can deliver that to you for the record."

Smith: "Why do not you tell us what it is today?"

Bush: " I do not have it. It's ahead of me. "

Smith:" How could a CEO not know what his company's profit was last year? "

Bush:" We'll make that available to you for the record . "

The chairman gave up.

The company's 2017 financial report indicates that pre-tax income was just over $ 3 billion.

NASA administrator James Briddenstine testified on Wednesday to the same committee and was located in friendly territory. He served on the Science Committee as a representative of Oklahoma until the beginning of this year, when he was confirmed as President Trump's choice to lead the space agency.

Bridenstine acknowledged that the Webb delays would force NASA to "exploit" missions intended for others. But he praised Webb's scientific virtues and said, "We're on the 5 yard line, and we're trying to beat it into the end zone."

Although he had some scathing comments, his former colleagues were usually gentle. The most pointed remarks came from Rohrabacher, who began by saying, "This, of course, is very disturbing, this is the biggest screwdrive I've ever seen, and the taxpayers are messed up here."

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