Red Planet

January 25, 2004

Last week, I discussed Bush's announcement of a renewed space effort (see Lonely Planet: Mars.) While I support having an ambitious space exploration program, sending people into space is not cheap. George Bush wants to explore space on the cheap, which will result in either a slow end to the space program or a fast need for much more money.

Three-fifths of Americans oppose Bush's mission to moon, Mars, which is probably why Bush neglected to mention the space proposal in his State of the Union address.

Even a cursory glance at the proposal reveals that none of the plan's goals can be achieved with the meager funding they will receive. Gregg Easterbrook has looked at the space announcement in a number of posts, including Exploring the Crew Exploration Vehicle:

So far all money numbers announced for the Bush plan seem complete nonsense, if not outright dishonesty. We shouldn't expect George W. Bush himself to know that $12 billion is not enough to develop a spaceship. We should expect the people around Bush, and at the top of NASA, to know this. And apparently they are either astonishingly ill-informed and naïve, or are handing out phony numbers for political purposes, to get the foot in the door for far larger sums later.

Not only is the plan underfunded, but it is even more expensive than it needs to be. Again, Easterbrook writes: "a Moon base would not only not be useful to support a Mars mission--it would be an obstacle to a Mars mission. Any weight bound for Mars can far more efficiently depart directly from low-Earth orbit than a first stop at the Moon; a stop at the Moon would require huge expenditures of fuel to land and take off again."

The first president Bush's Mars proposal had an estimated cost of $400 billion. Let's assume that a new Mars plan would still cost $400 billion. The current US population is about 292 million Americans. If we round up to 300 million for ease of calculations, the plan would cost $1,333 per American. Over 10 years, the cost per American of sending astronauts to Mars would be $133/year. If the cost of the Mars program is $600 billion, that works out to $2,000 per person, and $100 per person per year over 20 years. These numbers are too rough to be useful for anything other than showing the order of magnitude of cost for a Mars plan.

The New NASA will be 'Distinctively Different' than Old Agency. It looks like NASA will focus less on hard science, eschewing studies in astronomy, astrophysics which provide us with a greater understanding of how the universe works. The first casualty of this shift in priorities is the Hubble space telescope. Without a shuttle mission to replace gyroscopes, Public Bombards Operators to Save Hubble

Mars is in the news again since NASA's second Mars rover, Opportunity, landed on Saturday. NASA: Opportunity Sits In A Small Crater, Near A Bigger One

Jason Levine created these snazzy composites: Meridiani Planum, in not-true-color

Posted by Andrew Raff at January 25, 2004 11:04 PM
Trackback URL for this entry: