From the “Hope & Humor” news desk: This past Saturday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration teased on Twitter that it will announce a “major science finding” at 11:30 a.m. EDT today:
Mars is a mysterious world, tune in to NASA TV on 9/28 as we announce a major science finding http://go.nasa.gov/1LTWsUP
Whatever the finding may be—water, life or new McMars franchise—NASA will no doubt campaign to send a manned mission to the red planet. So, it’s time to go back in time for this major science post:
What will half a trillion buy?
I’ve spent the week staring off into space wondering what I could buy with half a trillion dollars—the estimated cost to put humans on Mars. (That’s 500,000,000,000). Let’s see:
A brand new $45,000 BMW X5 SUV for every one of the 11,030,029 licensed drivers in California (includes dealer prep and destination charges).
Or a Sony 65-inch HD TV (and a Toshiba 42-inch HD TV with XBox video game system for the bedroom) for every housing unit in America.
Or 2,390,057 houses in the US at $209,200 (the median cost of an American home). Or 625,000,000 basic Habitat for Humanity homes in third-world countries.
Or pay four years of tuition at Indiana University for all of the 15,300,000 college students in the US. (Or send 5,856,996 students to Harvard for four years.)
Or provide $14,460 worth of prescription drugs for every one of the 34,578,000 Americans over age 65.
Or buy 555,555,555,555 Mars candy bars.
Or build and equip 16,358,580 medical clinics in third world countries (includes electrical generator for each).
Or support 1,600,000,000 third-world children for one year
Or pay for one manned mission to Mars!
Yep, on January 14 President George Bush told a crowd at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that he wants to see humans return to the moon by 2020. And then . . .
With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond. Robotic missions will serve as trailblazers—the advanced guard to the unknown. Probes, landers and other vehicles of this kind continue to prove their worth, sending spectacular images and vast amounts of data back to Earth. Yet the human thirst for knowledge ultimately cannot be satisfied by even the most vivid pictures, or the most detailed measurements. We need to see and examine and touch for ourselves. And only human beings are capable of adapting to the inevitable uncertainties posed by space travel.
While a Bush administration official told the press, “The President is not expected to immediately discuss the cost,” others have offered their out of this world estimates to put humans on the red planet.
According to The New Republic a 1989 NASA estimate put the sticker price at $400,000,000,000 or $600,000,000,000 in today’s dollars.
But Konstantin Feoktistov, who worked in the Russian space program and now lectures at the Moscow Bauman Technical University, told SPACE.com a manned mission to Mars would cost $1 trillion. “Even if the surface of Mars were covered with gems and gold, a manned mission would still be too expensive because of such a great cost,” Feoktistoy said.
So, half a trillion is a conservative estimate.
To be fair, there are some down-to-earth benefits of space exploration. The space program has yielded breakthrough advances in communications, weather forecasting, electronics, and countless other fields. CAT Scanners and MRIs trace their origins to technologies engineered for use in space.
But $500,000,000,000 is a lot of money to invest in space when there are so many more practical (and life-saving uses) for that kind of cash right here on the home planet.
Or to put it another way, that amount of money would provide the President, each member of his cabinet, all twelve Supreme Court justices, and every one of 485 members of congress inpatient psychiatric care for 3,722 years. Now that might not be a bad investment!
Copyright © 2004 James N. Watkins
Notes (2004 prices):
United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Statistics 2000 lists 11,030,029 drivers in California. A BMW X5 lists for $45,330.79./P>
A Sony HD TV lists for $2,429, a Toshiba HD TV for 1,500, and XBox for $179 ($4,108). United States Census Bureau lists 119, 302,132 housing units. That comes to $490, 093,158,256.
Habitat For Humanity can build a home in a third-world country for as little as $800.
Society for College and University Planning 2003 reports 15,300,000 students enrolled in college. In 2000 four years tuition at Harvard was $85,368; four years at Indiana University $29,444 in 2000. And those are “out of state” costs!
World Hope can build and equip a medical clinic for $30,565.
World Hope can support a third world child $300 per year.
MediCare will cover $716 per day for psychiatric care.
If you agree that there are better ways to spend half a trillion, please share this on your social networks.