Science Questions

How Much do Space Missions Cost?

Sun, 5th Aug 2012

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Mars Curiosity Extra


Aaron Peter Page, via Facebook asked:

Hey, I was just wondering how much it had cost to pull this mission off, and if the cost can truly be justified? And what are we really gaining from this mission? Regards Aaron.


First, we asked Professor John Zarnecki about the Cassini-Huygens mission...

John -   Well, it was a snip to be honest.  I think Cassini-Huygens, the whole thing - I'm talking round numbers here - was about 4.5 billion euros or dollars, which are about the same, of which a quarter or 20% was spent in Europe. 

Now, youíve got to remember that was over probably 15 years, spread out amongst Ė if you add all of the citizens of the US and Europe, thatís around 700 million people.  It works out at something like a couple of cups of coffee per person per year and remember that money is not spent on Mars or on Saturn.  Itís spent on Earth, and itís spent mostly in high-tech industry paying people and paying industry to develop technology.  So I think itís money well-spent.  In the grand scheme of things, itís not a vast amount of money.

Chris -   Same question to you David, how much is the Mars Science Laboratory costing?

David -   I guess end to end, about $2.4 billion, or the equivalent in euros.  Same answer, kind of,  this was spent over about 10 years over 7,000 scientists and engineers.  We get the same kind of results.  I think in the US they make a comparison that people spend more money on bubble gum than they do on NASA.  And people spend more money on beer advertising than they spend on NASA.  So, even though it sounds like a huge sum of money, divided by the total amount over the population, itís really not very much compared to other things, and we really get great benefit out of it.


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