Curiosity Killed NASA's Budget: Is Mars Worth It?

The new rover, landing on the Red Planet next week, is over budget at $2.5 billion.


Saturn has its famous rings and Jupiter is the granddaddy of the solar system, but no planet has entranced earthlings quite like Mars.

Humans have launched 40 spacecraft to the Red Planet, lured by the prospect that life might once have existed in what is now dry rocks and sand. The latest machine to make the journey is NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, a hulking, souped-up lab-on-wheels that will plunge toward the Martian surface next week.

But even as excitement builds, some wonder: Is Mars exploration a good investment?

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  1. A bigger budget buster is the James Webb Space Telescope which is still under development and is reaching the 9 billion dollar mark. It started out in the 90’s as a half billion dollar project

    They wanted a much larger mirror then the Hubble Space Telescope but none of their present rockets are big enough in diameter for a conventional design so they are creating a very complex fold up design.

    As to Curiosity, don’t expect more of this type any time soon since its nuclear powered and the US does not have any more plutonium 238, nor is it producing any.

  2. I generally agree with Reason’s positions, especially when it comes to the effectiveness of private markets vs. the government. One exception to this rule is in emerging science. Some things require a level of investment that private companies simply can’t justify, because their first (and only) mission is to make a profit. You simply can’t profit in the short term by going to the moon like we did in 1967. Yet the long term advantages to humanity are enormous.

    One example of how this works is orbital flight. Governments got the ball rolling on this, and once the basic science and best practices became known, it became profitable. Once proven profitable, the private sector could swoop in and add their efficiencies to the process. It is their efficacy and their willingness to risk (NASA, on the other hand, is risk averse) gave them the ability to create an entire market out of satellites. A second wave of privatization is happening with space tourism, and I expect that to succeed in the following decade. Yet, none of this would have happened (at least on this time scale) without NASA paving the way.

    Mars exploration has already provided impetus for a private effort to create asteroid-based fueling stations (designed to make travel cheaper and more efficient). I believe that is just the beginning of a new market (that will, for instance, allow us to mine asteroids instead of strip mining the Earth) that will be of immeasurable value.

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