Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Buy me the Moon

(Earthrise photos taken by the Kaguya probe, credit: Japan Space Exploration Agency)
As I've said before, people constantly over-estimate the cost of the Apollo lunar program. Not that it was cheap. It was a huge undertaking. But compared to many of the things big economies (like we have here in the United States) do, it just wasn't that big.

Today, a report by congressional Democrats pegged the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far at 1.6 Trillion dollars. The report is controversial, and Republicans are already calling for a retraction, but consider how it compares to the Apollo program.

By comparing various estimates as to the program's cost and running through cost-of-living calculators to adjust for inflation, I come up with a number of about 143.5 billion in 2007 dollars. Just for safety and simplicity, round it up to 160 billion dollars.

Now, keep in mind that a trillion has three more zeros in it than a billion. So if the report is right, our adventures in the middle-east have cost us as much as ten Apollo programs, and if its predictions are near correct, it will cost us over twenty Apollo programs by 2009.

But as I said, the report is controversial. Let's say it's wrong. Let's say it's a wild lie that inflates the actual cost of the war by a factor of ten. Then our war-of-the-moment has only cost us one Apollo program, and by the end of the decade, shouldn't cost us more than one or two more. That's much better.

Oh, one other factoid to consider. The Apollo program ran for 14 years, 1961 through 1975. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and the second Gulf war started in 2003. The report's projections only go through 2009. The Apollo program not only cost far less money, it was spread over a much longer time.

By the way, if you're curious, according to a recent Washington Post article, the inflation-adjusted cost for the Vietnam War was 549 billion dollars. And that was money well-spent, wasn't it?

A lot of people like to say we can't afford to go to Mars, or back to the Moon. Maybe they're right. But if so, it's important to consider why we can't afford it.

Hey, I've got an idea! Let's just cancel our next war and just build a Moon-base instead. Or to put it another way...

For decades, it's always stuck in my craw when I'd hear somebody say, "if we can put a man on the Moon, why can't we do 'X.'" Well, I think it's time to finally put that one to rest. I propose this replacement:

"If we can put an army in Iraq, why can't we put a man on the Moon?"