Section 2.5.1.
Home Tour Join! Contents Team News Catalog Search Comm

Cheap Seats?

James Oberg

Mars is a much more remote target than the moon, and intuition dictates that the price tag for a manned mission to the planet should be correspondingly higher. In 1999 dollars, the Apollo program came to about $80 billion. So when President Bush proposed a "Space Exploration Initiative" (SEI) in 1989 that included a lunar base and Mars expeditions, nobody was surprised when the price tag came in just under half a trillion dollars. Nor was anybody surprised when sticker shock killed the proposal deader than lunar soil.

More sober estimates, however, have always been lower. Since so much space infrastructure (such as launch pads and vehicles and communications and control facilities) has already been developed and paid for (unlike in Apollo's time), the add-on costs of the Mars mission become much less shocking. Using a unit of "Apollo" (the total cash cost of the moon program), NASA analysts who weren't on the original SEI study group have long argued that a human Mars landing would be in the very manageable range of one-half to one Apollo. Based on detailed costing techniques which have proven accurate in the past, and using most recent mission profiles, the best guess by these NASA and space industry experts is that a program would cost about twice what the International Space Station is currently spending, or about four to five billion dollars per year.

One credible explanation for the hideous $450 billion price tag for Bush's SEI was offered by one of the conference organizers, space engineer and Mars enthusiast Bob Zubrin. Basically, Zubrin believes, the representatives of the different NASA centers got together, listed all of the dream projects they had always wanted to do, and all agreed to scratch each others' backs. As a result, most of the price tag was devoted to open-ended developmental projects whose utility for a Mars expedition was questionable at best.

This article was first published in Technology Review, Jan-Feb 1999, pp. 54-59. Republished here with the permission of the author.

Related articles by James Oberg in this section of the Artemis Data Book:
Missionaries to Mars
Window on Mars

James Oberg's Home Page

Use AltaVistaTM to search the Artemis Project web for articles about Mars.


Home Tour Join! Contents Team News Catalog Search Comm
ASI W9900027r1.0. Copyright © 2004 Artemis Society International, for the contributors. All rights reserved.
This web site contains many trade names and copyrighted articles and images. Refer to the copyright page for terms of use.
Maintained by ASI Web Team <>.
Submit update to this page. Maintained with WebSite Director. Updated Fri, Jan 29, 1999.