Steven Weinberg has a 5500-word essay in the New York Review of books on the president’s space initiative. It repeats the same tired nonsense and myths, about how space is for science, that there’s no reason for people to go, that it will cost a trillion dollars.
The President gave no cost estimates, but John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has cited reports that the new initiative would cost between $170 billion and $600 billion. According to NASA briefing documents, the figure of $170 billion is intended to take NASA only up to 2020, and does not include the cost of the Mars mission itself. After the former President Bush announced a similar initiative in 1989, NASA estimated that the cost of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars would be either $471 billion or $541 billion in 1991 dollars, depending on the method of calculation. This is roughly $900 billion in today’s dollars. Whatever cost may be estimated by NASA for the new initiative, we can expect cost overruns like those that have often accompanied big NASA programs. (In 1984 NASA estimated that it would cost $8 billion to put the International Space Station in place, not counting the cost of using it. I have seen figures for its cost so far ranging from $25 billion to $60 billion, and the station is far from finished.) Let’s not haggle over a hundred billion dollars more or less