Space travel is definitely not cheap. The projects of space exploration today are so expensive that very few countries can afford to undertake such monumental endeavors alone; space endeavors are typically high-risk and not guaranteed to produce any direct results. Perhaps one of the most expensive space programs to never take off was NASA’s Constellation program. The goal of the Constellation program was to colonize the moon and eventually send manned spacecraft to Mars.That almost sounds like a cartoon.
NASA estimated that the Constellation program would cost as much as $230 billion, so the program has been cancelled by President Obama. However, the following 10 space missions will give space enthusiasts a good idea of just at what costs space exploration comes.
10. Curiosity Mars Rover: $2.5 billion
Mars Science Laboratory, the NASA space probe mission that was responsible for landing the Curiosity Rover on Mars, has cost an estimated $2.5 billion so far. The Curiosity rover has proven to be quite successful since landing on the Mars Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. The goals of the Mars Science Laboratory include determining if Mars is habitable, and studying the planet’s climate and geological features.
9. Cassini–Huygens: $3.26 billion
The Cassini–Huygens’ mission is to explore far into our solar system and primarily conduct research about the planet Saturn. This robotic spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived in the Saturn system in 2004. The spacecraft includes not only a Saturn orbiter, but an atmospheric lander. The atmospheric lander has touched down on Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
8. Mir space station: $4.2 billion
The Mir space station was operational from 1986 until 2001, when it was deorbited and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Mir holds the record for the longest continuous space flight; cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days and 18 hours on board of the space station. Mir acted as a microgravity research laboratory, and numerous experiments were conducted on the space station during its orbit.
7. GLONASS: $4.7 billion
Russia has a global positioning system of its own. It is estimated that $4.7 billion was spent on the program from 2001 to 2011. $10 billion has been allocated for GLONASS for 2012 to 2020. The commercial uses for this Russian global positioning system have been few and far between, and GLONASS has so far failed to be as widely used as American GPS. GLONASS currently consists of 24 satellites. Development of the project began in the Soviet Union in 1976 and was completed in 1995.
The Galileo satellite navigation system is Europe’s answer to GPS. The Galileo satellite navigation system acts as a safety net in case the American GPS is disabled. The system is still in its infancy: Launch and full use of all 30 satellites that will be part of the Galileo system will not be finished until 2019.
5. James Webb Space Telescope: $8.8 billion
The James Webb Space Telescope has been in the planning stages since 1996; it has a tentative launch date of October 2018. The main contributors to this space observatory are NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The project has had many budget problems and was at risk of cancellation in 2011. At the time, $3 billion had already been spent, but US congress later changed its plans and decided to cap the cost contributed by the United States to $8 billion.
4. Global Positioning System: $12 billion
The Global Positioning system (GPS) is a group of 24 satellites that allow anyone to pinpoint their location anywhere in the world. The initial cost to send the satellites used for GPS into space is estimated to be about $12 billion, but the annual operating costs for GPS comes to a total of about $750 million. A new series of GPS satellites were expected to launch into orbit this year, but the project has reportedly been delayed.
3. Project Apollo Space Program: $25.4 billion
The Project Apollo Space Program was not only one of the most historic in all of Space exploration, but also one of the most expensive. When all was said and done, the final cost reported to United States Congress in 1973 was $25.4 billion. President Kennedy was instrumental in shaping the Apollo Program, famously pledging to put a man on the moon. His goal was achieved in 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.
2. International Space Station: $160 billion
The International Space Station is not only the single most expensive piece of space equipment ever built, but it is perhaps the most expensive thing ever built. As of 2010, the cost to build the International Space Station was a staggering $160 billion, and that number continues to grow as more and more additions are made to this satellite. The space shuttle flights required to build the International Space station alone cost about $1.4 billion each.
1. NASA Space Shuttle Program: $196 billion
Formed in 1972, the Space Shuttle program included 135 missions in which six Space Shuttle orbiters or “reusable space planes” were used. Two of these orbiters, Columbia and Challenger, exploded causing a total of 14 astronaut deaths.The final space shuttle launch occurred on July 8, 2001 when Atlantis was sent into space, and it landed on July 21, 2011.