Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE PRICE OF MARS....I'm sorry. I really don't want to get obsessed with the whole moon/Mars thing, but then I run across stuff like this from Jonah Goldberg and I just can't help myself:

I am very, very gung ho about going to Mars, space, etc. But I really do think we need to pay off some credit card debt first, put Osama's head on a pike, etc first. But maybe we can get this done in a more fiscally responsible way. Remember Salvage 1? That was the show where Andy Griffith built a rocket ship from scrap metal and garbage. Maybe -- and I am kind of serious -- we could create, say, a $10 billion lottery for anyone in the private sector who comes up with a way to get there for less than, I dunno, $75 billion. Explorers have often been rewarded and encouraged by such prizes. In fact, maybe could come up with a series of lesser prizes. Fix the osteoporosis problem: $1 billion. Fix the cosmic rays problem: $2 billion. Whatever. Obviously this idea needs some work. But pouring tons of shmundo on NASA right now doesn't seem to be the answer.

An Andy Griffith movie? Why not base it instead on Rocket Ship Galileo, Robert Heinlein's teen romp from the 40s in which a gadget-happy professor and some boy scouts build a rocket to the moon and find Nazis waiting for them when they get there? Wouldn't that be even better?

I thought conservatives were supposed to be the rock ribbed practical types? The Apollo program alone cost $100 billion in today's dollars (maybe more depending on how you count), so there's no way we're going to Mars for less than $75 billion. Besides, how many private sector companies have the wherewithal to compete in this kind of lottery? Two?

Later on we get yet another proposal from one of Jonah's readers:

Zubrin proposes a reward of $1 billion for the first company to bring a sample of Martian soil back to Earth; $2 billion for the first company to gently put a payload of 10 metric tons on the Martian surface; $3 billion for the first company to demonstrate a system that can put 50 metric tons onto a trajectory toward Mars, and so on. If I recall correctly, Zubrin actually developed that plan at the behest of Newt Gingrich, back in the 1990s.

I thought conservatives were supposed to understand private enterprise too. Why would someone put a ten-ton payload on Mars for $2 billion, a project that would surely cost a minimum of tens of billions?

Look, I don't support this proposal but there are people out there who do. Fine. But can we at least be honest about the costs and not pretend there's some magic bullet that will get us to Mars on the cheap? We're talking roughly a trillion dollars over 20-30 years, which means an annual outlay of around $40 billion or so. If you seriously support doing this, then come out and say that you support spending $40 billion a year on it.

But let's quit with the fantasyland stuff.

Kevin Drum 3:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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