Mark Around the World – September 3, 2012
In a remarkable technological feat, America landed the Curiosity rover on Mars last month. The total cost of the 10-year project is $2.5 billion. It seems all Americans, including political leadership and pundits on the right and left, are proud of the achievement and agree that undoubtedly the program’s pure science will spawn practical new technologies.
The event certainly makes me proud to be an American. However, many people are describing the cost of the program as astronomical and not justifiable in this time of financial difficulty and budget deficits.
That is nonsense. The $2.5 billion bill for this 10-year scientific program is not at all astronomical; in fact, it is peanuts. To put it in perspective, for years now, the U.S. has been spending over $2 billion per week in Iraq, and another $2 billion plus, in Afghanistan. Like the Curiosity Rover, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are also 10-year programs.
a) Blast the arid landscape of Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 10 years at a combined cost of $5 billion per week; or
b) Blast Mars with 1,024 Curiosity rovers during the same period ($2.5 billion per rover times 2 per week times 52 weeks per year times 10 years). In fact, the number would be at least 3,000 rovers, given that much of the program cost went into one-time R&D. Once in production, all the subsequent rovers could be launched for a fraction of the cost.
Obviously, our elected representatives chose option “a.”
So let me pose a hindsight question to you. Given what we know about how the wars turned out and how the Curiosity rover turned out, if you were given the choice of:
a) Blasting Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 10 years like we did, or
b) Alternatively, blasting Mars with 3,000 Curiosity Rovers;
which would you chose? Please explain your choice.
Bonus Question (not fair to participate if you did not answer the above question): If your choice had no restrictions, and you could decide how to spend this $2.5+ trillion dollars of American tax payer money, how would you have spent it?