More men on the moon?
By Scott Sumner
The federal government seems to have an almost inexhaustible willingness to waste money. At the same time we are experiencing a pandemic with a completely inadequate testing system, the government is contemplating spending many billions to send men back to the moon in 2024—55 years after the first moon landing. That would be about as exciting as flying a crude airplane a few hundred yards along a North Carolina beach in 1958.
Boeing Co.’s Space Launch System, the largest rocket in NASA’s history, will carry a price tag of at least $9.1 billion — or 30% more than the previous estimate for a key element in the agency’s plan to return to the moon.
Additionally, the costs for new ground infrastructure at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to support the deep-space exploration program has jumped to $2.4 billion, Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight, said in a blog post Wednesday. That’s also a 30% increase, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in an email Thursday.
America has a far more dysfunctional society than in 1969, so I predict more delays and cost overruns.
I’m actually a big fan of having a space program, just not a manned space program. Manned space exploration is several orders of magnitude more expensive than unmanned probes, which means that spending money on manned space exploration is actually negative value added in terms of science. Congress is willing to spend only so much on NASA, and if we do more manned exploration then there’s much less money for the truly exciting stuff, such as searching for life on Saturn’s moons with an unmanned probe. (I’m not saying that all the money is being diverted from other space activities, but surely some of it is.)
There was a psychological benefit from the 1969 moon landing that went well beyond the scientific payoff. I was only 13 at the time, but I still found the moon landing to be quite inspiring. On the other hand, I can hardly think of anything less inspiring than a moon landing attempt in 2024, which would demonstrate that NASA has made almost zero progress on manned space exploration in 55 years. Are there any other high tech industries where there has been virtually no progress in 55 years?