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White Elephant Larger Than Previously Thought

Total Tally of Shuttle Fleet Costs Exceed Initial Estimates

As NASA and its industrial army march forward to this year?s return to flight of the space shuttle program, a new assessment has been made on the program?s overall price tag to the taxpayer.

The data show that over the entire lifetime of the the space shuttle program the cost has been $145 billion, and about $112 billion since the program became operational.

Furthermore, the average cost per flight has been about $1.3 billion over the life of the program and about $750 million over its most recent five years of operations.

Figuring in estimates of the cost of the Shuttle program through its expected termination in 2010 brings the total lifetime cost to $173 billion. We could have had quite a few additional Apollo missions with that kind of cash. Good thing we scrapped that program to pay for Shuttle…who knows what we’d be doing in space today if we hadn’t!

Of course, some of the reasoning behind the total seems a bit…arbitrary:

Because NASA has costs for the shuttle program that are not reflected in its budget line, Pielke said it is appropriate to add 10 percent to these totals and also to adjust those expenses to common year dollars.

Ten percent may be accurate (who knows? who can know?) but it appears arbitrary since its basis is not explained in any detail in the article.

?There is no reason to expect that public support will diminish,? Pielke concluded. If that?s the case, then what might be the best use of $150 billion to $200 billion dollars in a space program?

Is that a rhetorical question? Because, I could think of lots of ways to spend that $150-200 billion in space funding effectively…

?Above all, we should make sure that promises and commitments of performance are realistic and achievable. The history of the shuttle and the International Space Station gives us a lot to learn from,? Pielke stated. ?One is not to plan for big future budget increases as the basis for future successes.?

Which, coincidentally, is a key element of the VSE policy, one which sets it apart from prior civil space plans.

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