The many ground-breaking scientific advances of the 21st century have entirely changed the way that our world thrives. Where would we be if we had never created the computer or if we had never put satellites into orbit? Countless leaps have advanced science and are exciting to witness and to be a part of, but they are relatively expensive, especially when it comes to space exploration. Researchers, governments, companies and scientists all put billions of dollars into science annually, in hopes of successful, long-term advancement in their discoveries.
There has always been debate about the merits of spending money on space exploration, one which remains a fierce topic today. The most widely used argument that does not support space exploration is: “We have too many problems on Earth, so why spend all of our money going into space?” This statement is somewhat troubling for many. There is no doubt that we have many problems here on Earth, but what some people might not understand is that many of our problems on Earth can and have been solved using the technologies we develop through space exploration.
Some of the space exploration returns that have had immediate benefits back on Earth and continue to advance are in areas such as energy storage, power generation, waste management, computer and software, transportation, advanced robotics and health and medicine. In addition to these benefits, the excitement that is generated by space exploration attracts many young people to explore careers in technology, science, and engineering, helping to improve future scientific innovations.
So what’s the cost of some of the greatest scientific projects of our time? Take a look at these ten intriguing but costly missions and projects to find out!
10. The Quantum Computer – $ 15 million
Since we are speaking of missions to space, it’s important that we mention the Quantam Computer. Cell phones now have more processing power than the computers on the Apollo 11 mission did. It’s amazing to think about how much potential there is in our future, as computers only keep getting faster and more efficient. NASA started working with Google last year to create the world’s first quantum computer, with a processor about 3,600 times faster than any other computer in existence. What that means is, some huge scientific advances will be possible in the near future with this technology. Once it’s done the cost of the first quantum computer is estimated at $15 million, a small price for a tool that will surely influence our future. Some of the advances made possible by the quantum computer are: the ability to analyze ample amounts of data found by telescopes and discover earth-like planets, detect cancer earlier on and reduce weather-related deaths by precision forecasting.
9. Global Positioning System – $750 million
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of about 30 space-based satellites orbiting Earth, originally designed by the U.S. Government. The program was developed for military navigation but is now available to everyone with a mobile phone, hand-held GPS, or SatNAV device. The Global Positioning System provides precise time and location information anywhere on or near Earth, in all weather conditions. No matter where on the planet you are, there are always at least 4 satellites ‘visible’ and once the information has been calculated on how far away your receiver is from at least three satellites, your GPS receiver then pinpoints your location through a process called trilateration. The cost of this project has been roughly $750 million.
8. Space Observatory Herschel – $1.3 billion
Famously named after astronomer William Herschel, who was notably known for his discovery of the planet Uranus. The Space Observatory Herschel was built by the ESA and is the largest infra-red telescope ever launched in the history of space research. Herschel was in operation from 2009 to 2013 and was designed to observe the “cool universe.” Its studies involved showing how the universe evolved to become what it is now and what we see today, how we see our star, the sun, and our planet Earth, and essentially how we all fit into the equation of our universe. The project cost was $1.3 billion which included the launch of scientific apparatus and costs.
7. Curiosity – $2.5 billion
To understand just how substantially the development of computers has changed the way scientists are able to study outer space, Curiosity is probably one of the best examples. The robotic Mars explorer landed on the red planet in August of 2012 and is one of NASA’s larger Mars exploration programs. The rover’s mission is to study the geology and climate of the planet in search of whether the planet has ever had an environment where life may have taken place, as well as searching for evidence of habitability in preparation for a future manned mission on the red planet. The cost of the Curiosity mission was $2.5 billion.
6. Cassini-Huygens Mission – $3.26 billion
Last year NASA celebrated the 10th anniversary of its successful Saturn exploration with the Cassini-Huygens Mission, which entered orbit around Saturn in 2004. The mission is run by NASA, ESA and the ISA, with a total cost of about $3.26 billion. Cassini was initially only meant to last all of four years, but because of its ongoing remarkable discoveries, it has been continuously extended over the past decade. However, NASA has confirmed that the mission will be ending in 2017. Since Cassini entered orbit it has expanded our knowledge of the planet, revealing plenty of innovative discoveries, some which include lakes on Titan and giant storms on Saturn. The key instruments of Cassini are comic dust analyzing equipment, imaging radar and a mapping spectrometer. It has completed 206 orbits, discovered 7 moons, collected 332,000 images, and that’s just scratching at the surface of Cassini’s accomplishments.
5. Viking Program – $3.8 billion
The Viking program was launched on August 20th, 1975 and involved two American space probes that were sent to Mars, Viking 1 and Viking 2. The spacecraft consisted of two main parts: an orbiter designed to take pictures of Mars’ surface from orbit and a lander designed to study the planet from the surface. The cost of Viking was approximately $3.8 billion, and the mission on the whole was extremely successful in its findings, having formed most of the knowledge about Mars through the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
4. James Webb Space Telescope – $8.8 billion
This telescope was named in honor of James Webb, who was the 2nd administer of NASA from 1961 to 1968. The JWST is set to launch in 2018 from French Guiana on an ESA Ariane 5 rocket. JWST could tell us more about the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, with the hopes of eventually finding ingredients of life elsewhere in the universe. Because of the telescope’s infra-red ultra sensitivity, the JWST will be able to see inside dust clouds with high-resolution, something we’ve never been able to do before! This will aid astronomers in comparing the dimmest, most primitive galaxies to today’s ellipticals and grand spirals which in turn will help us understand how galaxies formed over billions of years. The cost of the James Webb Telescope is $8.8 billion.
3. Project Apollo Space Program – $25 billion
Not only was the Apollo Space Program one of the most historical achievements in space exploration but it was also one of the most expensive ones. President Kennedy was a driving force in the structuring of the Apollo Program, famously vowing to place a man on the moon. This goal was achieved in 1969 through the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin astounded the world by landing on the moon. Originally the estimated cost for the Project Apollo Space Program was $7 billion but the reported cost of the mission was $25 billion.
2. International Space Station – $150 billion
Even though it moves faster than any of the stars behind it, and is in fact further away than any airplane, every now and then when the sky is clear you can see the International Space Station (ISS) traveling through the sky.
The construction of the ISS began in 1998 and has been occupied by researchers since 2000. The first crew arrived in 2000 and ever since, Astronauts have lived on the space station. NASA and partners from all over the world completed the construction of the space station in 2011. The cost of construction of the ISS is approximately $150 billion. How is spending $150 billion beneficial you might be asking yourself? Well… Astronauts in the ISS research how to live in space, and how future missions to the moon and Mars can be achieved effectively and efficiently. The research conducted at the ISS is not just beneficial for astronauts but for us on Earth too. Astronauts have discovered useful things such as how to overcome bone loss on Earth through their research.
1. NASA Space Shuttle Program – $196 billion
The space shuttle program was formed in 1972 and included a total of 135 missions, where six space shuttle orbiters were used. Among them were the two orbiters: The Challenger and Columbia which tragically exploded causing the deaths of 14 astronauts. Despite these two tragedies, through its 30 years of missions the space shuttle continuously carried people into orbit, launched, repaired and recovered satellites and administered ground breaking research which lead to building the largest space structure to date The International Space Station. The final space shuttle launch happened on July 8, 2001 when Atlantis was sent into space and landed on July 21, 2011. From the program’s inception to its completion, the final cost of the whole program has been estimated to be $196 billion.