Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shuttle cost: More than AIG bailout, less than war

At $196 billion, the amount of money taxpayers spent during the lifetime of the space shuttle program seems astronomical.

For that $196 billion, America got five space shuttles and what will be 135 flights, when the last launch scheduled for July 8 is included. That figure includes design and construction spending dating back 40 years to when the program was first conceived. When all of that's included, the cost per launch is about $1.5 billion. If you exclude those early expenses and costs for upgrades and so forth, the average operating cost of a shuttle flight is $847 million.

Compared to other big engineering concepts, even when adjusted for inflation, the space shuttle program may have gotten less bang for more bucks. The Apollo program to the moon cost $156 billion, the Manhattan project that created the first nuclear bomb cost about $29 billion, and digging the Panama Canal cost $8 billion, according to the Smithsonian Institution. America got the moon, the bomb, and the canal for a total of $193 billion - $3 billion less than the space shuttle.

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