It’s Going to Cost a Lot of Money to Send Humans to Mars

Like, $1 trillion dollars.

Photo credit: jcookfisher, CC BY 2.0.

I never want to go to Mars myself, but I would be very happy to see other people make the attempt, even as I understand that it is the first step towards the separation of humans into two slightly different species who are unable to live on each others’ planets. (Change is inevitable and we have to deal with it.)

However, getting people to Mars is going to be almost unfathomably expensive.

As Mars Institute director Pascal Lee explains:

The Apollo lunar landing program cost $24 billion in 1960s dollars over 10 years. That means NASA set aside 4 percent of U.S. GDP to do Apollo.
This is going to Mars, so you multiply [going to the moon] by a factor of 2 or 3 in terms of complexity, you’re talking about $1 trillion, spread over the course of the next 25 years.

I did the math: that’s $40 billion per year.

NASA had a $19.3 billion enacted budget for FY 2016, which is significantly below the “put humans on Mars” level. President Trump is in favor of Mars exploration, and his 2018 NASA budget authorizes $19.5 billion with the idea that NASA should focus on getting humans to Mars by 2033:

But that’s way less than the $40 billion Pascal Lee is suggesting it might cost per year—and Elon Musk has also stated that this isn’t enough money to get people to Mars.

So what do we do? Wait for Musk to create his Mars cruise ships?

Let Mars One figure it out? (What’s Mars One up to these days?)

Or hope that NASA can make it work on roughly $19.5 billion per year for the next 15 years, not $40 billion per year for the next 25?