Dive into NASA’s official website, and you’ll find plenty of documentation on everything from recent scientific observations to press notes, complex astrophysics reports, and other information of interest to your everyday space enthusiast.
What you might have not expected, however, is that NASA also maintains a specific Cost Estimating Handbook. This lengthy document, now in its fourth version, covers a multitude of expense-related regulations and rules — all designed to handle the American space agency’s ambitious space plans, on a tight budget.
That said, NASA’s efforts don’t come cheap, even if they greatly benefit humanity. Today’s cornerstone Artemis I launch, for instance, comes in after a host of delays and unexpected challenges — each of which can ramp up the project’s cost by millions of dollars. Here’s a look at today’s Livestream, which all by itself, sets the US government back by at least $4 billion:
LIVE NOW: The #Artemis era of exploration begins today with @NASAArtemis I, the first flight test of the rocket and spacecraft that will take humanity to the Moon. The launch window opens at 8:33am ET (12:33 UTC). https://t.co/mFyoeRMC6q— NASA (@NASA) August 29, 2022
So, how much can NASA’s iconic missions cost? Here’s a lowdown of the biggest projects undertaken by the world’s premier space agency:
James Webb Space Telescope: $10 Billion/Rs. 79,966 Crore
Named after NASA’s second administrator, the James Webb Space Telescope is one of the most advanced telescopes of our time and finally launched after a long series of delays this year — producing some of the most spectacular images of the universe ever seen by human beings.
It’s also infamous for how much its original cost inflated over time — initially pegged at $1 Billion in 2007, the budget ballooned by a whopping 1000% by the time it shared its first images on June 12, 2022.
GPS: $12 Billion/Rs. 95,959 Crore
Initially a US Department of Defense program, the Global Positioning System essentially works as an array of satellites which, in conjunction with ground-based communications, allows users to pinpoint their locations across the world.
While initially reserved for military use, it opened up to the general public in the 1980s and is now available to almost anyone with a smartphone and internet access.
Apollo Space Program: $25.4 Billion/Rs. 2,03,114 Crore
The precursor to Artemis, Apollo is possibly one of the most ambitious scientific projects ever undertaken by humanity and has had a big cultural impact on the world ever since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969.
After the project came to an end with Apollo 17 in 1972, the NASA budget was severely cut down by around 75% and has stayed that way for over forty years.
Artemis Space Program: (Projected)
Named after the female twin of Apollo, this ongoing program aims to restart NASA’s moon missions with a host of targets throughout the 2020s. While the project aims to install a lunar base and orbital station by 2025 and let humans set foot on the moon once more in 2026, it all starts with today’s Artemis I mission.
This maiden voyage will test the capabilities of the unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule, and confirm whether or not they can sustain and protect astronauts in the project’s future.
International Space Station: $160 Billion/Rs. 12,79,464 Crore
A spaceborne research platform suspended 400km above the Earth’s surface, this iconic base was established back in 1998 and has continued to serve as a long-term home to astronauts and event guests from all over the world — with some spending up to six months working on the crew’s experiments in various kinds of sciences.
NASA Space Shuttle Program: $209 Billion/Rs. 16,71,299 Crore
By far the most expensive space program ever created, the Space Shuttle cost around $1.6 Billion per launch and has done so 135 times between 1977 and 2011. While it doesn’t have the reach of other rocket programs, the shuttle’s reusability was a game-changing feature that helped NASA conduct key research and most importantly, build the International Space Station.
Lead Image: NASA