Howard McCurdy's Forum for Space Exploration
Public Policy for Innovation
Essays, Reports, Books & More
Cost Estimates for Sending Humans to Mars: A Continuing Conversation
Since the mid-20th century scholars and engineers have estimated the cost for humans to reach Mars. The estimates for this venture have ranged from as little as $2 billion to hundreds of billions of dollars. As of now, there is a growing consensus among experts that the price tag to get to the Red Planet sits around $500 billion.
What did the space shuttle cost?
Excerpt from the book by Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy, NASA Spaceflight: A History of Innovation. Palgrave Macmillan 2018: 14-16
Accounting for Inflation in the Cost of Space Flight Projects
Howard McCurdy explains the NASA New Start Inflation index and how to assess inflation when calculating the cost of space flight. He also discusses what that cost means and what the Saturn V would cost in current dollars.
How much did we really spend to go to the Moon?
The actual cost of going to the Moon was a fraction of the commonly cited figure. The commonly cited figure is $25.4 billion. Yet the actual cost of the first landing (Apollo 11) did not exceed $500 million. What accounts for this difference? We estimate that the United States spent $20.6 billion preparing to land astronauts on the Moon. The cost of preparation far exceeded the expense of the first surface expedition.
All nine missions to the moon, including Apollo 11, cost $4.6 billion. We estimate that the cost of preparation plus the cost of missions totaled $25.3 billion. That figure does not include equipment worth $1.6 billion left over when the Moon landings ended in 1972.
Use of the commonly cited $25.4 billion figure suggests that the United States would need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the value of modern currency to return astronauts to the Moon. That is misleading. Most of the money spent on Project Apollo represented investments in technology that do not need to be repeated. The investments purchased advances in rocket engine technology, computer miniaturization, tracking and communication, orbital rendezvous and other innovations that are with us now.
The United States could return to the Moon for a fraction of the commonly cited figure. An accurate assessment of the cost of Project Apollo is essential for estimating the costs of future missions to the Moon and planets.
NASA awards provided support for a series of studies on the economics of innovation and emerging trends
in the commercial space sector.
From Sailing Ships to Space Ships: An economic history of the manner in which commercial space transportation companies have utilized outside assistance historically available to emerging transportation firms
Excerpt from the report:
The Blue Origin experience raises two fundamental questions relative to the future of human space flight. First, can private entrepreneurs accomplish what heretofore only public officials, with their access to substantial tax revenues, have been able to do? That is, can entrepreneurs raise enough money to create privately owned space transportation companies? The ability of business firms to build rockets is not in dispute. Their ability to raise sufficient funds from private sources is.
Second, if they can, to what extent do they need government help? Heretofore, business firms building spacecraft depended upon government contracts to stay afloat. The new space movement that Bezos represents is different. It presumes that privately financed spacecraft companies can sustain themselves through revenues drawn from a combination of private consumers, international customers, and government agencies.
Experience to date, it appears, suggests straightforward answers to these questions. Privately financed space transportation is possible. Government help is convenient, but not essential.
Financing the New Space Industry: Breaking Free of Gravity and Government Support
This Palgrave Pivot investigates the efforts of five aerospace companies―SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, and the Boeing Company―to launch their entry into the field of commercial space transportation. Can private sector firms raise enough capital to end the usual dependence on government funding? What can historical examples of other large-scale transportation initiatives, such as the first transcontinental railway and the first commercial jetliner, teach us about the prospects of commercial space flight?
Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce
Co-author Robert D. Lannius produced this report on historical analogs for the stimulation of space commerce a part of the effort to understand the role of government in stimulating new activities. It identified methods used in the past to encourage growth of the railroad, aerospace, and telephone industries as well as public works, Antarctic research, and scenic and cultural conservation zones.
The Economics of Innovation: Mountaineering and the American Space Program
In 2013, Howard McCurdy produced the enclosed report on the commercialization of mountain climbing on Mt. Everest as an analog to the commercialization of space travel.
NASA Spaceflight: A History of Innovation
This book presents the first comprehensive history of innovation at NASA, bringing together experts in the field to illuminate how public-private and international partnerships have fueled new ways of exploring space since the beginning of space travel itself.
Strategic Planning Study: Government Roles in Creating Markets for New Technologies
From the report:
Rarely did they do it alone. Throughout the history of the United States, entrepreneurs launching businesses based on new technologies invariably have received government assistance. The assistance has taken many forms, but its provisions has been essentially constant.
When the Wright brothers, local inventors of seemingly independent means, set out to construct a powered flying machine, they asked for government help. In the Spring of 1899, Wilbur Wright requested that experts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., provide him with a list of current publications on the problem of flight. The Smithsonian Institution had been established by the U.S. Congress some fifty years earlier for the purpose of increasing and distributing knowledge. The Smithsonian Secretary, Samuel Pierpont Langley, was himself engaged in experiments with flight. Using a U.S. War Department contribution of $50,000, matched by an equal allocation of Smithsonian funds, Langley had constructed his own flying machine. He launched his powered Aerodrome eight days before the Wright Brothers successful ascent at Kitty Hawk. His effort collapsed into the Potomac River, prompting one congressman to complain that "the only thing he ever made fly was government money."
This report outlines the means of government support historically available to commercial activities such as road building, canals, airplanes, shipping, agriculture, and overseas investment.