Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration

As a reference for people who think that space exploration costs too much, here's a list of things that cost even more.

When you run a site devoted to cataloging how much money companies and particularly the government spend on various different projects, Tax Day is kind of like Christmas. A terrible, terrible Christmas.
So, you were probably expecting a lot of April 15th-themed posts here on the Costs More Than Space tumblr yesterday. Well, don’t worry: they are coming. But yesterday, I took a break from the site to spend some after-hours time with friends new and old as part of the first ever XPRIZE LOOP event. I got to share the stage with the gentlemen pictured here: Philippe Cousteau Jr. (yes, that Cousteau) of EarthEcho.org, Kevin Lieber of VSauce, and Leo Camacho of the Google Lunar XPRIZE. We had a lively and informative debate broadly themed around “Space vs. Oceans.” Obviously, the correct answer is “Both! Lots of Both!” but nevertheless, we exchanged some playful banter, some big ideas, and some thoughts about the state of exploration for each of these critical areas.
It was a fun event, put on by a number of cool organizations—XPRIZE, public radio station KCRW, and YouTube Space LA. If you are into the kinds of things we talk about here on Costs More Than Space, I hope you’ll consider following along with and supporting the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation and the teams competing for the various prizes: doing so is a great way to accomplish a lot of things without having to spend very much.
Oh, and if anyone wants to start up a Costs More Than Oceans tumblr, I would link the $#!% out of that.

When you run a site devoted to cataloging how much money companies and particularly the government spend on various different projects, Tax Day is kind of like Christmas. A terrible, terrible Christmas.

So, you were probably expecting a lot of April 15th-themed posts here on the Costs More Than Space tumblr yesterday. Well, don’t worry: they are coming. But yesterday, I took a break from the site to spend some after-hours time with friends new and old as part of the first ever XPRIZE LOOP event. I got to share the stage with the gentlemen pictured here: Philippe Cousteau Jr. (yes, that Cousteau) of EarthEcho.orgKevin Lieber of VSauce, and Leo Camacho of the Google Lunar XPRIZE. We had a lively and informative debate broadly themed around “Space vs. Oceans.” Obviously, the correct answer is “Both! Lots of Both!” but nevertheless, we exchanged some playful banter, some big ideas, and some thoughts about the state of exploration for each of these critical areas.

It was a fun event, put on by a number of cool organizations—XPRIZE, public radio station KCRW, and YouTube Space LA. If you are into the kinds of things we talk about here on Costs More Than Space, I hope you’ll consider following along with and supporting the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation and the teams competing for the various prizes: doing so is a great way to accomplish a lot of things without having to spend very much.

Oh, and if anyone wants to start up a Costs More Than Oceans tumblr, I would link the $#!% out of that.

What costs more than space exploration? Mistakes made by government unemployment benefit programs.
As reported by the LA Times, the State of California is about $516 million poorer than it should be. A recent audit uncovered the fact that the state’s Employment Development Department had missed out on a chance to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars that had been overpaid to unemployment recipients, via a federal program. Admittedly, doing so would have required a $323,000 investment in software. A tidbit of relevant information, courtesy of the LA Times: “the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund became insolvent in January 2009.” Ouch! They go on to quote the audit, which notes that California “has borrowed about $10 billion to cover the deficit and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in interest on the money it has borrowed.” 
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the country (almost the same line of latitude, in fact), the Commonwealth of Virginia recently invested some money in space exploration. Specifically, Virginia constructed a new launch pad, Pad 0A, and associated infrastructure at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which is essentially the commercial portion of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The pad was built to attract and support the business of the Antares rocket, one of two American-built rockets currently capable of delivering cargo to the International Space Station. Even after a lawsuit, the total cost of the pad has been reported as $90 million. Interestingly enough, the cost of development of the Antares rocket itself—borne not by the Commonwealth of Virginia but instead by NASA and by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the company that built it, has been reported as $472 million; meaning that California’s unemployment oversight could have paid for about 90% of the total cost of a new rocket and a new launch pad to go with it.
(Photos via the State of California and a NASA Flickr Account, used via creative commons license) 

What costs more than space exploration? Mistakes made by government unemployment benefit programs.

As reported by the LA Times, the State of California is about $516 million poorer than it should be. A recent audit uncovered the fact that the state’s Employment Development Department had missed out on a chance to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars that had been overpaid to unemployment recipients, via a federal program. Admittedly, doing so would have required a $323,000 investment in software. A tidbit of relevant information, courtesy of the LA Times: “the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund became insolvent in January 2009.” Ouch! They go on to quote the audit, which notes that California “has borrowed about $10 billion to cover the deficit and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in interest on the money it has borrowed.” 

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the country (almost the same line of latitude, in fact), the Commonwealth of Virginia recently invested some money in space exploration. Specifically, Virginia constructed a new launch pad, Pad 0A, and associated infrastructure at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which is essentially the commercial portion of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The pad was built to attract and support the business of the Antares rocket, one of two American-built rockets currently capable of delivering cargo to the International Space Station. Even after a lawsuit, the total cost of the pad has been reported as $90 million. Interestingly enough, the cost of development of the Antares rocket itself—borne not by the Commonwealth of Virginia but instead by NASA and by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the company that built it, has been reported as $472 million; meaning that California’s unemployment oversight could have paid for about 90% of the total cost of a new rocket and a new launch pad to go with it.

(Photos via the State of California and a NASA Flickr Account, used via creative commons license) 

What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department. 
Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.
What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.
(Graphics are all public domain US government images and logos)
(Also, now seems like as good a time as any to reminder readers that this blog is a personal project not affiliated with my employer, and that I’m trying very hard not to include my own personal judgments about what is and is not a good thing to spend money on—I’m just providing context here).

What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department. 

Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.

What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.

(Graphics are all public domain US government images and logos)

(Also, now seems like as good a time as any to reminder readers that this blog is a personal project not affiliated with my employer, and that I’m trying very hard not to include my own personal judgments about what is and is not a good thing to spend money on—I’m just providing context here).

What costs more than space exploration? Daylight Savings Time.
If you live in the United States, you’ve almost certainly experienced something like this: you forget about Daylight Savings Time completely, and arrive at work one hour late, only to get chewed out. Or you miss a key meeting, or you are late and miss your flight. Or perhaps you remembered Daylight Savings Time after all, and you diligently woke up an hour earlier than your body really wanted to, and you noticed that the drivers on your morning commute were a little less attentive and a little more ornery than usual, and then when you got to work, thanks to the lack of sleep and the missing hour, you fell behind, and you just get more and more behind, to the point that a month goes by before you post on your Tumblr site. When you add all of those kinds of effects up across hundreds of millions of Americans, that impact starts to become pretty meaningful. So meaningful, in fact, that a study from Chmura Economics & Analytics indicated that the cost of Daylight Savings Time in 2013 could be as high as $434 million in the USA alone, as reported by Business Insider. Other estimates have placed the economic impact of Daylight Savings Time at about $1.7 billion per year in the USA. 
In 2013, the same year that Chmura estimates we Americans grumpily dialed our clocks forward one government-mandated hour at a cost of some $434 million, NASA launched several amazing missions of unmanned space exploration. Included amongst them were the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, IRIS, and the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). I’ve covered LADEE previously, but you may also have read about it in the news recently, since it is about to be deliberately smashed into the Moon. Whereas LADEE studies the Moon, IRIS is studying the Sun; particularly, the awesome-sounding Chromosphere. The LADEE mission cost the taxpayers $263 million, while IRIS cost taxpayers an additional $120 million (I don’t think this includes the ~$40 million launch). This means that these two space missions together cost about $423 million… about $11 million less than that year’s Daylight Savings ritual.
(Photos via Wikimedia Commons and public domain NASA images)

What costs more than space exploration? Daylight Savings Time.

If you live in the United States, you’ve almost certainly experienced something like this: you forget about Daylight Savings Time completely, and arrive at work one hour late, only to get chewed out. Or you miss a key meeting, or you are late and miss your flight. Or perhaps you remembered Daylight Savings Time after all, and you diligently woke up an hour earlier than your body really wanted to, and you noticed that the drivers on your morning commute were a little less attentive and a little more ornery than usual, and then when you got to work, thanks to the lack of sleep and the missing hour, you fell behind, and you just get more and more behind, to the point that a month goes by before you post on your Tumblr site. When you add all of those kinds of effects up across hundreds of millions of Americans, that impact starts to become pretty meaningful. So meaningful, in fact, that a study from Chmura Economics & Analytics indicated that the cost of Daylight Savings Time in 2013 could be as high as $434 million in the USA alone, as reported by Business Insider. Other estimates have placed the economic impact of Daylight Savings Time at about $1.7 billion per year in the USA. 

In 2013, the same year that Chmura estimates we Americans grumpily dialed our clocks forward one government-mandated hour at a cost of some $434 million, NASA launched several amazing missions of unmanned space exploration. Included amongst them were the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, IRIS, and the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). I’ve covered LADEE previously, but you may also have read about it in the news recently, since it is about to be deliberately smashed into the Moon. Whereas LADEE studies the Moon, IRIS is studying the Sun; particularly, the awesome-sounding Chromosphere. The LADEE mission cost the taxpayers $263 million, while IRIS cost taxpayers an additional $120 million (I don’t think this includes the ~$40 million launch). This means that these two space missions together cost about $423 million… about $11 million less than that year’s Daylight Savings ritual.

(Photos via Wikimedia Commons and public domain NASA images)

What costs more than space exploration? The Draft. (Not the NFL draft, the NBA draft, or any other sports league draft—the military draft).
If you are an American male, chances are that at some point you had to register with the US Selective Service System. For those of you not familiar with it, the Selective Service System is, in their own words, “a small, independent federal agency [that] is America’s only proven and time-tested hedge against underestimating the number of active duty and reserve component personnel needed in a conflict.” (I like that the agency also describes itself as “the last link between society at large and today’s all-volunteer Armed Forces,” which sounds like the copy on the back of a post-apocalyptic novel.) That’s right: they are the ones who run the draft. Despite the fact that US law at present does not actually permit the government to run a draft, and the fact that no draft has been held since 1973, Selective Services nevertheless collects and keeps information on all male US Citizens between the ages of 18-25, just in case. (Women, who have experienced some significant expansions in their role in the US Armed Services in recent years, are not required to register). According to the General Accountability Office, as of 2012 the US Department of Defense had “not reevaluated requirements for the Selective Service System since 1994”—a time period in which several wars were fought without the need for a draft. The GAO report goes on to point out several reasons why the agency is not needed in the modern era, even should there ever be a need for another draft. Nevertheless, the Selective Service System’s budget in fiscal year 2012 was $24 million.
A few months after that report was delivered by the GAO, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics delivered an Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph for integration into the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN). The instrument is designed to collect planet-wide measurements of some of the key chemicals in the thin Martian atmosphere, and to help us figure out what the Martian atmosphere is indeed so thin. Those of us who enjoy living on a planet with atmosphere can appreciate the value of figuring out what happened over at our neighbor’s place. The total cost of the IUVS instrument was $20 million.

What costs more than space exploration? The Draft. (Not the NFL draft, the NBA draft, or any other sports league draft—the military draft).

If you are an American male, chances are that at some point you had to register with the US Selective Service System. For those of you not familiar with it, the Selective Service System is, in their own words, “a small, independent federal agency [that] is America’s only proven and time-tested hedge against underestimating the number of active duty and reserve component personnel needed in a conflict.” (I like that the agency also describes itself as “the last link between society at large and today’s all-volunteer Armed Forces,” which sounds like the copy on the back of a post-apocalyptic novel.) That’s right: they are the ones who run the draft. Despite the fact that US law at present does not actually permit the government to run a draft, and the fact that no draft has been held since 1973, Selective Services nevertheless collects and keeps information on all male US Citizens between the ages of 18-25, just in case. (Women, who have experienced some significant expansions in their role in the US Armed Services in recent years, are not required to register). According to the General Accountability Office, as of 2012 the US Department of Defense had “not reevaluated requirements for the Selective Service System since 1994”—a time period in which several wars were fought without the need for a draft. The GAO report goes on to point out several reasons why the agency is not needed in the modern era, even should there ever be a need for another draft. Nevertheless, the Selective Service System’s budget in fiscal year 2012 was $24 million.

A few months after that report was delivered by the GAO, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics delivered an Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph for integration into the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN). The instrument is designed to collect planet-wide measurements of some of the key chemicals in the thin Martian atmosphere, and to help us figure out what the Martian atmosphere is indeed so thin. Those of us who enjoy living on a planet with atmosphere can appreciate the value of figuring out what happened over at our neighbor’s place. The total cost of the IUVS instrument was $20 million.

What costs more than space exploration? Tea.
I spent most of last week visiting London for work (hence the slow rate of posts on this Tumblr), where I was reminded of a fundamental fact that sometimes gets obscured here in the USA: there are a lot of people in the world who really, really like tea. Whether black, white, green, red, white, yellow, or oolong, and whether hot or iced, tea drinks, tea products, and tea culture are big business throughout much of the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, some 4 billion kilograms of tea were consumed worldwide in 2010. The US isn’t generally considered a tea-drinking nation, but even here, tea is a popular beverage. According to the Tea Association of the USA, Americans consumed more than 3.60 billion gallons of tea (mostly black tea, and mainly iced) in 2012. In various different forms (ready-to-drink iced teas, wholesale purchases of tea leaves for home brewing, and restaurant purchase of teas), tea constituted a $9.79 billion market in the US in 2012, according to the same group.
To pull a specific example, Bigelow Tea—a family-owned tea company based in the Connecticut and with sales (and its plantation) in the US—has an annual market of approximately $140 million, according to the company’s President.
In 1999, Robert Bigelow—the founder and owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain; no relation to the Bigelow Tea family, at least as far as I can tell—started a new aerospace company called Bigelow Aerospace. A few years later, Bigelow licensed the technology from a cancelled NASA project called TransHab, which was developing inflatable space modules—essentially blow-up space stations and planetary bases that could one day hold astronaut crews. For a small fee (according to Bloomberg Businessweek: $40,000). From there, Bigelow has worked hard to develop the technology to the point where he can offer inflatable space stations to governments, private companies, and individuals. In July 2006 and in June 2007, Bieglow launched small modules into space. The larger of these, Genesis II, encloses 11.5 cubic meters of useable volume—you can track Genesis II’s current position online. Then, in December 2012, Bigelow signed a deal with NASA wherein a Bigelow module would be added to the International Space Station sometime in 2015—adding a 565 cubic feet space in which the astronauts can live and work.
Bigelow is a privately owned company, so exact financials are difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, Mr. Bigelow has summarized the company’s total level of spending a few times: in 2006, shortly after the launch of the Genesis I module, Bigelow reported he’d spent about $75 million in total throughout the history of the company, whereas big 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek was reporting a total expenditure on the order of $250 million. NASA’s contract with Bigelow for the new ISS module totals $17.8M.  
Using the above numbers, if drinkers of Bigelow tea decided to kick the tea habit for a year and instead by some space onboard a Bigelow module attached to the ISS, they could add an additional ~4,444 cubic feet to the station, increasing the habitable volume of the station by about a third.

What costs more than space exploration? Tea.

I spent most of last week visiting London for work (hence the slow rate of posts on this Tumblr), where I was reminded of a fundamental fact that sometimes gets obscured here in the USA: there are a lot of people in the world who really, really like tea. Whether black, white, green, red, white, yellow, or oolong, and whether hot or iced, tea drinks, tea products, and tea culture are big business throughout much of the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, some 4 billion kilograms of tea were consumed worldwide in 2010. The US isn’t generally considered a tea-drinking nation, but even here, tea is a popular beverage. According to the Tea Association of the USA, Americans consumed more than 3.60 billion gallons of tea (mostly black tea, and mainly iced) in 2012. In various different forms (ready-to-drink iced teas, wholesale purchases of tea leaves for home brewing, and restaurant purchase of teas), tea constituted a $9.79 billion market in the US in 2012, according to the same group.

To pull a specific example, Bigelow Tea—a family-owned tea company based in the Connecticut and with sales (and its plantation) in the US—has an annual market of approximately $140 million, according to the company’s President.

In 1999, Robert Bigelow—the founder and owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain; no relation to the Bigelow Tea family, at least as far as I can tell—started a new aerospace company called Bigelow Aerospace. A few years later, Bigelow licensed the technology from a cancelled NASA project called TransHab, which was developing inflatable space modules—essentially blow-up space stations and planetary bases that could one day hold astronaut crews. For a small fee (according to Bloomberg Businessweek: $40,000). From there, Bigelow has worked hard to develop the technology to the point where he can offer inflatable space stations to governments, private companies, and individuals. In July 2006 and in June 2007, Bieglow launched small modules into space. The larger of these, Genesis II, encloses 11.5 cubic meters of useable volume—you can track Genesis II’s current position online. Then, in December 2012, Bigelow signed a deal with NASA wherein a Bigelow module would be added to the International Space Station sometime in 2015—adding a 565 cubic feet space in which the astronauts can live and work.

Bigelow is a privately owned company, so exact financials are difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, Mr. Bigelow has summarized the company’s total level of spending a few times: in 2006, shortly after the launch of the Genesis I module, Bigelow reported he’d spent about $75 million in total throughout the history of the company, whereas big 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek was reporting a total expenditure on the order of $250 million. NASA’s contract with Bigelow for the new ISS module totals $17.8M.  

Using the above numbers, if drinkers of Bigelow tea decided to kick the tea habit for a year and instead by some space onboard a Bigelow module attached to the ISS, they could add an additional ~4,444 cubic feet to the station, increasing the habitable volume of the station by about a third.

What costs more than space exploration? Paying off our student loans.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an independent federal agency established by the US Government in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis and resulting recession—some time in early 2012, the total level of outstanding student loan debt in the US surpassed the $1 trillion mark. By May 2013, that number had further grown to more than $1.2 trillion. Almost all of those student loans ultimately come from the federal government: as of May 2013, loans held or guaranteed by the federal government accounting for more than $1 trillion of that $1.2 trillion total.  As the Bureau notes, many families utilize home equity loans, credit cards, and loans from retirement plans to pay for educational expenses. As a result, debt incurred for higher education may actually be much larger than the $1.2 trillion estimate.   
As referenced previously on this site, the White House Office of Management and Budget maintains logs of federal outlays (the amount actually spent, rather than the amount budgeted or appropriated) by agency by fiscal year. Cobbling together numbers for the years prior to the start of OMB’s records, it turns out that the total outlays on NASA from the day of its creation through the end of government fiscal year 2012 total $492.5 billion. If those numbers are adjusted for inflation on an annual basis, using this Consumer Pricing Index-based inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total spending on NASA from its creation through the end of FY2012 was equivalent to $1.02 trillion in 2012 dollars. 
It’s likely that at some point in Summer 2013, the current amount of outstanding debt on student loans given or guaranteed by the US government exceeded the inflation-adjusted total cost of NASA throughout its entire history to date.
(Photo: Artwork from a Flickr user, plus NASA’s 50 year anniversary logo.)

What costs more than space exploration? Paying off our student loans.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an independent federal agency established by the US Government in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis and resulting recession—some time in early 2012, the total level of outstanding student loan debt in the US surpassed the $1 trillion mark. By May 2013, that number had further grown to more than $1.2 trillion. Almost all of those student loans ultimately come from the federal government: as of May 2013, loans held or guaranteed by the federal government accounting for more than $1 trillion of that $1.2 trillion total.  As the Bureau notes, many families utilize home equity loans, credit cards, and loans from retirement plans to pay for educational expenses. As a result, debt incurred for higher education may actually be much larger than the $1.2 trillion estimate.   

As referenced previously on this site, the White House Office of Management and Budget maintains logs of federal outlays (the amount actually spent, rather than the amount budgeted or appropriated) by agency by fiscal year. Cobbling together numbers for the years prior to the start of OMB’s records, it turns out that the total outlays on NASA from the day of its creation through the end of government fiscal year 2012 total $492.5 billion. If those numbers are adjusted for inflation on an annual basis, using this Consumer Pricing Index-based inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total spending on NASA from its creation through the end of FY2012 was equivalent to $1.02 trillion in 2012 dollars. 

It’s likely that at some point in Summer 2013, the current amount of outstanding debt on student loans given or guaranteed by the US government exceeded the inflation-adjusted total cost of NASA throughout its entire history to date.

(Photo: Artwork from a Flickr user, plus NASA’s 50 year anniversary logo.)

What costs more than space exploration? Advertisements for prescription drugs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, pharmaceutical companies spent “at least $20.5 billion” promoting their drugs in 2008. The breakdown of that number is interesting: only about $4.7 billion of that money was spent on the direct-to-consumer advertising that probably came to mind when you first read the statistic, such as the television advertising where they cheerfully list of potential side effects. A much larger sum of approximately $12 billion was spent on ‘detailing’ to doctors, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants; in this case, detailing basically means phone calls and one-on-one meetings with the health care professionals who write prescriptions to provide background information on each drug. A further $3.4 billion was spent on sponsoring professional meetings for health care professionals, with a remaining $400 million spent buying advertising in professional journals. To my surprise, this total spending on promotion was nearly half of the total amount spent on pharmaceutical R&D in the same year ($38 billion). Of course, the total profits in the same year were $189 billion. Amongst the various drugs, erectile dysfunction medication not surprisingly (at least to anyone who has ever watched TV at any point in the past decade) had the highest expenditure on direct-to-consumer advertising, but was below average amont the ten drug classes studied by the CBO in terms of detailing expenditures; Statins (used to lower cholesterol levels) were the subject of the largest detailing spend (and presumably the largest overall spend). According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, In fiscal year 2008, NASA’s total outlays (The amount actually spent by NASA, which sometimes differs from the amount appropriated by Congress) were $17.8 billion. (Photo: A GLeeMONEX art print available for purchase from the artist and the NASA logo.)

What costs more than space exploration? Advertisements for prescription drugs.

According to the
Congressional Budget Office, pharmaceutical companies spent “at least $20.5 billion” promoting their drugs in 2008. The breakdown of that number is interesting: only about $4.7 billion of that money was spent on the direct-to-consumer advertising that probably came to mind when you first read the statistic, such as the television advertising where they cheerfully list of potential side effects. A much larger sum of approximately $12 billion was spent on ‘detailing’ to doctors, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants; in this case, detailing basically means phone calls and one-on-one meetings with the health care professionals who write prescriptions to provide background information on each drug. A further $3.4 billion was spent on sponsoring professional meetings for health care professionals, with a remaining $400 million spent buying advertising in professional journals. To my surprise, this total spending on promotion was nearly half of the total amount spent on pharmaceutical R&D in the same year ($38 billion). Of course, the total profits in the same year were $189 billion. Amongst the various drugs, erectile dysfunction medication not surprisingly (at least to anyone who has ever watched TV at any point in the past decade) had the highest expenditure on direct-to-consumer advertising, but was below average amont the ten drug classes studied by the CBO in terms of detailing expenditures; Statins (used to lower cholesterol levels) were the subject of the largest detailing spend (and presumably the largest overall spend).

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, In fiscal year 2008, NASA’s total outlays (The amount actually spent by NASA, which sometimes differs from the amount appropriated by Congress) were $17.8 billion.

(Photo: A GLeeMONEX art print available for purchase from the artist and the NASA logo.)

What costs more than space exploration? WhatsApp.
As reported by seemingly every single person in my Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds, Facebook announced yesterday that they acquired WhatsApp—a text messaging application with nearly half a billion users world wide—for a deal that may be worth as much as $19 billion. Specifically, that package includes $4 billion in cash, $12 billion of Facebook shares,  and as much as $3 billion in restricted shares that vest over time (plus an infite quantity of wishes and dreams for everyone who wants to start a new app startup in the near future). You can find a news article or ten to support every conceivable viewpoint on whether or not this was a wise move, but there’s clearly something in it for Facebook: a service with highly engaged users, a mine of personal user data, and a functional application that it sounds like Facebook won’t shut down.
In 2007, Google—Facebook’s neighbor in Northern California—and the XPRIZE Foundation teamed up to start the Google Lunar XPRIZE. This international competition challenges privately-funded teams to send a robot to the lunar surface to explore, moving around in a controlled fashion for at least a half a kilometer and sending back high definition video. The prize offers first and second place prizes, meaning that potentially multiple robots could successfully explore the lunar surface (there are also various bonus prizes for extra accomplishments, like moving further, surviving the frigid lunar night, or imaging an Apollo landing site). In total, 30 team registered to compete for the prize; almost half of those have since bowed out or been absorbed by their competitors. Several competitors have announced launch plans for 2015 using American, Chinese, and Indian rockets, and several teams have signed up NASA and other well known organizations as customers. To spur this activity, Google has now put up a maximum total prize purse of $40 million—or 1/475th of a WhatsApp. (The operating costs for the Google Lunar XPRIZE are not a matter of public record, but based on public records of other similar incentive prizes, one can guess that they are within an order of magnitude of the prize purse itself, and almost certainly equal to or less than the prize purse.)
Disclosure: I had the great pleasure of running the Google Lunar XPRIZE for several years. It is awesome.

What costs more than space exploration? WhatsApp.

As reported by seemingly every single person in my Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds, Facebook announced yesterday that they acquired WhatsApp—a text messaging application with nearly half a billion users world wide—for a deal that may be worth as much as $19 billion. Specifically, that package includes $4 billion in cash, $12 billion of Facebook shares,  and as much as $3 billion in restricted shares that vest over time (plus an infite quantity of wishes and dreams for everyone who wants to start a new app startup in the near future). You can find a news article or ten to support every conceivable viewpoint on whether or not this was a wise move, but there’s clearly something in it for Facebook: a service with highly engaged users, a mine of personal user data, and a functional application that it sounds like Facebook won’t shut down.

In 2007, Google—Facebook’s neighbor in Northern California—and the XPRIZE Foundation teamed up to start the Google Lunar XPRIZE. This international competition challenges privately-funded teams to send a robot to the lunar surface to explore, moving around in a controlled fashion for at least a half a kilometer and sending back high definition video. The prize offers first and second place prizes, meaning that potentially multiple robots could successfully explore the lunar surface (there are also various bonus prizes for extra accomplishments, like moving further, surviving the frigid lunar night, or imaging an Apollo landing site). In total, 30 team registered to compete for the prize; almost half of those have since bowed out or been absorbed by their competitors. Several competitors have announced launch plans for 2015 using American, Chinese, and Indian rockets, and several teams have signed up NASA and other well known organizations as customers. To spur this activity, Google has now put up a maximum total prize purse of $40 million—or 1/475th of a WhatsApp. (The operating costs for the Google Lunar XPRIZE are not a matter of public record, but based on public records of other similar incentive prizes, one can guess that they are within an order of magnitude of the prize purse itself, and almost certainly equal to or less than the prize purse.)

Disclosure: I had the great pleasure of running the Google Lunar XPRIZE for several years. It is awesome.

What costs more than space exploration? The 2014 California Drought.
It’s impossible to say exactly how big the economic impact of the 2014 California Drought will be, but what is certain that it will be really, really expensive. That massive, negative impact will come in a variety of forms. One of those is the havoc the drought will reek on California’s massive agriculture industry: Politico estimates that fallow fields caused by this drought will result in a net loss of $2 billion this year—a believable estimate, given that the 2009 drought (which was not as dry a drought) cost nearly $3 billion. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that many California farming towns are facing the specter of 50% unemployment rates thanks to the drought. As the Huffington Post lays out, there are likely to be other massive costs as well, including increased energy bills, damage from fires, a slowdowns in various industrial processes. These add up to billions more in costs. Even on the more hopeful side of the equation, the potential solutions are expensive: NBCNews reports that a new desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA will cost $1 billion. That plant will supply 7% of the water required just for San Diego County when it comes online in 2016, meaning that a lot of similar plants or alternate solutions would be needed to mitigate the impacts future droughts across the state, to say nothing of other regions. If you live in California (or in any other drought-affected area), like I do, these numbers and the human suffering they represent are presumably quite terrifying. (If you are motivated to do something about it, you may want to start here).
Approximately eight days from now, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory (GPM, for short) will launch on board an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The joint NASA/JAXA mission is designed to “provide next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours.” This next-generation data will “advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles, improve the forecasting of extreme events that cause natural disasters,” like, say, droughts (plus floods, landslides, hurricanes, and many other phenomena). In addition to keeping a watchful eye out for disasters, the data from GPM will also be used to improve weather and climate models and to help with things like crop forecasting. NASA lists the projected full life cycle cost for the GPM mission as $978 million. 
(Photos from a Flickr user via creative commons license and from a public domain NASA photo by Rebecca Roth.)

What costs more than space exploration? The 2014 California Drought.

It’s impossible to say exactly how big the economic impact of the 2014 California Drought will be, but what is certain that it will be really, really expensive. That massive, negative impact will come in a variety of forms. One of those is the havoc the drought will reek on California’s massive agriculture industry: Politico estimates that fallow fields caused by this drought will result in a net loss of $2 billion this year—a believable estimate, given that the 2009 drought (which was not as dry a drought) cost nearly $3 billion. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that many California farming towns are facing the specter of 50% unemployment rates thanks to the drought. As the Huffington Post lays out, there are likely to be other massive costs as well, including increased energy bills, damage from fires, a slowdowns in various industrial processes. These add up to billions more in costs. Even on the more hopeful side of the equation, the potential solutions are expensive: NBCNews reports that a new desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA will cost $1 billion. That plant will supply 7% of the water required just for San Diego County when it comes online in 2016, meaning that a lot of similar plants or alternate solutions would be needed to mitigate the impacts future droughts across the state, to say nothing of other regions. If you live in California (or in any other drought-affected area), like I do, these numbers and the human suffering they represent are presumably quite terrifying. (If you are motivated to do something about it, you may want to start here).

Approximately eight days from now, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory (GPM, for short) will launch on board an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The joint NASA/JAXA mission is designed to “provide next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours.” This next-generation data will “advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles, improve the forecasting of extreme events that cause natural disasters,” like, say, droughts (plus floods, landslides, hurricanes, and many other phenomena). In addition to keeping a watchful eye out for disasters, the data from GPM will also be used to improve weather and climate models and to help with things like crop forecasting. NASA lists the projected full life cycle cost for the GPM mission as $978 million

(Photos from a Flickr user via creative commons license and from a public domain NASA photo by Rebecca Roth.)