Tuesday, 6 January 2015

How much for the space program?

I got curious while watching Brits moan (quite sanely) about the cost of their pointless monarchy, and I looked up a few numbers.

South Africa has several official monarchies, all pointless. I never get to vote for these people, yet they get roughly US$10 million of our tax monies every year. A seat on a Russian Soyuz currently goes for about US$70 million, though that's partly an inflated figure because of current US-Russian tensions, and a bargain could be made for, say, a member of BRICS. Let's guess a nice, round US$50 million per launch. If we scrapped the stupid royals, we could have a South African cosmonaut (a real one, not a tourist) every five years or so, compared with the current rate of none ever. Alternatively, SpaceX could put about a tonne into geosynchronous orbit for us once a year. Either way, seems like a much better investment to me.

Going back to the thought that started me on all this, the British are even more wasteful, spending about US$450 million on just the one royal family in a year. I think you can buy and launch your own entire Soyuz, with the crew of your choice, for that much. The UK is getting ripped off badly there.

The almost entirely pointless SA defence force, meanwhile, wastes us waaaaaay more money than that: Around US$4 billion per year. The Russians spend about $5 billion on their space agency, and the whole of NASA (which does a lot more stuff than just space missions) gets around US$20 billion annually. So we're talking more or less the same level of cash. Obviously there's got to be a whole academic and industrial base to build a successful space program on, but for a few billion dollars worth of stimulation per annum, you can definitely grow those, which seems like its own reward, quite apart from all the indirect science, engineering, aspirational and economic development offshoots. Seems like a much wiser buy to me than the current use we have for our official gun-nuts - mainly achieving fuck all at home, with a small side project of killing people elsewhere in Africa in dubious and ill-prepared military interventions that are kept out of the media most of the time.

[EDIT: Note also this stuff.]

The UK spends about three NASAs on its shooty-death forces, while total worldwide military spending is about the same as 80 NASAs. Of course, this starts to get a little fuzzy, because the numbers are huge, hard to accurately measure and hard to compare. But I think the human cost of shooting and killing, vs. sciencing and going into fucking space, should be sufficiently clear on its own to make my argument for me.

Don't value space exploration? No problem. Just think how much those same savings could do for anything else you like: Healthcare, industry, environmental protection, education, debt relief, whatever the fuck you want. It almost seems insane that a democracy would choose to burn so much money away.