Annotated Press Release: CAGW: Moon, Mars Missions Not a Priority for Taxpayers

By Keith Cowing
June 16, 2005
Filed under


Editor’s note: This press release by CAGW is a classic example of grabbing numbers out of thin air – selectively – and then weaving them together to tell a story – one that is based on a particular point of view. Indeed, if you present enough numbers, and assert that they are true, some people will actually fall for the basic premise you present without questioning the veracity of your data. What really annoys me is groups like this who profess to be looking out for the taxpayer when in fact they are often advancing their own personal political agendas. Moreover, they do so with selective citation of facts.

In the case of the CAGW estimate for a mission to Mars, they simply cite a number ($1 Trillion) but do not explain where they got that number. I guess they don’t cite a reference – because they can’t – no study has ever been done which shows that any misison(s) to Mars – either prosped by President Bush, his father, or any other President, would ever come remotely close to such an estimate.

How is such unsubstantiated bogus cost data helping anyone?

Also, CAGW is annoyed that NASA “currently lacks the ability to launch a shuttle beyond low-earth orbit.” I certainly share Mr. Schatz’s apparent disappointment that the U.S. does not yet have the ability to send astronauts on interplanetary expeditions. But it appears he may not be aware that the space shuttle wasn’t designed to fly beyond low Earth orbit. Ignorance of such a basic fact certainly calls into question his credibility about more complex matters.

Oh yes, this organization is so incapable of getting even basic facts straight that they listed their website in their press release as being www.cagw.gov when in reality it is www.cagw.org ! See this link and this link for the original release.

The following excerpt explains where this $1 Trillion figure came from – and why it is simply an urban myth.

Excerpt from “New Moon Rising

A trillion here, a trillion there …

However, with regard to the Bush space policy, it would seem that the Kerry campaign was a little too eager to try and cast doubt on budget numbers used by the Bush Administration—and thus undermine the credibility of whatever Bush proposed to do in space.

In a 5 April 2004 official press release titled ‘New Report Reveals $6 Trillion in Hidden Spending in Bush Budget’, the Kerry campaign says, “The True Cost of the Mars Mission ($160 billion to $1 trillion): President Bush has only included $1 billion in increased NASA funding to fulfill his ambitious plan to establish a lunar base and land people on Mars. Independent estimates of the cost of the Mars mission range from $160 billion to $1 trillion.[3]”The $1 trillion reference is listed as “[3] The $160 billion estimate is from Congressional Testimony by Michael Griffin, former Chief Engineer of NASA on 3/10/04. The $1 trillion estimate is from Gregg Easterbrook, ‘Red Scare,’ The New Republic, 2/2/04.”

In Gregg Easterbrook’s 2 February 2004 article ‘Red Scare,’ cited as a source for a mission cost estimate by the Kerry campaign, you can see that Easterbrook uses only conjectural semantics—and not any actual costs, specific designs, or mission architectures, to imagine that the cost of a single mission to Mars would be $1 trillion. How Easterbrook arrived at the number is simply not revealed. By the tone of Easterbrook’s article, it is clear that he does not like the Bush space policy. As such, he made up some sticker-shock to help him make his case. The interesting thing about this $1 trillion figure is that you can never trace it to a factual cost analysis. Instead it is a large round number that is used to scare people— or when reporters haven’t done their homework. It goes around like a virus too. In January 2004, former Associated Press reporter Paul Recer included it in an article he wrote, but could never identify its source.

Former Columbia Accident Investigation Board panel member Douglas Osheroff made a similar unsubstantiated comment in another Associated Press article by reporter Ted Bridis on 14 June 2004 where he is quoted saying, “Never let it be said that NASA tends to overestimate the cost of its missions,”said Douglas Osheroff, a widely renowned physicist who investigated the Columbia accident. “The cost in present-day dollars …I think it’s going to be one trillion.”Osheroff ‘thinks’it will cost a trillion dollars. Bridis also makes reference to the $1 trillion figure—but never apparently sought to confirm it for himself or ask Osheroff what his source was. A few days after this article appeared Osheroff was one of 48 Nobel laureates who formally endorsed John Kerry.

The net result of this urban myth is that everyone seems to think that a cost estimation was made—by someone, somewhere—that said the new Bush space policy was going to cost $1 trillion when in fact no such estimate has ever actually been derived.


Contact: Tom Finnigan, 202-467-5309, 202-253-3852 (cell); or Lauren Cook, 202-467-5318, both of Citizens Against Government Waste; Web: http://www.cagw.gov

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) today criticized plans to move forward with missions to the moon and Mars with an impending record deficit, chronic management problems at NASA, and unresolved questions about the missions’ cost and feasibility. NASA’s new administrator Michael Griffin has said that the space agency will have the money to implement President Bush’s “Vision for Space Exploration,” aimed at returning humans to the moon by 2020 and eventually sending them to Mars.

“A manned mission to Mars is of questionable scientific value and could cost up to $1 trillion,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “The immense technological challenges involved are expected to be overcome by an agency that currently lacks the ability to launch a shuttle beyond low-earth orbit.”

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board described in stinging detail the long-term and widespread failures of NASA’s entire management that caused the Columbia and Challenger disasters and the problems that continue to plague the manned- spaceflight program. Institutional arrogance precludes managers from dealing honestly with internal problems or outside criticism. Management routinely “deferred to layered and cumbersome regulations rather than the fundamentals of safety.” Also, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) faulted NASA for not adequately exploring alternatives to the space shuttle. NASA has been unable to complete an audit of the agency’s budget for the past five years and its accounting is labeled “high risk” by the Bush Administration. A 2004 GAO report revealed that NASA had lost $34 million in government property since 1997 and has failed to keep track of items including a $300,000 robot.

The President’s initiative was left for dead in the summer of 2004 after a lukewarm reception from the public and deep skepticism from prominent scientists. But funding for the initiative was included at the last minute in the fiscal 2005 omnibus bill. For fiscal 2006, House appropriators have marked up NASA’s budget at $16.5 billion – including $3.1 billion for the moon/Mars initiative – which is $275 million above fiscal 2005 levels and $15 million above the President’s budget request.

Grandiose tales of bases on the moon and trips to Mars are reminiscent of the International Space Station (ISS), which was once envisaged as a beehive of research, a stopover service station for space travelers, and an assembly and manufacturing plant. The ISS is expected to be finished in 2010 – 16 years behind schedule, $92 billion over budget, with perhaps one-eighth of the capability that engineers had hoped. NASA expects to abandon the ISS after only seven years of full operation. The ISS is a glaring link in a continuous chain of space projects that are either abandoned, end in disaster, or deliver far less than promised. NASA’s unbroken string of six cancelled vehicle programs stretches back to the Reagan Administration, and the $125 million Mars orbiter was lost to improper conversion between metric and English units.

“Mankind’s future in space no longer depends on politicized bureaucracies and tax-funded boondoggles,” Schatz concluded. “The success of SpaceShipOne, startup space companies, and the advent of space tourism have opened the door to an exciting future of private enterprise in space. Such endeavors are economical, realistic, and more likely to yield tangible benefits for mankind and taxpayers.”

Citizens Against Government Waste is the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.