Last week we heard the rather surprising news that apparently Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is apparently now the most expensive movie ever made - once its figures have been adjusted for inflation. If that was a shock to your economic sensibilities, then wait until you here this new piece of news.
Seemingly, it costs more to pretend to go into space, than to actually go into space. According to GiantFreakinRobot, the production budget of Alfonso Cuarón's space epic, Gravity, actually cost more than launching India's probe to Mars.
Of course, the choice of Gravity in this comparison is clearly because it kind of accurately depicted space in the film theater. Indeed, its production budget of $100 million is rather modest by today's blockbuster standards. However, it does go to show that the film industry has now reached the point where making even a simple blockbuster costs the same as important space exploration and research.
On Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi explained that India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe, which launched in November last year, cost around $73 million to complete, stating:
I have heard about the film Gravity. I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie.
This led to some righteous indignation in some sections of the internet, which complained our priorities were out of whack considering we seem to be spending more on popcorn movies than on furthering the knowledge, and indeed, future of the human race.
However, even though at first glace the fact that Gravity cost more than the MOM is a bit shocking, maybe if we look a bit deeper it's actually not that bad.
You see, the MOM is a special case in that its mission is merely that of a "technology demonstrator" which is designed to provide information and experience which can later be used in more expensive missions - in particular to actually land something on the surface of the planet. In this sense, the MOM was always going to be cheap. The actual satellite itself only cost $26 million. Indeed, as a civilization we launch satellites and orbiters out of the atmosphere fairly frequently, meaning we've got the point where we can keep the costs rather reasonable.
If you want to do something more sophisticated, then the price tag does go up, but not spectacularly. Britain's Beagle 2 Mars lander probe reportedly cost around $120 million and NASA's Curiosity rover came in at just over $2.5 billion - which is actually rather cheap by most standards. Indeed, most of this went into the wages of staff who took eight years to perfect the sophisticated piece of equipment. With this mind, the project only cost $312 million per year, which equates to 1.8% of NASA's budget and about 1 dollar a year for every American. Therefore it took pocket change to create the most advanced piece of technology ever created by the human race.
Furthermore, the annual budget of NASA, which is often described as being a 'paltry' 0.5% of the US's GDP, actually equates to around $18 billion. That's around 1.6 times more than what the entire domestic film industry makes (not spends) in a very good year. Furthermore, in terms of nominal dollars, the budget is at it's highest its been since the 1960s space race - although its cut of the federal budget has reduced.
With this in mind, you - if you're an American - do actually spend more each year on space exploration and research than on going to the movies, which is of course a good thing. In the meantime, you also spend $16 to $25 billion a year on maintaining weapons of mass destruction - which depending on your view point, is probably a good or bad thing.
In this sense, we shouldn't be too ashamed that Gravity cost more than India's MOM. We should of course strive to invest more money into space exploration, as this is ultimately were our destiny as a species may lie, but also don't feel too bad about watching space on the big screen.
What do you think? Should we spend more on space exploration?
Should we invest more money into exploring space?