08 July 2011

Space Shuttle Costs Revisited

[UPDATE: More here from NPR.]

As the space shuttle orbits the earth for the last times, the WSJ Numbers Guy has an interesting overview of efforts to calculate the costs of the Space Shuttle program over its life. Here is an excerpt that describes how I first got onto this subject about 20 years ago (see, e.g., this paper in PDF):
Roger Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, first estimated the shuttle's cost to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the early 1990s. He was surprised to be assigned the project by his master's thesis adviser, Rad Byerly, who had just completed a stint as staff director of a House space and aeronautics subcommittee. "I said, 'Isn't this something you could snap your fingers and find out?' " Prof. Pielke recalls.
It is strange that NASA suggests to the WSJ that the best way to add up budget numbers is to avoid adjusting inflation. In my classes on budgeting that perspective earns a failing grade.