The Cost of Exploring Space: Film vs. Reality

We all know that space exploration, while certainly not the largest expenditure of most countries, doesn’t come cheap. But neither do big-budget science fiction films, either. Special effects, sets, special effects, popular acting talent… special effects… those all come with hefty price tags that make sci-fi and fantasy films costly ventures — although bigger definitely isn’t always better. If you were to compare the price of real space exploration missions (which provide actual information) to the costs of movies about space exploration (which provide “only” entertainment) what would you expect to find?

This infographic does just that:


“Prometheus’ movie budget would be enough to keep the search for real aliens going for another 52 years.”

Wow. (Maybe they should have just written a check to SETI.)

Infographic provided by Neo Mammalian Studios and U.S.S. Enterprise © CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

25 Replies to “The Cost of Exploring Space: Film vs. Reality”

  1. Actually a little misleading; as the Shuttle’s™ true cost, two thousand million dollars a year, whether it flew or not, is only hinted at.

      1. Yes. Only hinted at. $2 billion (with a B) a year whether it flew or not.
        History will read that Shuttle’s™ only purpose was to employ 20,000 scientists and engineers who, presumably, would otherwise have nothing to do. This is the opinion of the Chief Investigator for Apollo 20, Jerry Pournelle, I only happen to agree with him.

      2. One may rewrite history and make consequences a stated “purpose”. (I would rather not, it only confuses history.)

        Even so, the “purpose” of the STS was manifold, it build ISS for one.

  2. The general trend is the same for movie and rockets. The more they cost, the more they suck.

    Alien, Hitchhikers, and 2001 – all near the bottom. MIB:3, Avatar, Armageddon and John Carter – near the top,

    And now, for rockets…. oh – they forgot to put SpaceX’s Falcon on the chart. ooops.

  3. You just made me think how cheap it is to fund SETI compared to everything else.
    Maybe SETI can make a deal searching for Extra Stellar Auroras as a side science to fund its main science intention.

    1. SETI program is completely pointless and a waste of money. Those millions per year are better spent on any other space research.

      1. SETI is just a ‘baby’ at present… The effort promises to evolve or keep pace with our technical prowess as we will continue to explore radio freq. bands, light then gravity waves?

      2. We will never get signals from other races in radio frequencies, for two reasons:

        1. Radio waves are not even efficient for interplanetary communication, let alone interstellar one. Why do you think nasa is trying to develop laser based communication?
        2. There’s absolutely no chance that any civilization in the Milky Way is on the same stage of development and at relatively close range (50 light years). Actually we would be thousands if not millions of years apart in technology development. Now do you seriously think that a civilization that developed would still use radio waves for space communication?! In 10 years, even we will start using only laser based interplanetary communication systems. Who knows what would be invented in 100, 1,000, or 1,000,000 years.

        Be a bit realistic, not emotional. We all want to live long enough to witness “first contact”, but it wont be as easy as listening to space with a stethoscope. 😀

      3. I appreciate your realistically speaking comment. But what other method of communication over interstellar distances do we have at our disposal? The ‘odds’ are certainly against any radio *.coms, but since we humans tend to use what tools are available to us….

        Personally… I think it’s much more likely that we will eventually find, perhaps encoded in our DNA, a way to communicate over the vastness of space. That would imply that we have had contact in the past? OR that our presence IS that eagerly awaited communication….

      4. 1: Lasers,a coherent beam of light, still travels at the same speed as radio waves, approximately 250,000 miles/second. IF there is intelliegent life in our galaxy, some of the closer stars are enjoying “I Love Lucy’ as a first run broadcast right about now.
        2: ‘There’s
        absolutely no chance that any civilization in the Milky Way is on the same stage of development..” . Can you back up that statement with some proof?
        That’s being realistic, and there’s no emotional involvement. I support SETI on the grounds that it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

      5. 1. Actually the speed of light is not 250k miles/s, it’s around 300k km/s or somewhere around 180k miles/s. The reason aliens would not use radio waves as means for communication, is for the same reason Nasa is developing laser space communication, radio antennas use too much power because they are very inefficient. The signal strength dissipates inversely proportionally with distance. Even though lasers dissipate too with distance, they do it at a much, much slower rate. Therefore it’s not physically possible that ET to be enjoying “I love Lucy” now, unless ET lives in Jupiter, or lives in Alpha Centauri but has a 100 mile wide antenna aimed at us.

        2. Yes, I can say it with a lot of confidence. It’s statistically extremely improbable that any other civilization in the milky way is close to our development age. Earth has been around more than 4 billion years and we have been walking around for a few hundred thousand years (less than 4,000 years as a “civilized” society and less than 150 years as a “technologically advanced” society). The Milky Way has been around for 13 billion years.
        Just take a look at human history. When the europeans came to north america, they had guns (very primitive though), while the natives had bow’s and arrows. So if it’s not possible for two civilizations living on the same planet to be on the same technological level, how could it be that two civilizations living light years away from each other to be on the same level?!?!

        That’s why SETI is a program funded on emotions, not logic!

  4. Amazing how the European Space Agency is ignored in the infograph. Oh well, its an American based internet site, so can’t expect it to be accurate – can we.

  5. Do they broadcast launches live somewhere? If not, it would be interesting if instead of press released videos of the launch, NASA, ESA and others would broadcast the launch live and pay per view. Don’t know if they would really compete with movies but I for one would be intrigued.

  6. Seems as if they missed an opportunity to compare Apollo 13 the movie and Apollo 13 the mission.

  7. The UK, France and Norway go though ESA, not really by themselves. Also, your first pie/cirle chart has several nations at $1.8B, yet they are different sizes on the chart.

  8. Maybe some people enjoy entertainment. It’s not like we can only have one or the other. Should we force all the actors to become astronauts instead?

    This argument is like saying we shouldn’t buy steak when we could have lots of potatoes for the same price.

  9. This an idiotic comparison. When you make a movie you get that money back plus more (hopefully). It’s a business proposition whereas Seti funds are donated dollars and basically disappear other than employing a few people.

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