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Alan Beattie

The space shuttle is in its last ever flight, and Washington is locked in debt talks that now resemble a Samuel Beckett play on which someone has forgotten to bring down the curtain. A good time to recall one of the fiscal follies from the heady spending days of the 2000s boom: George W. Bush’s idea of putting a man on Mars.

As plans go, the Mars programme was a particularly mad one: it would have cost about a trillion dollars, (over many years, admittedly, so the net present value would have been a lot lower) in an agency notorious for cost overruns. Best quote at the time came from the redoubtable Charles Schultze, former White House economist under Jimmy Carter: the price of keeping an astronaut safe in space means every crewed mission becomes a flying Ming vase. Read more