The United States spends roughly $600 billion per year on the military, which is about 54% of its annual budget. By comparison, NASA only receives $18.5 billion per year, which is >0.5% of the annual budget. I won’t go into whether or not the US needs such a huge military, but here are some facts:
- The next biggest spender is China, at $190 billion per year.
- China has 500 of their Type-99 tanks, which are outclassed by the US M1 Abrams, of which the US has 8700.
- The US has 10 aircraft carriers, the rest of the world combined has 10 smaller aircraft carriers.
- There are 8400 attack helicopters around the world, of which the US owns 6400.
- One single tomahawk missile costs around $1.5 million, alongside this you have salaries to pay, munitions to buy, fuel to use, etc. This all adds up to the $600 billion figure.
The general public’s interest in space exploration has gradually dwindled since the space race of the 60s, and now that there are no Russians to compete against, no one feels compelled enough to spend significant resources on new missions. But what would happen if the military’s budget and NASA’s budget got switched? For perspective, the entire cost of the Apollo programme was $136 billion 2007 dollars over 13 years, or just over $10 billion per year. In this article, I won’t get into admin or R&D that would have to get done to make these things possible.
First of all, NASA loves telescopes, probes, and satellites. With the massive budget, the 10-20 years it would take to launch all of their projects could be cut down into just 1-2 years. Infrastructure upgrades could be developed to allow faster transmission of data from new missions. With all these resources in orbit, new discoveries would be made much more frequently, both on Earth and in the cosmos. This could rekindle the public interest in space.
The smartest decision NASA could make would be to fund some smaller privately owned space exploration groups, such as SpaceX. They could fund new space stations, reusable space planes, asteroid mining operations and lunar bases. Pushing further out into science fiction, once a lunar base is established, electromagnetic launchers could be used to put large spaceships into lunar orbit or on trajectories to Mars or beyond. That would be the fastest way to colonise Mars, have the moon as a halfway house to stage future missions.
The International Space Station (ISS) costs about $100 billion spread out over a decade, so think of the massive highly advanced space stations that could be put into orbit with 6 times that amount per year. That amount of money and a massive base of operations in orbit could support a core of thousands of active astronauts, with a few hundred of these on simultaneous manned missions. Serious planning could begin to send astronauts to the Jovian system, though it might take several decades to become feasible, even with the massive budget.
With a $600 billion budget, it would be feasible to colonise Mars in just under 10 years. If the entire budget was spent on transporting people and supplies to Mars in shared rockets, in 10 years we could see a population of 40,000 people. Then there are the intriguing celestial bodies currently out of reach to mankind. We could send robotic explorers to them all. For example we could send submarines to Europa, a moon that has been postulated to have extra-terrestrial life beneath its frozen surface in the icy waters.
While this is all hypothetical, if NASA got this huge budget, it is safe to assume the scientific community would be inundated with new data and off world colonies could easily become a reality in our lifetime, with the possibility of interstellar travel.