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Changing Priorities: Space vs Health

Posted by: Michael Mandel on July 20

You know what they say: If you fall off a horse, get right back up and try again.

I made such a mosh of the previous post on the space program, so here’s something simpler. This chart plots the share of federal spending going to space flight and research, versus the share going to health research and training.


I wonder what this chart would look like for other countries.

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Reader Comments

Glen D

July 20, 2009 10:25 AM

Here is a chart for Europe:

... Welfare Spending
--- Space Exploration

| ...
| ...
| ----------
__________________________ -----------

Firozali A. Mulla

July 20, 2009 10:36 AM

The moon was and is the pride of the man. 1963 was the good year for all. Pity we never found anything except sand to bring back to show the UFOs and the piece of cheese. However, I have no regrets as I still think the poets love this. Albeit the have disliked the trespassing and no water but that is not your problem. Tell me is this your work? Not bringing the water or singing I mean the moon. You are in politics. Is the finance ED telling you how much we spent and how much we have after we kicked the other planet we hated the face of? I am interested in the ROI.
A man was spreading the black powder in the Oxford circus. The men saw this and asked, “What is that for”. He said, “To keep Osama far”. “But he is miles from here”. “Works does it works does it not?”
I thank you
Firozali A. Mulla


July 20, 2009 11:31 AM

There are no big PR wins nor ego gratifications in outdoing other nations in health care.

The US was bested first in unmanned and then in manned earth orbit, the moon was the next one-up step.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, can't get fooled again.


July 20, 2009 02:12 PM

Sorry, but you have massively botched this one too. Health research is primarily carried out in the PRIVATE sector, NOT by the government. Space research was conducted by the government and is part of the federal expenditure each year, but medical research is conducted by private companies and universities. You are comparing apples to oranges.


July 20, 2009 02:43 PM

Can anyone think of a way that government investment could drive down the cost of health care, similar to what the space program may or may not have done for integrated circuits? Would the cost of health care go down if an MRI machine cost $99?


July 20, 2009 03:11 PM

Well, now, we don't have money for either one.

Mike Mandel

July 20, 2009 03:15 PM

Hi Frank,

This chart reports federal spending on health research and training, which makes it apples and apples.


July 20, 2009 04:18 PM

If we could also see the progression of health care/insurance costs to individuals and businesses and all levels of government, perhaps as a percent of household incomes, I think it is likely that all would be astounded, especially considering that outcomes and life expectancies have not made significant strides lately. I find the data not that easy to construct, but I believe it would show that for every federal health research/training dollar, progressively many more dollars are diverted from the economy.

Yes, health care is part of the economy, but what is the point of an economy that appears to be marching toward employing an ever higher percentage in tending to one another's health matters? Throw in health decline -- younger pre-diabetics, asthma, autism, obesity -- and I would be tempted to call the investment an utter failure. Neither does it appear that this economy has benefited much from medical exports.

No matter what one thinks of the space program, at least the public has not been coerced into buying tickets to the moon on top of funding the program just trying and failing to maintain some semblance of security in life.


July 20, 2009 04:55 PM

Mike, my point is the total amount of money spent on medical research is massively more than the chart would indicate because it is primarily funded by the private sector. It is not funded by federal programs. If you want an accurate comparison you need to look at different things that are funded by the government, and compare the amounts in those programs.


July 20, 2009 07:46 PM


You were right the first time. Don't let the commies here tell you otherwise.

Mike Reardon

July 20, 2009 07:47 PM

Space has always had a military sub agenda, does the spending on space flight come only from NASA, or does it also include the military component that may have been buried inside the Defense Department budgets or in NSA funding over these years.

I would think what the ROI on that extra half was will never be seen. Apples and apples, against apples in the US Budget.


July 21, 2009 08:23 AM

Another problem with your original post is that you stated that the space program “used large amounts of scarce scientific and technical labor”. Although the quantity of scientific and technical labor may have been a fixed amount in 1960, it was undoubtedly increased by the space program, both through the training of people in solving real world problems, and by inspiring people to enter scientific and technical fields. Consideration of this fact may assist in addressing the dilemma of health care costs, if it is determined that the increase in health care costs can be attributed to the scarcity of people with the necessary technical skills, rather than the expense of the equipment.


July 22, 2009 02:42 AM

The strange thing is, the Moon landing was so incredibly expensive. That is why it happened so early in historical terms.

Today, it would cost less to do a manned mission to Mars, as a percentage of GDP, than the Moon landing cost in 1969. Of course, that is still expensive.

Joe Cushing

July 22, 2009 09:42 PM

There was something to your space post. The space program has been a disappointment. We should be way ahead of where we are today.


July 23, 2009 01:16 AM

I don't know why you keep apologizing, you were right to bash the space program. What the morons don't get is that ICs didn't depend on the space program, they would have progressed regardless as there obviously has been a great need for them. It's like saying we should give all the credit for internet video to Adobe and Flash, simply because they were the technology behind most video websites in the recent online video boom, despite various video tech having existed for a decade before that. Ultimately if you count the billions spent on the space program and add up the few marginal benefits, it was a huge waste of money. The fact that space outlays exceeded health research is mind-boggling, particularly considering that I've heard that a large majority of basic medical research is NIH-funded. Here's another person's take on how NASA has been a failure:

Mike Mandel

July 23, 2009 11:38 AM


I am apologizing because I produced a post which fell short by my own standards. The people reading and commenting on this blog are important to me, and I want you to know that I can back up the assertions I make here, even if you don't agree with me.



Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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