Space travel, because of its high profile and expense, has been highly publicized and scrutinized ever since the space race began during the Cold War.NASA estimates that the average space shuttle mission costs $450 million. Space.com says it’s closer to $1.6 billion. Either way, any sort of delay or slip-up costs taxpayers millions.
Over the last 40 years, there have been many failed launches of space shuttles, rockets, satellites, telescopes and rovers exploring the vast expanses of our universe. Here are the costliest failures.
Money Lost In 2003: $78 million
Inflation Adjusted Value: $97.1 million
A rocket carrying two spy satellites, reportedly being used to watch North Korea, malfunctioned during take-off and had to be destroyed. The H2-A rocket was meant to be a cheaper and more reliable alternative to its predecessor, but encountered more than a year of problems before this crucial breakdown.
Money Lost in 2012: $170 million
Russia's Zenit-2SB rocket held a probe that was supposed to travel to one of Mars' moons, Phobos, and collect dust samples. The rover, Phobos-Grunt, which reportedly had many parts based on decade-old technology, became stranded and lost while orbiting the earth.
Money Lost in 1999: $125 million for building the orbiter.
Inflation Adjusted Value: $172 million
Lockheed Martin engineers calculated a crucial spacecraft operation with the English numeric system while NASA's team calculated the operation with the metric system. As a result, the spacecraft went way past the surface of Mars towards the sun.
Money Lost In 2011: $300 million
Inflation Adjusted Value: $305 million
A Russian Proton rocket launched in August 2011 with communications satellite Express-AM4 inside it. Once it got into orbit 24 hours later, it veered off course and became lost in space. All the Russian ground control and U.S. space surveillance teams could see at that point was the small part of the rocket that carried the once promising satellite out of the earth's atmosphere.
Money Lost in 2009: $385 million on its first satellite and rocket.
Inflation Adjusted Value: $411 million.
A satellite launched from South Korea's first ever rocket missed its designated orbit and disintegrated in the earth's atmosphere. The weight of the rocket was miscalculated, and so it didn't have enough thrust to reach orbit. Its speed unexpectedly fell and the satellite tumbled back down towards Earth, where it burnt up in the atmosphere.
Money Lost In 2011- $424 million
Inflation Adjusted Value- $431 million
NASA launched a $424 million satellite called Glory that would track the Earth's climate in March 2011, but problems were encountered as the Taurus XL rocket went into the atmosphere. The rocket's nose cone failed to separate and the rocket likely fell into the Pacific Ocean.
Money Lost in 1970: $98.5 million
Inflation Adjusted Value: $581 million
The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory carried the world's largest telescope, but a 12-foot tall protective cone did not function correctly and was probably why the satellite didn't make it through the Earth's atmosphere. The American program lasted from 1966 to 1972, and at the time, it was the most expensive satellite ever built.
Money Lost In 1973: $500 million was lost on a space station, $100 million on a space rover and at least $60 million to 70 million on the rocket carrying the rover.
Inflation Adjusted Value: $3.61 billion
A Soviet rocket carrying an electric moon-roving robot crashed into the Pacific Ocean just a month after a $500 million Salyut space station failed. It left doubt whether the U.S. would be able to sustain a space program without similar losses.
Money lost in 1986: $5.5 billion in building costs.
Inflation adjusted value: $11.5 billion
Just 73 seconds after launching on January 28, 1986, the American space shuttle Challenger exploded in midair, ultimately killing all seven crew members. The abnormally cold temperatures combined with faulty equipment caused the tragic explosion.
Lost In 2003: $13 billion in building costs.
Inflation Adjusted Value: $16.2 billion
After a 16 day scientific mission orbiting the Earth, space shuttle Columbia broke up as it entered Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003. All seven crew members died as debris of the oldest shuttle in the NASA fleet reportedly spread throughout Texas.
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