NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto showed us an entirely new world this week. And it did it for less than you might think.
The whole mission cost about $700 million. That's about $46.7 million per year for the 15 years in which scientists designed, built, and steered a probe to Pluto, 3 billion miles away.
That might sound like a lot — but compared with lots of other routine government expenditures, it's not. Here, inspired by the excellent blog Things That Cost More Than Space, are some of the things we spend much more public money on.
1) The F-35 fighter will cost 2,142 times as much as the Pluto mission
Development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has spiraled out of control, escalating to an estimated cost of about $1.5 trillion over the course of 50 years for a plane that may or may not provide an upgrade over the aircraft it's designed to replace.
In total, that's enough to pay for 2,142.8 more New Horizons missions to Pluto.
2) Improper Medicare payments cost almost 1000 times as much each year as the Pluto mission
In 2013, Medicare made $45.7 billion in what the Government Accountability Office calls "improper payments." These are a mix of payments sent to the wrong people, accidental overpayments, and, to a large extent, outright fraud.
This was similar to improper levels of payments made in other recent years — and nearly 1000 times the annual cost of the New Horizons mission.
3) NFL stadiums cost taxpayers more than five Pluto missions
Since 2000, US taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.9 billion on football stadiums for profitable, privately held NFL teams.
The following year, preliminary work began on New Horizons — which cost less than a fifth as much.
4) Destroyed weapons cost 10 times as much as the Pluto mission
As the US military wound down the war in Afghanistan, it destroyed or abandoned more than $7 billion worth of weapons and other military equipment.
This alone would have been enough to pay for 10 New Horizons missions.
5) Minting pennies and nickels costs twice as much annually as the Pluto mission
As Things That Cost More Than Space points out, because it costs more for the US Mint to make pennies and nickels than they're actually worth, the government lost $105 million on the coins last year.
That's more than twice the annual cost of New Horizons.
6) Annual payments to dead federal workers cost more than the Pluto mission
In 2013, the government's Office of Personnel Management accidentally sent $84.7 million in payments to retired federal workers who'd already died — a figure that was actually a bit lower than it had been the previous few years.
That's 1.8 times the annual cost of New Horizons.