Media reports about Bush’s plans to return to the moon or go to Mars quickly declared that this would cost a trillion dollars or even more. That number was widely repeated within the modern media echo chamber, often by supposedly reputable sources. It may have already done substantial damage to the Bush space policy, creating public opposition to what is perceived as a massively expensive program and scaring away any possible supporters.
The $1 trillion cost estimate is wrong. It is based upon a completely inaccurate reading of historical data and deeply flawed mathematics. But the problems are worse than this. Not only was an inaccurate number repeated endlessly by the media without confirmation, but the flawed calculations were repeated again and again by various people with their own agendas. Reporters also appear to have ignored or evaded obvious weaknesses with the original source of the information, preferring to repeat an inaccurate number that they saw repeated endlessly rather than seek out better information. The story of the $1 trillion cost estimate raises some troubling questions about how modern journalism is conducted.
There was no secret that the Bush administration was formulating a new space policy in the fall of 2003. However, the details of the policy were shrouded in secrecy until a January 7 article carried by wire service United Press International. That article reported that President Bush would unveil his new space plan the following week and provided a few details, some of which were later proven false. The story contained some budgetary figures indicating that large increases in the NASA budget would not occur, but did not provide an overall budget figure for the plan. It also made clear that a return to the Moon, not a human mission to Mars, was the primary emphasis of the new plan. Not only was an inaccurate number repeated endlessly by the media without confirmation, but the flawed calculations were repeated again and again by various people with their own agendas.