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Fact and Fiction

December 17, 2019

The final installment in the nine-movie “Star Wars” saga is set to open in theaters this week. Reports say the budget for production, marketing, and distribution will top 300 million dollars. And the movie is almost certain to rake in more than a billion dollars at the box office.

That’s about what it cost to build, launch, and operate the most recent American mission to Mars. InSight is designed to learn more about the planet’s interior by listening for marsquakes, and by measuring temperatures — which it’s had some trouble with.

Over the last few years, the price of a blockbuster movie has been creeping closer to the cost of sending a spacecraft to Mars or the Moon. A 2016 European Mars lander, for example, cost about the same as the 2012 movie “John Carter,” which was set on Mars. Both of them failed. And a companion orbiter cost about as much as “The Last Jedi.”

And when you consider the amount of money many films earn at the box office, the comparisons are even more staggering. The $630 million brought in worldwide by “The Martian” could just about have covered the entire budget of MAVEN, a Mars orbiter.

Smaller spacecraft and commercial competition could reduce the costs of missions in the years ahead. And better technology should make it possible to provide better views from solar system explorers. So someday, a high-def livestream from the surface of Mars itself might cost less than a fictional view in a theater.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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