At $196 billion, the amount of money taxpayers spent during the lifetime of the space shuttle program seems astronomical.

But the entire federal government spends that much in just three weeks. In big bucks Washington, even $196 billion is relative.

The space shuttle is a bargain compared to wars, health care, tax cuts and budget deficits. But compared to the Apollo program and even some of the banking, auto and insurance industry bailouts, the price for going into orbit seems a tad high.

For that $196 billion, America got five space shuttles and what will be 135 flights, when the last launch scheduled for July 8 is included. That figure includes design and construction spending dating back 40 years to when the program was first conceived. When all of that’s included, the cost per launch is about $1.5 billion. If you exclude those early expenses and costs for upgrades and so forth, the average operating cost of a shuttle flight is $847 million.

So even at the cheaper calculation, each shuttle launch on average costs more than the $800 million that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spends in an entire year on food safety.

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