NASA Mars mission would cost much more than two years of NHS Test and Trace

17 June 2022
What was claimed

£37 billion was spent on Test and Trace.

Our verdict

This was how much was budgeted for its first two years. It has probably cost just under £30 billion in that period, though we don’t have an exact figure for 2021/22 yet.

What was claimed

NASA’s budget for a manned mission to Mars is $6 billion.

Our verdict

In 2014, a NASA panel of experts put the total cost of a 20 year programme culminating in a manned mission to Mars at between $80 and $100 billion.

A post on Facebook claims that NASA’s budget for a manned mission to Mars is $6 billion, and says that the NHS Test and Trace programme cost more than six times as much as that. It also includes a screenshot from Twitter that says: “I do not believe it is even possible to legitimately spend £37 billion on Test and Trace”.

The figure for NASA is wrong and the Test and Trace figure is now out of date. 

NASA projected in 2014 that a manned trip to Mars would cost up to $100 billion (£81 billion). And we now know that Test and Trace probably cost about £30 billion in its first two years.

What is Test and Trace and how much has it cost?

Test and Trace includes Covid-19 testing services, “‘contain’ activities” (including identifying local outbreaks and supporting local responses to the pandemic), tracing services and the NHS Covid-19 app.

Test and Trace was initially allocated £37 billion—£22 billion for 2020/21 and £15 billion for 2021/22.

We know that Test and Trace actually spent £13.5 billion in its first year. 

We don’t yet know how much it cost over 2021/22 yet. Its budget for that period was £14.2 billion

However, in February 2022, the Prime Minister said it cost £15.7 billion “in this financial year”. In a transparency report, the UK Health Security Agency explained that this figure was a forecast “based on anticipated demand levels driven by the Omicron variant” and was an “interim, unaudited forecast made in December 2021”.

So the total estimated cost for Test and Trace over its first two years was probably between £27.7 billion and £29.2 billion.

NASA expects a manned Mission to Mars will cost up to $100 billion

The post claims that NASA’s budget for a manned mission to Mars is $6 billion (£4.9 billion). In 2014, an expert panel at NASA estimated a 20 year programme culminating in a manned mission to Mars would cost between $80 billion and $100 billion (£65 billion to £81 billion).

We could find no estimates claiming that a mission to Mars by NASA would cost as little as $6 billion. In 2010, NASA was reportedly awarded a $6 billion boost over five years by the US government to create a new heavy rocket that would be “key in taking people to Mars”, as well as creating additional jobs in Florida, but there was no suggestion that would be the total cost of a Mars mission.

We’ve checked other claims about Test and Trace costing more than the Channel Tunnel and whether the NHS Covid-19 app cost more than the International Space Station and the entire US road network (it hasn’t).

Picture courtesy of Brian McGowan

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