The Wikipedia article on Mir places its total cost at a little over four billion dollars. The ISS on the other hand, is at 150 billion and that figure will surely increase more over the coming years.

Understandably, the ISS is a lot more complex, and heavier than Mir, but is it really so much more as to warrant the extra 145 billion dollars?

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    $\begingroup$ Made in Italy instead of the U.S.S.R. - more expensive labor for one thing. $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '14 at 7:29
  • $\begingroup$ International cooperation means that there are many conflicting political players who want their special interests to get as much of the budget as possible. Greater costs is not a problem for them, au contraire, it means more money in their pockets. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Dec 1 '14 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ Please also note the price gap between STS and Proton flights. $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '14 at 9:57

The comparison rests on two pieces of evidence:

I'm going to make a glorified "Apples and Oranges" argument here. Basically, there are several more steps to make the comparison meaningful.

  • Koptev's estimate must be traced back to year-by-year budget numbers in the original Soviet and post-Soviet roubles, and converted painstakingly to then-current US dollars via purchasing power parity (PPP), and afterwards, to current (say, 2010, to keep in line with LaFleur's figure) prices.
  • The price structure in the U.S.S.R. and elsewhere in the "First" (aka free) world was VERY different. It is notoriously difficult to find reliable price comparisons between the US and the Soviets.
  • The budget has to be broken up into several items to be compared line-by-line:

    • Design and article production (we should divide the number by the internal volume, in cubic meters, of the respective stations - e.g. 837 vs 350)
    • Launch vehicle flights (here alone, Space Shuttle costs are an enormous influence vs. cheap labor by Russian/Soviet officers and conscripts in launch teams)
    • Normal space segment operation and maintenance costs (divide by the man-days of life aboard the station)
    • Ground segment costs (training centers, mission control, recovery, whatever)
    • The cost of extraordinary operations (saving the Mir from a bunch of mishaps for sure deserves a separate line)

I don't have the time and, quite likely, the required documents (Russian budget notes) now to conduct the whole comparison, but I'd like to pinpoint several key differences that matter for design/production costs:

  • The NASA Freedom/Alpha/ISS program underwent several re-designs (each concept redesign costs money, and does not allow to build production experience).
  • Soviets had two space station programs going on, with capacity and qualified workers/engineers very much in place.
  • The ISS liberally borrowed design experience and whole surplus modules from the Mir-2 station.
  • USOS modules for the ISS were outsourced to the Europeans.

I would also direct interested visitors to a bunch of US GAO reports on the ISS.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer. The point about the different price structures is really a key point, too; the Soviet Union had a command economy, so on some level (for official figures), the prices of things were whatever the central government declared them to be. I'd click the up arrow more than once if I could! $\endgroup$
    – Kirkaiya
    Dec 1 '14 at 19:37

In addition to the points Deer Hunter makes, in reading a history of the Shuttle-Mir exchange program, it's evident that Mir was built with very different quality and safety standards than any American space project would accept.

For example, when modules were connected in Mir, electrical and ventilation conduits were routed through hatchways to connect them, making it dangerously difficult to seal off a leaking module after the Progress M-34 collision in 1997. This is an incredibly, shamefully obvious design oversight, which could be straightforwardly addressed with more engineering (e.g. a smaller conduit interface adjacent to the hatch, where cables can be quickly disconnected in an air-tight manner), but that engineering would increase the costs.

Similarly, the station's coolant loop was almost continuously leaking toxic ethylene glycol, and cosmonaut crews spent an absurd amount of time and effort chasing down these leaks. This suggests that the materials selected for plumbing were inappropriate, or the design or assembly process was shoddy, or all of the above. Proper design reviews, quality control, and pre-flight testing are all expensive, but would likely catch this sort of problem.

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    $\begingroup$ Building a new station (ISS) also allow to learn from theses flaws. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    May 15 '19 at 14:17

Supplementary answer: the ISS is a lot bigger than Mir was.

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