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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

Physics professors William Franz and George Spagna have found an unusual use for the budget proposal President George W. Bush sent to Congress in early February. They devised 14 real-world analogies to make the $2.23 trillion dollar total more understandable to their students at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.

  1. A single Sacajawea dollar coin has a mass of 8 grams. Therefore 2.23 trillion of them would weigh 1.96 x 107 tons. The battleship Missouri weighs 58,000 tons, fully outfitted. Therefore, the federal budget, if cashed into Sacajawea dollars would weigh the equivalent of 339 full-sized battleships.

  2. If President Bush (L = 1.8 m) were laid end to end 2.23 trillion times, the distance would be 4.01 x 1012 meters. The distance from the earth to the sun is 1.50 x 1011 meters. So if Bush were laid end to end 2 trillion times, he would stretch to the sun and back 13 times, although he might choose to do this at night, when it's cooler.

  3. The list price of a 2003 Hummer H2 is $48,000. Therefore, for a modest investment of $2.23 trillion, we could instead buy 46 million brand new Hummers to help ease transportation problems.

  4. If one pizza is about $10, then $2.23 trillion converts to 2.23 x 1011 pizzas. As of April 1, 2000 census, the US population was 281,421,906. This comes to 711 pizzas per person. If we fudge on the price of the pizza and correct for the change in population since 2000, we could get an answer of 730 pizzas per person—twice the number of days in a year. Therefore, the US government, instead of spending its $2.23 trillion as the President recommends, could satisfy hunger in the nation by ordering two pizzas for every man, woman and child in the US every day for the entire fiscal year.

  5. Proven reserves of Iraqi oil are estimated at 112 billion barrels. At today's prices of $31 per barrel, Iraq's net worth of oil is $3.47 trillion. We could just skip spending on other things, skip the potential war, and buy all of Iraq's oil with about a year and a half's worth of federal spending.

  6. A single grain of sugar is a cube approximately 0.25 millimeters on a side, with a volume of 1.6 x 1011 cubic meters. 2.23 trillion grains of sugar then have a volume of about 35 cubic meters—a cube about 10-1/2 feet on a side.

  7. Using the same size for sugar grains, a five-pound bag of sugar contains about 225 million grains. If the entire federal budget were spent on that single bag, it would be about $10,000 per grain of sugar.

  8. There are about 100 billion stars in our Galaxy. The federal budget could buy the entire Milky Way Galaxy for about $23 per star. Similarly there are about 100 billion galaxies in the observable university. With the federal budget, you could buy the entire thing for $23 per galaxy.

  9. The Apollo program which sent American astronauts to the Moon cost a total of about $40 billion. The proposed budget is equivalent to about 56 Apollo programs.

  10. Round trip business rate airfare from Richmond, Virginia, to the West Coast is about $1100. You could purchase about 2 billion round-trip tickets, not counting frequent flyer miles.

  11. A year is approximately 31.5 million seconds. The proposed federal budget spends money at the rate of $71,000 per second.

  12. The universe is approximately 14 billion years old. Accordingly, if we wish to appear more frugal, we could spend at the rate of about $160 per year since the Big Bang.

  13. Using values cited above for the mass of a Sacajawea dollar and the US population, each individual's share of the budget is $7936, which would have a mass of 63.5 kilograms and weigh about 140 pounds in Sacajawea dollars.

  14. Cell phone minutes cost about 10 cents each. A $2.23 trillion cell phone call that you hang up from today would have been placed about 42 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch, probably by one of the first modern mammals to walk the earth. Calling 10-10-220, rates drop to 7 cents a minute, and the call could have been placed by a dinosaur.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette