On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin embarked on their historic Apollo 11 space mission – both an extraordinary and costly venture.
The Planetary Society used data NASA reported to Congress from 1960-1973 in reconstructing Project Apollo costs; these expenses have been adjusted for inflation.
One of the central tenets of Apollo missions was their spacesuit. Astronauts donned Eagle suits as they traveled between Earth and Moon and back again. Eagle was chosen as its symbol as it can fly higher and see further than other birds, in addition to being considered sacred by many religions and symbolizing strength of American identity.
The Eagle spacesuit cost an estimated $100,000 to create – the equivalent of $700,000. It was created by a team led by Bill Goddard, the engineer responsible for creating the first rocket-powered space vehicle, the X-15. It is inspired by lunar landing module nicknamed the “Eagle”, made famous when Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon in 1969. Its wings recall those associated with lunar landing modules known as Eagle.
As soon as the United States government began planning for Apollo, it was evident that it would be costly. President Kennedy had pledged to land man on the moon before Soviet rivals and therefore needed funds to compete against their budgetary efforts.
NASA was able to secure all the resources it required, while Apollo program took advantage of strong political commitment. Costs associated with crewed missions followed an ideal aerospace development cost curve, with rapid increase in early R&D phase before steady decrease as systems were designed, tested, and built.
As each Apollo mission was successfully completed, costs gradually decreased; however, following Apollo 13 and its explosive event, costs rapidly skyrocketed. Eagle suits required redesign due to explosion damage; additionally, spacecraft required large amounts of fuel in order to reach orbit and return back home safely.
The Planetary Society recently conducted a comprehensive cost study of Apollo, including indirect costs such as operations and facilities costs. Their researchers used original congressional budget narratives from 1963 and 1973 as well as records at Johnson Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center to compile this information. Their research determined that direct costs associated with an Apollo 11-class mission (equivalent of $355 million) reached $447 million whereas H and J-class missions had higher direct costs of around $500 million each.
The Space Suit
The Apollo 11 mission marked humanity’s first successful manned spaceflight to land humans on the Moon, an impressive feat of engineering that demonstrated America’s dominance in space exploration. It left an indelible cultural imprint across the world – but how much did it cost?
Answers to such inquiries usually involve staggering sums. According to The Planetary Society’s study on lunar program costs in 2020 dollars, research and development, manufacturing, operations costs totaled $25.4 billion for research, manufacturing and operations costs alone; this includes launch vehicle, Lunar Module (LM), Command and Service Module (CSM) support facilities as well as personnel costs.
Understanding exactly what these billions purchased is a difficult challenge. President John F Kennedy’s promise to put men on the Moon required an enormous outlay of taxpayer dollars. Even at its inception, polling data suggested ambivalence about NASA funding and space exploration by Americans.
These factors have made reconstructing Project Apollo’s development and operations costs difficult, although an undated document found in NASA’s historical archives captures an attempt. Unfortunately, NASA’s internal cost data was later revealed to be “extremely sketchy,” with discrepancies typically 15-25% between internal costs estimates and external figures.
There have been various attempts at producing more reliable, comprehensive data sets about Apollo. The Planetary Society has published studies that provide more finely-grained accountings of development and operations costs by year as well as breakouts by major program. Other efforts attempted to use congressional budget narratives from the 1960s as resources; these resources offer limited details that don’t list expenditures by year.
With an annual spending profile and inflation adjustments, it is possible to create an accurate estimate of the cost of getting men to the moon. FOX Business used two inflation indices specifically tailored for aerospace projects to do just this; NASA New Start Inflation Index and Production Workers Compensation Index (PCW). Their calculations lead to an estimate of $257 billion as the total cost for Apollo.
The Apollo Mission
Project Apollo was one of America’s most notable spaceflight endeavors, one which secured American space supremacy over Soviet rivals while leaving an unforgettable legacy of achievement and exploration. However, at its height of success it accounted for 34% of NASA’s budget at its highest cost point.
But what was its true cost? There are only reliable estimates; for instance, Howard McCurdy provided several efforts at providing more granular accounting of Apollo costs by year and subprogram; these data sets lack transparency by not listing expenditures by program nor accounting accurately for inflation.
NASA provided written testimony to Congress in early 1973 that reported the total cost of Apollo as $25.4 billion, although this number is not an accurate representation of its true cost; for instance, it does not differentiate between Command and Service Module and Lunar Module expenses, lumping them all under “Spacecraft”.
An extensive portion of Apollo spending went toward developing and manufacturing 15 Saturn V rockets used to launch missions beyond Earth’s orbit – this cost totaled nearly half (or $6.4 billion of the $40.8 billion total cost in today’s dollars).
Apollo spending allocated a considerable portion to lunar landings themselves. Each astronaut on Apollo 11 received $17,000 per year (or roughly $100,000 today), or roughly equivalent in today’s dollars, as compensation. Unfortunately, without receiving any hazard pay or life insurance they needed to come up with creative ways of covering expenses while leaving something extra behind for their families.
Finally, there were the indirect costs associated with Apollo mission, such as infrastructure supporting manned missions and tracking and data networks. These indirect costs totalled an estimated sum of roughly $500 million direct costs and $100 million indirect costs totalling roughly $288 billion; or approximately equivalent in today’s dollars. This figure aligns closely with congressional estimates by 1.5%; this reconstructed number also offers advantages over estimates that do not account for all direct and indirect costs associated with this program.
Memorabilia from space exploration holds immense historical value, so pieces that came with Apollo 11 are especially prized possessions to collect. One iconic example is a lunar module’s lunar surface photograph featuring Armstrong and Aldrin standing atop the lunar surface; this sold at auction for $4,542,500 in 2008.
At its inception, Project Apollo cost NASA approximately $20.6 billion; adjusted for inflation this would amount to over $209 billion today. That figure includes everything from astronaut salaries and training, facility construction and tracking stations for each mission as well as ongoing operations to ensure successful missions.
Costs associated with spaceflight include all the rockets, launch vehicles, and spacecraft that transported astronauts on their trips to and from the moon; in addition to any equipment necessary to survive an extended stay on another planet.
Auction houses often sell Apollo 11 memorabilia; however, to find authentic pieces it’s best to visit a reputable dealer of space memorabilia who have decades of experience selling authentic and historic space items as well as providing guarantees of their authenticity on all merchandise they sell.
Most sought-after items include the spacesuit worn by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their 1969 lunar landing mission. Constructed of 21 layers of fabric, rubber, and polyester film to shield them from extreme temperatures, harmful solar ultraviolet rays, micrometeorites and micrometeorite strikes; it was carefully restored by the Smithsonian before returning back into private hands in 2011.
Popular items sold at auctions recently include the golden Robbins Medal awarded to Armstrong by NASA and original magazines that he brought on Apollo 11 flight, an autographed Apollo 11 Guest Center sign signed by all three moonwalkers could bring bids of around $7,000. Lastly, an “Eye Saver” slide rule believed to have been kept in Aldrin’s pocket as a backup computational tool has sold for almost $77,675, though Heritage Auctions expects it to fetch even more on Thursday.