How Much Did the Apollo Missions Cost?

An extensive space program requires considerable finances. Solar panels, dialysis treatment systems and security systems were all created due to or inspired by Apollo missions.

This manuscript provides a high-fidelity reconstruction of Project Apollo costs, including annual cost data and program-by-program cost breakdowns. Furthermore, inflation adjustments based on two NASA cost reporting indices have also been included for an accurate representation.

Cost of the Saturn V Rocket

The Saturn V rocket had over one million components that needed to work together seamlessly. At launch, its S-IC stage burned liquid oxygen and kerosene, producing 7500,000 pounds of thrust. Subsequently, S-II fired for nine minutes and nine seconds to launch spacecraft into orbit before third stage S-IVB fired for one minute and fifteen seconds in lunar trajectory before disengaging from Apollo command module and lunar lander.

Each Saturn V stage was propelled by two Rocketdyne F-1 engines and two J-2 engines developed by Rocketdyne; the F-1 was the largest single-chambered liquid-fueled engine ever developed while J-2 used hydrogen fuel that could be restarted in space. Each launch required 89 truckloads of liquid oxygen, 28 truckloads of liquid hydrogen fuel and 27 railcars filled with kerosene as propellant.

In January 1967, an on-pad flash fire killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee prior to a Saturn V launch pad launch pad launch. Following this tragic event, NASA conducted a comprehensive review of every aspect of their rocket’s design – particularly safety systems – which took an extra year before their first crew launched into space on Apollo mission 1 with no fatalities onboard.

Over ten years, the Saturn V rocket carried 10 astronauts into space for their maiden voyages – and gave them their first view of Earth’s moon from above. It remains the only rocket ever used to propel humans beyond low-Earth orbit.

The Saturn V’s price tag was enormous – more than the equivalent of $185 million today – but its enormous payload capacity justified this cost, such as Skylab (the first space station), an extended crewed flyby of Venus and robotic lunar and Martian rovers. Furthermore, Apollo command and service modules as well as lunar lander enabled astronauts to walk on its surface – marking one of the greatest accomplishments of the space race. While SLS may cost less, but have significantly smaller payload capabilities.

Cost of the Lunar Module

The Apollo project was an enormous undertaking with a staggering cost, even adjusted for inflation. The development costs alone reached over one trillion dollars – or two percent of gross domestic product today!

The Planetary Society analyzed NASA budget submissions to Congress from 1960-1973 in order to reconstruct the cost of lunar exploration, providing more comprehensive data than previous research, including breakdown of costs for every major hardware component involved in lunar missions as well as accounting consistency margins for crewed missions. All this data can be found online via The Planetary Society’s website or Elsevier Mendeley data hosting service.

Analysis is complex, yet its conclusions are striking: in real terms, Lunar Module development cost $2.4 billion or approximately $23.4 billion in 2020 dollars; additional development expenses related to Saturn family rockets and engines used during Apollo reached over $60 billion.

However, the United States’ greatest achievement in human exploration still lacks an answer to its most fundamental expense question: How much did it cost? This may be partly because NASA staff lack detailed cost data. A document found in their historical archives laments “[n] o unpublished canonical data set exists within the agency that would enable reconstruction of a detailed expenditure profile of Apollo.”

Dreier attempted to overcome this challenge by reviewing official NASA budget submissions to Congress between 1961 and 1974, as well as actual spending reported by the space agency and supporting documents. He used an innovative method for adjusting results for inflation designed specifically for aerospace projects rather than using household goods as benchmarks for comparison.

Reconstruction shows that direct R&D obligations on the Apollo program grew rapidly from 1965 through 1969, while construction of facilities and administrative overhead remained fairly consistent over the years. After the mishap on Apollo 13, however, indirect costs increased substantially with additional funding allocated towards safety procedures and creating a new spacesuit design.

Cost of the Command Module

The Apollo program was an incredible achievement that marked man’s first steps on the Moon. It took years of scientific research, engineering breakthroughs, and human perseverance for this success to happen – and its legacy extends far beyond financial costs; having left lasting impressions in science, technology, culture and politics alike.

Apollo demonstrated American technological prowess during the Cold War and helped raise America’s geopolitical standing on the world stage. Unfortunately, however, how much the mission actually cost has long remained controversial; cost reports by NASA were often inaccurate and inconsistent; moreover, without reliable inflation-adjustments or program-specific breakdowns making comparisons difficult.

Experts have undertaken to reconstruct an accurate accounting of the costs associated with Apollo missions by reconstructing an increased-fidelity accounting. Their calculations draw on official NASA budget submissions to Congress from 1961 through 1974 as well as cost reports and supporting documents. Finally, inflation adjustments were applied using NASA’s New Start Index designed specifically for aerospace projects.

Chart 1 depicts the annual costs associated with Apollo as an exemplar of classic aerospace development cost curve, featuring rapid increases in research and infrastructure spending to support large numbers of scientists and engineers required for design and testing activities before construction and operations costs began rising as systems went into production. Saturn launch vehicles and spacecraft costs in particular reached their highest point between 1964 and 1967, when expenditures peaked.

NASA reported to Congress in 1973 the marginal cost per crewed Apollo mission as $25.8 billion in real year dollars (Table 1). To account for inflation rates published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation adjustments were made accordingly. Please be aware that this total includes both Command and Service Modules along with ground facilities, tracking stations, and astronaut training costs.

Cost of the Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle is a cornerstone of NASA’s human spaceflight capabilities, serving two primary post-Apollo missions: building a space station and conducting rapid lunar visits for scientific research. While these missions were unsuccessful in terms of success, their costs have been significant. Now that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering funding an Artemis moon mission it is vital that they know exactly how much this program will cost them.

The Apollo program was an immense undertaking that consumed huge resources. Launched as a response to Soviet Russia’s Sputnik 1 and Yuri Gagarin launches in 1957 – which were widely perceived as showing US falling behind in its Cold War space race – and as evidence of US failing in that race, Apollo proved massively costly undertaking with massively escalated costs over its three year lifespan.

As such, both Congress and the Kennedy administration committed significantly to Apollo, pushing expenditures up quickly. Thus, Apollo became one of the costliest programs ever undertaken – its estimated total cost (with inflation adjusted costs calculated into 2020 dollars) being approximately $257 billion.

NASA’s internal information about the Apollo program is fragmentary and difficult to reassemble. An undated document from their historical archives details an attempt at doing so with limited success; budget data in particular being “extremely sketchy… with discrepancies typically 15%-20%.”

Furthermore, current efforts to return astronauts to the Moon are being funded via general R&D rather than specifically for space exploration, making it hard to accurately compare Apollo with contemporary efforts. In order to properly assess these projects and compare their outcomes against one another, a comprehensive set of data must be created including annual program breakouts and inflation adjustments in order to make accurate comparisons between projects.

Planetary Society endeavored to assemble an accurate cost of Apollo data set. Their final product can be found as either a Google Spreadsheet or download Excel spreadsheet and contains spending details as well as annual inflation adjustments for both individual missions and overall Apollo program costs.

This data set was assembled by collating information from multiple publicly accessible sources, such as NASA’s congressional budget justifications, Apollo by the Numbers report and McCurdy’s various efforts at providing more precise accounting of Apollo costs. Once collated, these sources of data were combined into one table with estimates for each mission cost as well as one that listed total cumulative totals across all missions in Apollo program.

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