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.

The Apollo missions were an enormously ambitious undertaking that required careful planning and an enormous financial commitment, both of which required immense amounts of planning and organisation.

Reconstructing the cost of Apollo has been undertaken using NASA budget submissions to Congress and historical collections. These efforts have produced more accurate cost data while also accounting for inflation adjustments more accurately than before.


Understanding Apollo costs can be complicated due to its status as an integrated development and operations program (IDOP), requiring not only research but also construction of facilities, support systems and NASA civil servant staff time. Accurate accounting requires these indirect expenditures be included as direct costs when accounting.

However, several attempts at providing an in-depth breakdown of Apollo costs have proven insufficient due to several significant flaws. Most notably, they fail to break out expenses by year limiting their usefulness for comparison and project estimation purposes as well as using data provided by NASA which does not always encompass all necessary elements necessary for an accurate cost history reconstruction.

Planetary Society’s recent attempt at calculating the costs associated with Apollo program emphasizes development and operations costs; however, many significant costs related to Saturn V rocket, lunar module itself as well as extensive background research are left out of account.

The resultant data set is incomplete and contains an arithmetic error that leads to an inaccurate calculation of total project cost from 1961-1972, and fails to account for how its implementation coincided with an increased public skepticism toward spaceflight and decreased NASA budget.

These constraints make it challenging to arrive at meaningful conclusions regarding the relative costs of Apollo relative to other NASA initiatives, such as those to return humans to the moon. Luckily, higher-fidelity data sets for Apollo and other NASA programs exist that offer improved inflation-adjustment calculations, annual program breakouts and detailed cost definitions as well as meaningful comparisons among components within an overall program, such as Apollo.


NASA’s Apollo mission provided both prestige and financial benefits. According to an article by The New York Times about the legacy of this project, technologies developed under it included solar panels, dialysis treatment systems and security systems – just to name a few technologies developed under Apollo alone! But its high costs also caused tensions between public and private funding: public perception was increasingly negative towards space travel spending while NASA budget dwindled significantly between 1969-1972 (by 17%!).

Reconstructing Apollo’s costs required extensive analysis of documents such as official NASA budget submissions to Congress and expenditure reports made by the agency. Once data had been compiled, inflation was adjusted using an index designed for aerospace projects rather than using consumer price index figures which more closely track daily goods costs; the result being year-by-year reconstruction of annual costs associated with Apollo.

Results revealed a number of intriguing insights into the development and launch phases of this project. Development expenses were highest for Saturn V rockets and spacecraft that would ride atop them; both followed the classic “cost curve” pattern of development costs peaking early before subcontractor production began before gradually decreasing as work transitioned from research to production and operations.

Reconstructed data included direct R&D obligations as well as indirect hardware development costs, such as construction of facilities, operations support services and tracking and data networks. Reconstructed costs for the entire project matched those reported by Congress within 1.6 percent, remaining consistent over its lifespan; additionally it included marginal costs for each crewed lunar landing mission and provided a more thorough accounting of costs related to major hardware programs.


President Kennedy pledged his administration’s resources towards landing astronauts on the Moon by “this decade’s end”. At that time, federal budget surpluses existed while economists called for increased government spending to stimulate economic activity – the cost associated with his promise was staggering.

NASA had already spent over $28 billion developing Apollo’s rockets, spacecraft and ground systems by the time of its inaugural crewed mission in 1969 – an impressive figure when adjusted for inflation to 2020 dollars! When considered against the overall size of US economy in 1969.

Saturn rockets, used to launch both the command module and lunar module into space, cost nearly $100 billion for design, build and test; additional funds were required for lunar module alone.

But that wasn’t all: astronaut suits, the lunar rover and exploration instruments all added up to an average cost per G-class mission of $355 million and over $447 million per H-class mission that followed.

NASA provided Congress with annual cost information for their hardware development programs in documents submitted to Congress by NASA. While some records were normalized to ensure consistency during the course of a project, enough details remain that you can reconstruct an estimate for Apollo’s total costs using available information. To do this, Dreier examined official NASA budget submissions between 1961 and 1974 as well as numerous supporting documents while using NASA’s New Start Index — created specifically for aerospace projects — to adjust inflation into his estimates.


One Apollo mission typically cost an average of $355 million when adjusted for inflation.

Apollo ran from 1961 to 1972 and saw several successful lunar landings as part of an extended program of geological and astrphysical exploration. Unfortunately, on its maiden voyage an oxygen tank explosion severely damaged the Command/Service Module (CSM), although it remained functional enough for five more missions.

The overall Apollo program cost $25 billion in today’s dollars and most of that money went directly to companies providing components and services essential for NASA’s goal – such as Boeing, Velcro fasteners manufacturers and Hammond Organ keyboard manufacturers.

Polling data at the time suggests that most Americans were indifferent about spending billions for space exploration. When costs peaked in 1965, NASA funding comprised only 5% of federal expenditures.

Over time, staff in NASA’s financial office had difficulty understanding and reconstructing Apollo’s cost history with any success, lamenting their inability to find any definitive data set within their agency. After carefully considering their data sources, the team concluded that budget justification documents submitted to Congress between 1960 and 1973 could provide the best data sets. As a result, this project involved reconstructing them extensively before producing these datasets. They provide an annual account of NASA’s Project Apollo expenditures, with normalizations and editorial decisions factored in. Full data sets with annual program breakdowns, construction costs and relative GDP adjustments are available both as public Google spreadsheets and as downloadable Excel sheets.


At its height, the Apollo program was an extraordinary triumph and unforgettable journey for its astronauts – yet at an eye-watering cost to the U.S. government even when adjusted for inflation. From rocket development to life insurance premiums, racing to the moon resulted in some seriously out-of-this-world bills.

At its height, the spacecraft that would take astronauts from Earth orbit and beyond to the Moon–the Command Module and Lunar Module–cost over $40 billion in today’s dollars. Furthermore, Saturn family rockets with engines cost another $23.4 billion.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, with a goal to land three astronauts on the Moon and bring them back safely to Earth. Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin traveled aboard Lunar Module Eagle to descend onto its surface in 21 hours – and everything went according to plan! Over 600 million viewers worldwide witnessed as Armstrong and Aldrin walked on lunar surface, planted an American flag, conducted numerous scientific tests, etc.

Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the Command Module Columbia with Commander Michael Collins upon completing their mission, docking at its endpoint. From there they spent two days exploring Fra Mauro region of Moon with Eagle lunar rover. While on its exploration mission they took still and moving pictures, deployed scientific equipment including laser reflector and seismic experiment package and recovered film from lunar module camera.

At President Nixon’s request, they also spoke by telephone with him and transmitted live black-and-white video images back from the Moon to Earth. Overall, these astronauts collected 192 pounds of Moon rocks, core samples and regolith samples – which proved that it is indeed dead world that experienced catastrophic changes about 3.8 billion years ago; its rocks being chemically similar to Earth.

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