After 50 years have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon, it can be easy to forget just how expensive their accomplishment was. According to The Planetary Society, Project Apollo alone required $25.8 billion (in today’s dollars).
That price tag still baffles, particularly considering NASA’s current budget constraints.
Cost of the Spacecraft
Apollo 11 may have cost an exorbitant sum, but it proved its value with scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs that continue to impact space exploration today – not least of all through efficient means to send astronauts back and forth between Earth and space. Furthermore, recent space missions have cost less due to improvements in technology and increased international collaboration.
Apollo 11 cost $25.4 billion in today’s dollars for all components (command service module, lunar module and Saturn rocket family), not including indirect expenses like astronaut salaries or benefits. Many experts estimate that its true cost may have been higher since it took place over such a long timeframe.
Early in 1973, NASA provided written testimony to Congress outlining the total cost of Apollo as $25.4 billion; however, other data indicates it cost only $19.4 billion–an anomaly with no readily identifiable explanation.
Dreier calculated the cost of Apollo by examining official NASA budget submissions to Congress between 1961 and 1974, as well as actual spending on its associated documents and spending patterns during those years. He used NASA’s New Start Inflation Adjustment Index – designed specifically for aerospace projects – as an inflation adjustment index.
Dreier’s reconstruction of the Apollo cost shows that NASA’s annual financial obligations as reported to Congress totaled $20.6 billion between 1960 and 1973; when indirect costs such as construction of facilities and tracking stations are added in, total costs increase even further.
Some critics argue that Apollo was an extravagant waste of money. They assert that it could have been better used on programs like education or healthcare; however, such arguments fail to acknowledge the realities of Washington: spending on one project does not automatically transfer funds onto another; furthermore, Apollo was only 2.2% of NASA’s overall budget between 1959 and 1972 and should therefore not be seen as wasteful spending.
Cost of the Rockets
Apollo 11 spacecraft were not cheap; in today’s dollars they cost more than $28 billion, including their launch vehicles and life support systems that enabled astronauts to travel safely between Earth and the Moon. Such components required considerable technological advances such as integrated circuits and materials science for human spaceflight to succeed safely.
Apollo rockets were the most costly part of its program, designed and constructed specifically to transport astronauts into orbit and beyond. The Saturn family of rockets required $100 billion in direct costs alone to design, test and construct before becoming part of Apollo itself.
NASA spent considerable amounts on facilities and infrastructure beyond rockets alone, such as Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and other complexes required to support its missions. Furthermore, extensive communications infrastructure was necessary in order to keep in contact with astronauts throughout their missions.
Finally, the Apollo program cost billions in indirect expenses such as salaries of those working on it – this was necessary to ensure its success and inspire generations of Americans to pursue careers in science and exploration. Ultimately, though, its mission was a success and has inspired future generations of Americans to follow its example and pursue scientific careers themselves.
But in today’s climate, few are willing to commit that much money on a manned space mission. Spaceflight risks can be high, and only so many astronauts can safely embark on such missions at one time. Plus, convincing Congress of this expense is no small task!
Cost of the Launch Vehicles
President John F Kennedy pledged his promise of landing a man on the moon before the end of this decade with full knowledge that such an ambitious task would be costly. While America was an economic superpower at that point, public sentiment in late 60s polls was divided about space exploration; many felt money spent exploring space would have been better spent solving Earth’s social ills instead.
Even with its expensive cost tag, Apollo’s mission was still considered successful. It instilled confidence that America had both the resolve and resources necessary to lead humanity forward into new frontiers of discovery; plus it inspired generations of young people into careers related to science, engineering, or space exploration.
Launch vehicles were the costliest part of Apollo program costs; specifically the Saturn family rockets which transported spacecraft around Earth and toward the Moon. Together these rockets cost approximately $20.6 billion today – accounting for 34% of direct costs associated with Apollo project direct costs.
NASA hired thousands of workers during construction of its rockets, with many engaged in research and development roles as well as those who worked at both Johnson Space Center in Texas and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Altogether, Saturn V required over 5.7 million man-years of labor; now many workers who contributed are approaching retirement age.
Labor costs increased with each step of assembling the rocket; however, as production and operations began taking place the overall costs were actually reduced.
This is a classic project management lesson: without adequate early funding, hard problems may remain unresolved and deadlines missed. This holds true across the board for space programs – without appropriate budgetary oversight they may fail to deliver the expected benefits to society.
Many people often wonder how much it cost to create Apollo 11. While the Saturn V rocket was an engineering marvel, modern rockets such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy offer lower launch costs due to technological innovations and international cooperation.
Cost of the Ground Systems
Apollo cost nearly $10 billion when measured against 1969 dollar values, though other parts of its mission also cost considerably. One such part was ground systems: control room, radar system and tracking station needed for operation of spacecraft and tracking of astronauts as they landed on the moon as well as making contact. Many different companies and contractors developed these systems which required many workers with extensive training as well. It is difficult to quantify exactly but most likely amounted to at least $10 billion at that time.
Indirect expenses such as salaries and administrative costs can be hard to pin down; it’s estimated that the Apollo program cost $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars – this includes spacecraft, lunar modules and the massive Saturn V launch vehicle; but does not account for other components such as Lunar Module Carrier aircrafts, which had to transport spacecrafts to their final destinations on the moon.
The Planetary Society has released cost data for Project Apollo that draws upon original documents submitted to Congress between 1960 and 1973, first digitized by NASA’s historical reference collection and available online without restriction or barring. According to this new data, direct R&D obligations reached their peak between late 1962 and early 1963 as Saturn family rockets and spacecraft were developed before declining substantially in subsequent years prior to manned missions as projects moved from research and development into production.
Even at such high costs, Project Apollo was ultimately successful in meeting its national goal of landing humans on the moon and continues to bear fruit today as technological, scientific, and financial investments continue to benefit humanity.
Planetary Society data shows that Apollo 11 cost roughly $25 billion in 1969 dollars or $150 billion today in today’s dollars. This cost was driven mainly by developing innovative technologies like Saturn V rocket and Lunar Module; along with extensive manpower training requirements as well as creating necessary infrastructure.