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How much did it cost?

Aldrin on the moon

Fifty years after Apollo 11, it is still difficult to calculate the exact cost of the Apollo program. (credit: NASA)

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In half a dozen Apollo budget documents from NASA's historical reference collection in Washington, DC, is a piece of paper describing a "loose agenda" – unnamed, dated[1] -For an intriguing meeting called Apollo Cost Consensus. Among the objectives set out in the agenda, it is stated that "the community of cost estimates will reach a consensus on the costs of Apollo".

In one way or another, the greatest triumph of the United States in human exploration – a triumph of engineering, cooperation and organization – escapes the answer to a seemingly simple question: how much did it cost?

Although the facilitator is anonymous, you can feel his resignation in the written notes summarizing the meeting:[it] had the predictable results … no one was quite ready to discuss the problem … extremely summary data … discrepancies typically between 15% and 20%. "

Such is the lamentation of the curious Apollo cost. In one way or another, the greatest triumph of the United States in human exploration – a triumph of engineering, cooperation and organization – escapes the answer to a seemingly simple question: how much did it cost?

In early 1973, NASA provided written testimony[2] to Congress bringing the total cost of Apollo to $ 25.4 billion. The data provided summarizes, to a significant number, the main program lines, but does not express expenditures by year or by program. There are more detailed cost data[3] this Apollo claim cost only $ 19.4 billion – a large discrepancy with no obvious explanation.

How much money was spent for Apollo, and when, is relevant, because NASA was again tasked to send humans back to the moon. With its objectives of landing humans in five years and then establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon, the Artemis project exceeds both the pace and ambitions of Apollo. To properly evaluate Artemis' seriousness, it makes sense to compare its spending proposals to the only data point we have for a successful human lunar mission, Apollo. How much money did it take to do it the first time? How was it spent? And, perhaps more importantly, when did money arrive?

Attendees at the meeting seemed to share this motivation to understand the cost and timing of Apollo, particularly with regard to cost effective costing and financial planning. Thus, despite the disappointing outcome of the meeting itself, it appears that participants agreed to revisit the original cost data contained in the congressional budget speeches of the 1960s and to search Johnson and Johnson space centers for record collections. Marshall. Whether it really happened or not, there is no indication.

Echoing the example of the anonymous NASA financial office note taker, I've pieced together the full cost history reported from Apollo using budget narratives published by the public (but not yet available to date) from the Congress of the Fiscal Year 1961 to 1974. I also visited the history of NASA. collection and discovery of additional Apollo cost documentation prepared by NASA's finance office, including a rare breakdown of annual construction and operating figures. We can now attempt to answer "how long and when?" Speaking of Apollo, and perhaps resolving some of the above discrepancies.

According to my reconstruction (Table 1), Apollo's direct R & D obligations amounted to $ 20.6 billion between fiscal years 1960 and 1973. The addition of "indirect" costs, such as the construction of facilities, operation and deployment of the monitoring and data network, a total cost of $ 25.8 billion for the Apollo project. This is in line with the figure reported by Congress in the 1.6% and represents a significant improvement over the cost data presented elsewhere.

FYApollo TotalSpatialshipSaturn Launch VehiclesDev, support and operationsConstruction of installationsFacilities and overhead operationsMonitoring and R & D data
1960$ 57,420$ 0$ 57,320$ 100$ 0$ 0$ 0
1961$ 299,228$ 0$ 174,531$ 297$ 53,400$ 71,000$ 0
1962$ 880,971$ 82,522$ 385,504$ 27,545$ 252,400$ 133,000$ 0
1963$ 2,001,035$ 363,962$ 757,976$ 136,497$ 560,600$ 182,000$ 0
1964$ 3,172,838$ 876,575$ 1,263,276$ 139,687$ 637,700$ 219,000$ 36,600
1965$ 3,197,219$ 1,009,898$ 1,434,179$ 170,542$ 215,100$ 268,000$ 99,500
1966$ 3,334,185$ 1,201,466$ 1,542,857$ 196,662$ 29,200$ 297,000$ 67,000
1967$ 3,375,300$ 1,275,001$ 1,373,580$ 274,019$ 44,700$ 316,000$ 92,000
1968$ 3,005,430$ 1,034,700$ 975,565$ 545,765$ 21,400$ 315,000$ 113,000
1969$ 2,454,000$ 913,127$ 577,986$ 533,887$ 0$ 302,000$ 127,000
1970$ 1,933,737$ 778,978$ 486,691$ 422,068$ 0$ 124,000$ 122,000
1971$ 1,112,169$ 398,147$ 189,059$ 314,963$ 0$ 104,000$ 106,000
1972$ 775,328$ 120,006$ 157,996$ 310,326$ 0$ 90,000$ 97,000
1973$ 180,000$ 56,700$ 26,300$ 0$ 0$ 41,000$ 56,000
totals$ 25,778,860$ 8,111,082$ 9,402,820$ 3,072,358$ 1,814,500$ 2,462,000$ 916,100

Table 1. Direct (gray background) and indirect (white) annual costs for Apollo reconstructed by the author. Source data.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Apollo Project and associated program obligations by year, measured against NASA's total obligations for the years 1960 to 1973. All amounts are adjusted for inflation at $ 2019 using the New Start Index ( NNSI) from NASA.

To summarize: the lunar effort as a whole (robotic missions and Gemini included) would cost 288 billion dollars today.

The small difference is due to uncertainties regarding the reported costs of Saturn launchers in the early 1960s. NASA may have excluded Saturn's initial development costs when submitting its report to Congress, as they excluded the launch. Apollo. I did, however, choose to count it, as did the Saturn I bond portion of the DoD imposed during the 1960 fiscal year. I think this decision helps to better answer the question of how much did the lunar landing cost? "As opposed to" what did NASA do? pay? Overall, however, this dataset fits well with the values ​​communicated to Congress.

I include other program divisions in the source data (Excel spreadsheet), which also preserves the unique accounting profile of each fiscal year, as presented in budget submissions. Since no accounting effort is totally objective, I have tried to note down every subjective decision I've made as to what needs to be accounted for, when and where by means of comments per cell in the Excel worksheet linked above.

Now that we have annual spending data for Apollo, we are better able to make specific adjustments to inflation as inflation rates have changed significantly from year to year in the 1960s. I use two methods to adjust for inflation, both of which answer a slightly different question:

  1. NASA New Start Index (NNSI)[4] is explicitly designed to standardize the costs of aerospace projects over time by heavily weighting the evolution of labor costs and aerospace materials. This adjustment answers the question "How much would NASA spend today on Apollo?"
  2. Expenditure as a relative share of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This adjustment responds: "If the United States allocated resources to a space project to the same extent as for the lunar effort, how much would NASA spend today?"[5]
original $Adjusted 2019 $Relative GDP $
Spatialship8.1 billion81.3 billion194.8 billion
Launch vehicles9.4 billion99.0 billion243.4 billion
Development and operations3.1 billion28.7 billion66.9 billion
Direct costs20.6 billion209.0 billion505.2 billion
Construction of facilities, salaries and overheads5.2 billion54.8 billion136.2 billion
Total Apollo25.8 billion263.8 billion641.4 billion
Robotic lunar program907.0 million10.3 billion26.1 billion
Gemini Project1.3 billion14.1 billion34.8 billion
Total lunar effort28.0 billion288.1 billion702.3 billion

Table 2. Apollo lunar effort costs, adjusted for inflation to 2019 dollars using the share of the National Statistical Initiative and the relative share of GDP. Detailed numbers available in the source data. Source data.

To summarize: the lunar effort as a whole (robotic missions and Gemini included) would cost 288 billion dollars today. If the United States gave financial priority to the project in the same way as in the 1960s, the country would have to spend $ 702 billion to occupy an equivalent share of GDP.

What costs should we consider as part of Apollo?

Table 2 raises an important question: what do we include in the Apollo program?

During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA's budget was divided into three main accounts: Research and Development (R & D), Facilities Construction (Cof) and Administrative Operations (AO) – later renamed Research and Management of programs (R & PM). Almost all of the detailed cost data we have for Apollo comes from R & D accounts, which solved obvious problems such as the development and production of Apollo spacecraft, Saturn V launcher, mission operations and the integration of projects. I consider that it is "direct costs". These data are the reason why we often see the cost of Apollo reported at $ 20 billion.

"Indirect costs" must be included, however, as they were used to build the Apollo infrastructure in what is now known as the Johnson Space Center, the Kennedy Space Center, the Michoud Assembly Facility, and the Stennis Space Center. Without these facilities and their auxiliary staff, Apollo would obviously not have taken place. These data are more difficult to extract from Congressional budget justifications, and I rely instead on two internal reports prepared for the Congress by the NASA Finance Office, which break down the facilities and overheads for the 1961-1973 fiscal year.[6,7].

Figure 2

Figure 2 The cost of the Apollo project and associated programs, by major subprogramme, for the years 1960 to 1973. All amounts are adjusted for inflation to $ 2019 based on NASA's New Start Index (NNSI). Source data.

The sum of the direct and indirect costs gives a figure of $ 25.8 billion which closely matches the total cost provided to Congress in 1973. However, I maintain that this underestimates the total US investment in Apollo because Other efforts have been made to serve the lunar objective throughout the 1960s. In particular, Gemini refined the operations and rendezvous in low Earth orbit at Apollo's service. The robotic lunar programs of the 1960s also mapped the lunar surface and provided crucial ground truth before astronauts. The mere fact that they are not included in the "Apollo Account" in NASA's records does not mean that money has not been spent. These are the two largest programs (together they represented about $ 24 billion in today's dollars), relevant to the lunar effort but rarely included in the total cost. I've chosen to include them as "related programs" and incorporate them in total cost when I talk about "lunar stress".

Background for the current manned space flight programs and Artemis

NASA's human exploration development efforts have remained relatively stable over the past decade. The programs of the Orion crew capsule and the space launch system have worked well despite the destination changes of asteroids, Mars and the Moon.

With these new Apollo cost data, we can now better evaluate spending levels between similar programs in Apollo and today. Below, I compare the expenses between the Saturn V and the SLS and between the control module and the Orion crew capsule. Why did SLS or Orion still fly after years of development? Well, the results speak for themselves:

figure 3

Figure 3 Compare existing major spaceflight programs with similar programs under Apollo. The differences in funding are striking: current programs are subject to fixed budgets, while Apollo programs have benefited from significant R & D start-up investments. Apollo programs are standardized at $ 2019 via NNSI and at the same start years as their modern counterparts.

Adjusted for inflation and normalizing at the same start dates as their modern counterparts, the Saturn V project cost NASA $ 60 billion at this stage of its development, compared to $ 17.5 billion. for the space launch system. Spending on Orion (assuming a generous start date for fiscal 2008) is $ 16.6 billion, compared to $ 39 billion for the Command & Service module at this stage (although MSC has actually ended on this date!). Compared to Apollo, the costs of NASA's current human exploration projects are relatively insignificant. That said, NASA's global budgets are themselves relatively derisory compared to the Apollo era.

Although there are today "new ways of doing business" in the space compared to the Apollo era, this new look at old data should remind us that lunar exploration with crew is expensive and complex.

Turning now to the Artemis project and its lunar landing goal for 2024, the most striking comparison being the lunar lander. NASA must develop, test and pilot a new lunar lander in the next five years. Although the White House has not yet submitted a full budget for this period, the supplementary budget request issued in May 2019 proposed $ 1 billion to begin development work on the undercarriages during the summer. 2020 exercise.

In comparison, in its first full year of development, the Apollo Lunar Module received $ 1.6 billion in adjusted dollars. Spending peaked three years later at $ 5.4 billion. The total cost of the project (to the exclusion navigation and navigation calculators) for the lunar module was about $ 23.4 billion in today's dollars. If the White House is seriously considering landing on the Moon in 2024, we should expect significant growth from this project very soon.

Although there are today "new ways of doing business" in the space compared to the Apollo era, this new look at old data should remind us that lunar exploration with crew is expensive and complex. The benefits of commercial entities in the exploration of deep space, although promising, are uncertain. I see little reason to assume that trading partners can provide greater capacity for a fraction of the cost of successful past programs. We would do well to take into account Kennedy's own words when discussing the Artemis project. A lunar effort "is a heavy burden," he said, "and it makes no sense to accept or desire that the United States adopt an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are ready to do the work and bear the burden of doing it, if we are not, we should decide today and this year. "


Examining old data from new angles provides a useful context for assessing the seriousness of space commitments. Comprehensive budget data on Apollo allows us not only to compare the total costs of the program, but also to know when the funds appeared, how quickly the budgets increased, and how they were allocated for each major program. Given the inflexible requirements of orbital mechanics and astronaut safety, we can better understand current commitments in manned spaceflight by directly comparing program-by-program old data.

To replicate the successes of past lunar efforts, we must understand that Apollo was not just a triumph of engineering, organization and daring, but also a triumph of political consensus that provided the necessary money to achieve Moon's goal and safely bring it back to Earth.

An addendum: why not use the data source "Apollo Program Budget Credits"

The NASA History Office website provides a detailed breakdown of Apollo's costs, by year, compiled from The Apollo spacecraft: a chronology, volumes I to IV, published in 1978. Do not use it. It contains many errors, important omissions and presents an inaccurate picture of Apollo funding.

First, the data presented as "Apollo Program Budget Credits" are not really credits. Congress allocates funds, NASA then schedules them and eventually pays them out. Planned spending is often different from actual spending and spending is usually behind on contracted obligations, especially in a project as challenging and dynamic as Apollo. NASA also benefited from "no year" credits during the 1960s, which allowed it to carry forward uncommitted funds year after year. The data listed in this table include a combination of requested funds (FYs 1962 and FY 1973) and bonds (virtually all of the rest of the 1960s), but no credits.

Second, there are significant omissions in program funding prior to 1964. The most glaring omissions relate to Saturn launchers – note, for example, that this source indicates $ 0 of funds for the Saturn I rocket before the exercise 1964, even though it was launched for the first time. in 1961.

Third, it lists the significant expenditures on orbital reentry testing, biomedical testing, and so on. during the year 1962. These figures come from the budget request for the year 1962 and, as far as I know, funds have never really been committed or spent. I believe that these test requirements were eventually incorporated into the Gemini project, which began after the preparation of the budget estimates for the year 1962 to the beginning of 1961. It is most likely a ghost expenditure.

Fourth, NASA Total's annual values ​​include only the space agency's research and development account. It excludes the construction of facilities and general administration costs and therefore underestimates NASA's annual budget.

Fifth, NASA's total revenue from 1960 to 1973 is $ 56 billion. It's wrong. It should be $ 41 billion. But what is $ 15 billion between friends?

Sixth (and finally), it does not attempt to standardize the annual accounting changes. This is why there are columns with a single value for items such as "Saturn I-C", "Spacecraft" and "Flight Modules" (the CSM and the LM). These being presented without context, it is impossible to compare one year with the other.

There are more reasons, but is it worth it to clarify a point?


"How much did the Apollo program cost?"
This page summarizes Apollo's costs and includes beautiful graphics illustrating the annual costs of major Apollo systems such as the Control and Service Module, the Lunar Module and the Saturn V.

Apollo Project Cost Data Set (Excel Spreadsheet)
Apollo's full annual cost data, unadjusted dollar amounts of inflation, program cost breakdowns by program, construction costs, and relative GDP adjustments are available for download as a spreadsheet. Excel calculation or to display as a Google spreadsheet.

Budget estimates and NASA documentation
A Google Drive public record containing NASA's budget proposals to Congress, including between 1960 and 1973, as well as the additional Apollo budget documents mentioned here.


  1. Unknown author. "Approximate Agenda for the Apollo Cost Consensus Meeting" June 22-23. No year provided. Budget Operations Division. Registration number 18194. Box 1. Collection of historical references from NASA headquarters. Washington, D.C. Since the calendar is printed in a Microsoft Word font, it can not be so old. It is not unreasonable to assume that this meeting was convened prior to a NASA Costing Symposium in the last decade.
  2. House Subcommittee on Manned Spaceflight, NASA Authorization of 1974, Hearings on H.R. 4567, 93/2, Part 2, page 1271. March / April 1973.
  3. Ertel, Ivan D. and Roland W. Newkirk. The Apollo Spacecraft – A Timeline: Volume 4. NASA SP-4009, 1978.
  4. This is a much better method than the consumer price index. NASA does a lot of things, but mostly buying consumer products is not.
  5. Alexander MacDonald has demonstrated the usefulness of this method by his excellent book, The Great Age of Space: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War, Yale University Press. 2017
  6. Unknown author. "Manned lunar landing program. Official evaluation of Code B. "Undated but probably 1969/1970. Budget Operations Division. Registration number 18194. Box 1. Collection of historical references from NASA headquarters. Washington DC.
  7. Unknown author. "Summary of the Costs of the Lunar Landing and Exploration Program", dated 27/02/1973. Budget Operations Division. Registration number 18194. Box 1. Collection of historical references from NASA headquarters. Washington DC.

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