Ballpark Estimate: $25.4 Billion (1969 dollars); $145 Billion (2007 dollars)
On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union shocked the world when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to be launched into space. His single earth-orbit flight aboard the Vostok-1 spacecraft and his safe return to earth was a tremendous achievement and more significantly, it demonstrated to the United States, its staunch competitor, the superior level of its space technology.
Kennedy’s Ambitious Goal
Although President John F. Kennedy had been somewhat reluctant to commit to the enormous financial cost of a U.S. moon landing program, his priorities were suddenly shifted when news of the Soviet flight became known. Fearing that U.S. space technology would be left behind, one month later before a joint session of Congress, the president announced that the United States was now committed to a goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” within 10 years.
With that goal established by the president, the Apollo Space Program was launched and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the agency responsible for the nation’s future in space exploration, focused on carrying out this mission.
Apollo Spacecraft Design
The completed design for the Apollo spacecraft consisted of two principal sections:
One section was the two-part Command/Service Module (CSM). The command module contained the 3-man crew, computerized controls, guidance and navigation systems, etc., while the service module held such components as the propulsion system and its propellants, fuel cells, etc.
The second section was the Lunar Module, which was attached to the CSM. While orbiting the moon, the Lunar Module would undock from the CSM with two astronauts aboard, descend to the surface of the moon and at the conclusion of the mission return to the CSM. The Lunar Module assent stage was then left in moon orbit. Just prior to reentry, the service module would be jettisoned leaving the Command Module to reenter the earth’s atmosphere and the final ocean splashdown.
The Launch Vehicle – Saturn V Rocket
The launch vehicle used for most of the Apollo moon landing flights was the Saturn V, a three-stage liquid-fuel expendable rocket. Standing at 363 ft. the first stage consisted of 5 engines capable of launching the spacecraft the initial 42 miles in just 150 seconds. The five engines of the second stage burned for 360 seconds boasting the spacecraft to 109 miles at 15,647 miles per hour. Finally, the single engine third stage sent the Apollo into low-earth orbit 150 seconds later at 17,450 miles per hour. From launch to low earth- orbit took approximately 12 minutes.
The Apollo Missions
There were a total of 17 Apollo missions between January 1967 and December of 1972 and of those 17, the first six were unmanned. The balance of the space program, all manned by a crew of 3 astronauts, was as follows:
- Apollo 7 – October 11 to 12, 1968. Flight designed to test the entire spacecraft in earth orbit.
- Apollo 8 – December 21 to 27, 1968. The first mission to orbit the moon. This 6 day flight tested the support capabilities of the Apollo systems.
- Apollo 9 – March 2 to 13, 1969. Manned flight test of the Lunar Module while in earth orbit.
- Apollo 10 – May 18 to 26, 1969. Dress rehearsal for the manned moon landing. Lunar Module was taken to within 50,000 ft. of the lunar surface.
- Apollo 11 – July 16 – 24, 1969. First manned lunar landing. Lunar Module spends 21 hours on the Sea of Tranquility. For over two hours, the two astronauts are the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon (extra-vehicle activity or EVA). 44 lbs. of moon rocks are brought back for study.
- Apollo 12 – November 14 to 24, 1969. Spending nearly eight hours outside the Lunar Module in two EVAs, the two astronauts collect 76 lbs. of rock samples.
- Apollo 13 – April 11 to 17, 1970. Mission was aborted following an oxygen tank explosion en route to the moon.
- Apollo 14 – January 31 to February 9, 1971. Astronauts deploy Lunar Surface Experiments Package and other instruments in two moon walks. 94 lbs. of rocks collected.
- Apollo 15 – July 26 to August 7, 1971. The Lunar Roving Vehicle, an electric-powered, 4-wheel drive car was used for the first time in three EVAs. 169 lbs. of lunar material was gathered.
- Apollo 16 – April 16 to 27, 1972. First landing in the lunar highlands where surface experiments were deployed. Astronauts spend twenty hours on lunar surface in three EVAs. Lunar Roving Vehicle used for the second time gathering 213 lbs of rock.
- Apollo 17 – December 7 to 19, 1972. Three EVAs of 22 hours. Astronauts drive Lunar Rover Vehicle 19 miles collecting 243 lbs. of lunar samples. This was the last and longest mission at 12 days, 14 hours.
To some individuals, the Apollo moon landings are considered the greatest achievement in human history and the beginning of humanity’s expansion into the universe. At its height over 400,000 people were directly or indirectly involved in the project. But what was the cost?
- Apollo Spacecraft – $5.3 Billion
- Saturn Rockets – $8.7 Billion
- Other Costs – $11.4 Billion
The Total Estimated Cost in 1969 Dollars is $25.4 Billion and $145 Billion in 2007 Dollars.
Human costs: The lives of 3 astronauts: Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
Cost Of The Apollo Space Program
On January 27, 1967, while strapped in their seats inside the Apollo 1 Command Module to conduct tests, a sudden fire erupted within the cockpit and engulfed the three men. Within a minute all three were killed. During the intensive investigation an abraded silver-plated wire, stripped of its Teflon insulation, was found in close proximity to an ethylene glycol/water cooling line prone to leaks. This was determined to be an extremely hazardous scenario since the contact of the chemical solution with the silver could cause a reaction severe enough to ignite the pure oxygen environment within the cockpit.
Also, the 34 feet of Velcro within the module was found to be highly explosive in a high-pressure 100% oxygen atmosphere. Static discharge from the nylon suits of the crew shifting in their seats could also have been sufficient for an ignition of the highly oxygenated cockpit.
Although the ignition source of the fire was never fully determined, numerous design modifications were made to the Command Module to prevent this kind of accident from ever happening again.