When you think of the Apollo programme the first thing that probably comes to mind is Neil Armstrong and his famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” However, it is important to remember that the Moon landing was the culmination of decades of work by hundreds of thousands of people working across dozens of science, technology, and engineering disciplines.

The Apollo programme followed a mandate set by US president John F Kennedy in the early 1960’s. The goal? Land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth within the next decade. However, if the US was to beat the Soviets to the Moon, it had to spend large. In today’s money (when adjusted to inflation) the Apollo programme cost approximately $288 billion USD with the spending hitting its peak in 1966, three years before the first Moon landing of Apollo 11.

During the development of the human lunar programme (being built completely from scratch) the majority of NASA’s funding went to ensuring its success. These years saw three out of every five dollars used for the development of Apollo and its related programmes. The largest expenditure was for the Saturn Launch Vehicles totaling to $9.4 billion, or $99 billion USD in today’s dollars, for the family of rockets and the related engine development. The launch vehicles were used for unmanned space exploration in the years following the Apollo programme. The final Saturn V rocket launched Skylab in 1973, and the final Saturn IB was used for the Apollo-Soyuz project in 1975.

After six successful lunar landings, each one yielding more results and scientific discoveries than the last, the United States ended support for the programme. In the 1973 official budget proposal from NASA, it was simply stated “the planned objectives of the Apollo programme have been accomplished. FY1974 funding is not required.”

The technological legacy of the Apollo program

It’s clear that the Apollo programme was one of the greatest feats of humanity, and most definitely one of the most challenging technological achievements of the 20th century. To think that three men were sent to the Moon and back in two spacecraft that have the combined computing power 10,000 times less than your smartphone is astounding.

The programme contributed to several inventions and technological innovations which remain as pillars in our 2019 everyday lives. There’s home insulation (developed and used to protect astronauts from heat and radiation), freeze-dried food, cordless vacuums (imagine the 1980’s without your precious dust buster!),  the increased production and accessibility of computer chips, even the quality of running shoes (developed from the Apollo-era process of ‘blow moulding’)…and that’s just naming a few.

There’s no doubt that landing  the programme provided rich insights into the evolution of our celestial neighbour, a must-know in our constant strive to unravel the mysteries of our Solar System and help support our search for life outside of Earth. The success of the programme, and the unmanned missions that followed, have paved the way for humanity’s continued reach into the cosmos. NASA is now planning to return to the Moon (this time with both a man and women landing!) in the next decade and onwards to Mars by the 2030’s. Thinking ahead of where the next 50 years will take humanity makes us dizzy with excitement.

Project Apollo, 1960-1973

Actual

Inflation Adjusted

Spacecraft

$8.1 billion

$81.3 billion

Launch Vehicles

$9.4 billion

$99 billion

Development & Operations

$3.1 billion

$28.7 billion

Direct Project Costs

$20.6 billion

$209 billion

Ground Facilities, Salaries & Overhead

$5.2 billion

$53.8 billion

Total Project Apollo

$25.8 billion

$263.8 billion

Robotic Lunar Programme

$907 million

$10.3 billion

Project Gemini

$1.3 billion

$14.1 billion

Total Lunar Effort

$28 billion

$288.1 billion

Source data: www.planetary.org/get-involved/be-a-space-advocate/become-an-expert/cost-of-apollo-program.html