|See the original
article and comments published in Space
Review of 8 March 2010.
that the Apollo program costs $20 billion in 1970s dollars — the equivalent
of $100 billion in today’s money. But that’s about all most of us know
about piloted program costs. For instance, who knows how much the Space
Shuttle and the International Space Station programs cost? How much does
each Shuttle flight cost? How much does it cost to spent a day onboard
knows because these figures are difficult to calculate. First, we need
to find how much NASA spent each year on these programs, and then add these
dollars taking into account inflation. We couldn’t add 1970s dollars to
2000s dollars. For example, if we simply added Apollo programs fiscal spending
during its fifteen-year existence, we obtain $20.4 billion. That’s the
usual program cost reported. However, doing the same math using constant
1975 dollars give $29.3 billion. And using 2010 dollars give us $109 billion.
We thus could say that the Apollo program cost $20 billion in then-year
dollars, $30 billion in 1970s dollars, or $110 billion in today’s money.
How does this
compare to the Space Shuttle and ISS programs? In this essay, I’ve calculated
the costs of US piloted programs and then make some comparisons. (All the
numbers used for this essay and their sources are available at the U.S.
Piloted Programs Costs page.)
Doing spaceflights in the 1960s and 1970s
there were the Mercury and Gemini programs. Project Mercury spanned five
years (1959–1963) and cost $277 million in 1965 dollars, which translate
into $1.6 billion in 2010 dollars. Since six Mercury piloted missions were
flown, that amounted to $265 million per flight in today’s money.
As for Gemini,
the program costs $1.3 billion in 1967 dollars during its six-year lifespan
(1962–1967). In today’s money, it would amount to $7.3 billion, or $723
millions for each of its 10 piloted missions. We thus could say that a
Gemini mission cost twice as much as a Mercury’s.
above, the Apollo program costs $20.4 billion if we simply added yearly
spending of its 15 year-lifespan (1959–1973), or $109 billion in today’s
money. Since 11 Apollo piloted missions were flown, that amounts to $9.9
billion per flight. That’s way over Mercury and Gemini mission costs, reflecting
the complexity of going to the Moon. And if we consider these $109 billion
resulted in six lunar landings, each of these missions costs some $18 billion!
there was the Skylab space station program, which cost $2.2 billion in
then-year money ($10 billion in 2010 dollars) during its nine-year existence
(1966–1974). Considering that three three-men crews spent a total of 510
person-days onboard Skylab, this mean that each day spent by a crewman
costs $20 million. (We’ll compare this to living onboard ISS.)
first era of the US piloted program ended in 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz
Test Project. The American portion of this US-Soviet mission costs $245
million at the time, or $1 billion in today’s dollars.
The Space Shuttle and Space Station era
The longest and
most complex piloted program so far is the Space Shuttle. Started in 1972,
it will end by 2012 after 41 years. Adding annual funding over such a long
period would total $123 billion. However, the true cost of the Shuttle
is $198.6 billion in 2010 dollars. Considering that 134 Shuttle missions
are scheduled, it means that each one costs about $1.4 billion.
As for the International
Space Station, the program began in 1985 and will extend at least until
2015. For this thirty-year span, some $58.7 billion were budgeted by NASA.
This amounts to $72.4 billion in today’s money.
amount does not include 36 Shuttle flights needed to build the station,
nor the contribution from the international partners. Adding 36 flights
at $1.4 billion each would incur an additional $54 billion. And if we include
the international partners’ contributions (Russia $12 billion, Europe and
Japan $5 billion each, and Canada $2 billion) the total ISS program cost
is about $150 billion (up until 2015).
ISS has been
crewed since November 2000 by two- to six-person teams. From then on to
2015, we could estimate that the station will be manned by some 20,000
person-days. Considering its $150-billion price tag, that would mean that
each day spent onboard by an ISS crewmember costs about $7.5 million (compared
to $20 million for Skylab.)
All the funds
allocated to NASA for piloted programs from 1959 to 2015 adds up to $275
billions in then-year dollars, or $486 billion in 2010 dollars.
In this review
of all major US piloted programs, there is another one that is less known
but for which funding is as high as those allocated to the Space Station:
the Exploration program.
Tens of billions… and counting!
In January 2004,
President George W. Bush announced that the Space Shuttle program would
end by 2010 and unveiled a new goal for the United States: to go back to
the Moon in 2020 and then continue to Mars. Bush said his Vision for Space
Exploration (VSE) would pay for itself by funding reductions from other
programs (mainly the Shuttle) and by the expected normal increase in NASA
Bush’s VSE was not funded properly, and last month President Obama announced
its cancellation. What happened between 2004 and today?
On the day President
Bush announced its plan, NASA published a graph showing the SEI funding
this graph, which covers the years 2004 to 2020, NASA’s “Aeronautics and
Other Sciences Activities” (in gray) will be funded at about $5 billion
a year. The Space Shuttle funding (red) will decrease from $5 to $4 billion
a year until 2010, and all funding will end in 2012. As for the International
Space Station (salmon), it will be funded at about $2 billionsa year. Accordingly,
the Moon/Mars Exploration program (blue) will be funded from $4 to $5 billion
in its early years, increasing to $10 billion a year at the end of the
Bush was re-elected in 2004, how did his Administration budget the first
six years of the Vision for Space Exploration? What was the true funding?
This second graph
shows the amount allocated to NASA by the Bush Administration from 2004
to 2010 and the Obama requests for 2011 to 2015.
It first shows
that NASA’s total budget was at the level planned in 2004 by the Bush Administration.
NASA had not suffered any deep cuts (as sometime reported). As indicated
in both graphs, its budgets started at $15 billion in 2004 and are projected
to grow to over $20 billion by 2015.
funding budgeted for the Exploration program was well under what had been
planned. From the start, the Bush Administration budgeted less than half
of what it had shown in his graph. And since the Space Shuttle and the
Space Station programs were funded at planned levels, the additional funding
NASA received during this period were allocated to the Aeronautics and
Other Sciences Activities portion of its budget. The same could be said
about the Obama Administration.
of a flat $5-billion-a-year funding planned, the Aeronautics and Other
Science Activities started at $8 billion in 2004, growing to $9 billion
in 2010 and is scheduled to top $11 billion by 2015. As for the Exploration
Programs (which included the Constellation lunar program), it started at
only $1.6 billion in 2004 (half of what the Bush graph shows) to grew to
$4 billion in 2010. And, although President Obama announced its cancellation,
this program will continue to be funded at the $4-billion level until at
least 2015. This $4-billion-a-year funding is as high of what it is planned
For what purpose
will this $20 billion be spent over the next five years? That’s the question!
This graph shows the amount spent by the United
States on piloted spaceflight from 1959 to 2015. It shows the importance
of the Apollo program ($100 billions spent over ten years) and of the Space
Shuttle ($200 billions over forty years). At right, the Space Station
program ($70 billions spent in thirty years) and the Exploration program
(nearly $50 billions in twelve years). In all, U.S. spent $486 billions
over 57 years, an average of $8.3 billions a year. (All figures in 2010
See also the U.S.
Piloted Programs Costs page.