The actual cost of going to the Moon was a fraction of the commonly cited figure. The commonly cited figure is $25.4 billion. Yet the actual cost of the first landing (Apollo 11) did not exceed $500 million. What accounts for this difference? We estimate that the United States spent $20.6 billion preparing to land astronauts on the Moon. The cost of preparation far exceeded the expense of the first surface expedition.
All nine missions to the moon, including Apollo 11, cost $4.6 billion. We estimate that the cost of preparation plus the cost of missions totaled $25.3 billion. That figure does not include equipment worth $1.6 billion left over when the Moon landings ended in 1972.
Use of the commonly cited $25.4 billion figure suggests that the United States would need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the value of modern currency to return astronauts to the Moon. That is misleading. Most of the money spent on Project Apollo represented investments in technology that do not need to be repeated. The investments purchased advances in rocket engine technology, computer miniaturization, tracking and communication, orbital rendezvous and other innovations that are with us now.
The United States could return to the Moon for a fraction of the commonly cited figure. An accurate assessment of the cost of Project Apollo is essential for estimating the costs of future missions to the Moon and planets.