How Much Would Landing on the Moon Cost?

The BOB review did not attempt to assign a cost to the overall Apollo proj­ect through the planned first landing. In preparing NASA administrator Webb for possible questions at the press briefing planned to follow President Kennedy’s May 25 speech, NASA’s public affairs chief Bill Lloyd suggested that the answer to the questions “What is your best estimate? How many billions of dollars would the lunar landing program cost?” should be “our best guess is in the neighborhood of $20 billion.”17 The origins of this $20 billion figure apparently lie with James Webb. Robert Seamans reports that the NASA staff estimate for the additional cost of the lunar landing program above what had been previously planned was in the range of $10 to $12 billion; Hugh Dryden had used an $11.4 billion increment in his April 22 presentation to Vice President Johnson. According to Seamans, “Jim Webb put an ‘administrator’s discount’ on our ability to predict costs precisely.” Lambright suggests that Webb’s administrative discount applied both to announcing a date for the first landing attempt and for a precise cost of the project. With respect to the landing date, Webb wanted “a margin of flex­ibility weighted against what the technical experts thought was possible, just in case something went wrong. He did not want the prestige of the nation (much less his own reputation) resting on an overly optimistic deadline.” With respect to the projected costs, the $10 to $12 billion estimate “looked much too low to Webb. Because no one could anticipate all the contingen­cies, he enlarged the figure NASA sent Kennedy to $20 billion for the first lunar journey.” There are stories, apparently apocryphal, that Webb doubled the Apollo cost estimate during a ten-minute car ride from NASA headquar­ters to Capitol Hill; Seamans’s account suggest that there was substantially more thought given to the cost estimate than such stories would suggest.18