How Much Would Apollo Really Cost?

Wiesner noted in his November 20 memorandum that the NASA budget being discussed for Fiscal Year 1963 was 50 percent greater than had been projected just six months earlier. Indeed, the budget projections accompany­ing the accelerated space effort that President Kennedy had approved in May had projected a NASA budget of $3.029 billion for FY1963. However, when NASA submitted its FY1963 request to the BOB several months later, that total had grown to $4.238 billion, which was a 40 percent increase over the May estimate. By the time NASA and the BOB in December 1961 completed their negotiations over what the president would request for NASA in Fiscal Year 1963, the budget level had been reduced from $4.238 billion to $3.787 billion; this was still more than a 125 percent increase over the final FY1962 level. In a memorandum to President Kennedy summarizing the state of the NASA program, budget director David Bell provided a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the program since May and recommended to the president “that it would be desirable for you and the Vice President to have in the near future a short briefing and discussion of the status and plans for the civilian space programs, especially the manned lunar landing program.” Bell noted that NASA administrator Webb had concurred in this recommendation and on the budget figures outlined in his memorandum.28 The proposed briefing did not take place until Kennedy and Johnson visited NASA’s Apollo facilities in September 1962.

In his review of the situation for the president, Bell said that even in May the BOB had thought that NASA’s projections for future budgets “appeared to us to be understated,” and that BOB had anticipated a $3.5 billion budget request for FY1963, although it had not used that number in any official documents. Bell told the president that “the cost estimates for the manned lunar landing program appear to have been underestimated to an even greater degree than anticipated.” This was because “earlier estimates were of neces­sity made in advance of detailed technical plans and cost studies,” but such studies were now “showing clearly that the costs of the principal elements of the program will be greater than anticipated.” Bell estimated that the NASA budget would continue to increase, reaching $4.9 billion in FY1964, $5.3 billion in FY 1965, and $5.6 billion in FY1966. This meant that at the end of 1961 the accelerated space effort was projected to cost at least $2.8 bil­lion more than had been estimated just six months earlier. That such cost growth was worrying to the White House was clear; Webb told Dryden and Seamans on November 21 that “there is some evidence that the President is concerned about the cost of our program.”29 Webb was correct; the president was indeed concerned.