Returning Astronauts to the Moon Could Cost $30 Billion, Says NASA

The lunar mission is being framed as part of a wider plan for exploring the universe.
Chris Young

NASA's first cost estimate for the space agency's Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the moon again by 2024 has been revealed — it will cost $30 billion.

While getting back to the moon will be extremely expensive, this is actually relatively cheap when compared to other space missions.


Practice for Mars

NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, offered the first official budget estimate for the lunar program during an interview on CNN.

The budget accounts for the recruitment of commercial companies and international partners, the building of a lunar space station and the framing of the whole enterprise as practice for going to Mars.

The estimate for the whole program is between $20 and $30 billion, though Brindestine specified that this doesn't include what has already been spent on the SLS rocket and Orion capsule it intends to use for the program.

Big promises

Importantly, Brindestine has always asserted that the push to get back to the moon will be funded separately from NASA's other activities. NASA claims they won't pull funds from any other initiatives that are already taking part.

Last month, President Donald Trump asked Congress to allot an added $1.6 billion to NASA to fund the Artemis program for the fiscal year 2020, which starts on October 1.

Though Congress has not yet evaluated the proposal, Brindestine highlights the fact that this would only be the start, with the space program requiring dramatic budget increases. 

Despite the substantial costs, NASA's last announced lunar mission, which was never launched, was announced at an estimated cost of $104 billion in 2005.

The Apollo program that successfully reached the moon cost $25 billion, though that was in 1960s dollars.

A short-term investment

Brindestine says the lunar program is definitely worth the huge sums of money needed to fund it. He frames it as part of a wider, sustainable program.

"Think of it as a short-term investment to have a sustainable program at the moon where we're ultimately keeping our eyes on Mars," Bridenstine told CNN.

How can we justify the money?

NASA’s associate director of science faced this question in 1970, when a Zambia-based nun sent him a letter asking how he justified the billions spent on space programs with how much good that amount of money could do on Earth.

He expressed his admiration for her “compassionate heart” and wrote her a reply: 400 years ago, when people were suffering from the plague, the large amount of government money spent on the gradual development of glass lenses was protested for its wastefulness.

What did it lead to? The creation of the microscope, a giant leap for medicine.