How Much Does It Cost to Go to Space? $6.25 Billion.

May 30, 2020, marks another historic moment in American space ingenuity as astronauts resume their march into orbit aboard American technology. I wanted to know: how much does it cost to go to space in 2020?

I came to a total of $6.25 billion, all in.

The landmark achievement rode the back of a private commercial success in SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule on Falcon rockets.

In this post, I’ll break down the total expenditures SpaceX has incurred to reach this success. While the ISS rendezvous had direct costs much smaller than $6.25B, it’s the milestone achievement that Musk has aimed for since the start.

So, what did it take to get here?

Astronauts, Made in the USA

Before I dive into the details of how much it cost to go to space once again, I’d like to review a little of what SpaceX has accomplished with NASA.

Two NASA astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, recently completed their 19-hour trip to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). They’re riding in the Crew Dragon Capsule—or Dragon 2—in orbit around Earth.

The astronauts named their specific vehicle Endeavour, harkening back to the Space Shuttle they’re all too familiar with. The moment the Falcon rocket took off from Florida with its two American passengers was a milestone achievement in the Dragon concept that SpaceX started in 2005.

Sending Doug and Bob to the ISS via Crew Dragon.
Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken on the way to Crew Dragon

Starting from Zero, Astronauts Reached Orbit Aboard Dragon in a Decade

The five year period after Dragon began saw significant development in Dragon’s underlying systems. Dragon’s first structural test flight was mid-2010, coinciding with the Falcon 9 rocket’s maiden voyage.

By December 2010, an operational test flight was launched with Dragon riding Falcon 9’s second flight.

In 2011, NASA began searching for private enterprise to continue missions to the ISS. NASA’s Space Shuttle program ceased in July 2011 with its last mission to the ISS for cargo delivery.

Not even two years after its initial operational test flight, Dragon saw its first goods transportation mission success as it docked with the ISS in 2012. Between then and now, Dragon has had many successful resupply missions to the ISS. Each time, the team behind Dragon learned a bit more about the capsule and how to further its mission to eventually carry humans to space again. All the while, this private commercial company fulfilled its resupply missions to the ISS, funding the human component too.

By early 2019, SpaceX began testing the Crew Dragon spacecraft, a variant of the Dragon 2 capsule. As opposed to the Cargo Dragon, the Crew Dragon capsule was designed to carry astronauts. This is the variant that would, today, carry both American astronauts into space. Technically, Endeavour is the fifth Crew Dragon, though the second to space. The first Crew Dragon to space made a similar mission to today’s landmark ISS docking, but without any crew aboard.

Paying Russia to Launch Americans

Since 2011, NASA has paid Russia to send American astronauts to the ISS.

How much does it cost to go to space? Between 2011 and 2020, it was $80 million per seat aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

Through July of 2019, NASA spent $3.9 billion on transporting 70 American or partner astronauts to and from the ISS. That’s an average of $55.7 million across the 70 seats.

How much does it cost to go to space on Dragon with SpaceX? NASA estimates that the first six missions, including today’s, will cost $55 million per seat aboard the Crew Dragon. [1]

It’s very hard to know exactly what SpaceX has spent since its inception so that we might understand the cost to take our first two American astronauts to orbit since 2011. This is because SpaceX is a private company—we don’t have public data to analyze.

With that limitation in mind, let’s take a look at the total funding and earned contracts SpaceX has received.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to Space With SpaceX?

The closest we can get to understanding the total cost of sending astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to orbit in this mission is to total the known funding SpaceX has received for related work. This is from outside investment funding, personal funding from Musk, and delivered contracts from NASA.

There are some issues with this approach.

For one, SpaceX does much more than send astronauts to orbit.

The company also has contracts with the US Air Force, though some have not been completed, and others are more opaque.

SpaceX’s core business has been in sending humans and cargo to orbit or the ISS, so it makes sense to focus on outside funding to further that mission as well as known NASA contracts. While their recent delivery of a network of satellites designed to provide internet at a low cost caught a lot of attention, SpaceX’s primary revenue source is contracted deliveries to orbit and the ISS.

Let’s work through the funding to get an idea of how to answer: how much does it cost to go to space?

Elon Musk’s Personal Funding of SpaceX at its Inception

Most estimates put Elon Musk’s personal investment into founding SpaceX in 2002 at about $100 million. By 2008, SpaceX accepted $20 million in outside investment.

NASA was searching for private firms to be involved with human spaceflight in 2011. Funding awards were available to private companies that could help make that future a reality.

In the second round of commercial crew development funding awards, SpaceX earned $75 million to develop an integrated launch escape system for the Dragon capsule to improve human safety.

By 2012, estimates put Musk’s personal investment total at $100 million with another $100 million from outside investment. Estimates put the first decade of operational costs at about $1 billion. The difference, about $800 million, was from revenue on long-term launch and development contracts.

NASA’s Growth as a Source of Revenue for SpaceX

In August of 2012, SpaceX won an award worth $440 million from NASA. The award was intended to provide further funding for development and testing of the Dragon 2 spacecraft, with the Crew Dragon variant providing a method to take humans to the ISS once again.

By 2015, SpaceX raised additional outside funding in the amount of $1 billion. In 2017, another $350 million in outside funding was raised.

Later, SpaceX was awarded with another $2.6 billion worth of funding to certify the Dragon capsule for crewed flight by 2017.

Across 2019, SpaceX had multiple funding rounds with a total value of $1.33 billion. Early 2020 has already seen another $250 million in outside funding.

The Cost to Send SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule to Orbit with Two Astronauts

We can total Musk’s personal investment, outside funding, and NASA’s executed contracts to get an idea of how much money has gone into SpaceX over the last 18 years.

It’ll help us answer how much it costs to go to space in context of the entire SpaceX project from a scratch start to ISS docking.

This ignores some of the other, generally minor, funding sources SpaceX has received for more discrete work like USAF propulsion development. These are the funds that have been more focused on achieving the core mission of today’s flight, sending two American astronauts to the ISS.

To be clear: these funds have provided much more than to carry our first two astronauts on a private commercial vessel to the ISS.

They also represent the expenditures necessary to complete many resupply missions and progress towards future missions not yet completed. This is merely a snapshot in time of total funding SpaceX has received prior to a successful ISS docking mission with Dragon and crew.

DateAmount (USD, Millions)Source
2002100Elon Musk, Personal Funding
200820Outside Funding
201175NASA Award
201280Outside Funding
2012440NASA Award
20151000Outside Funding
2017350Outside Funding
20172600NASA Award
20191333Outside Funding
2020250Outside Funding
6,248Total Funding

SpaceX has most of the funds related to space logistics allotted to the company since its 2002 inception to reach today’s goal.

How much does it cost to go to space from scratch (and build an entire cargo network along the way)? $6.25 billion.

That may seem expensive if viewed as a bill to send these two astronauts, but remember that it’s the entire development and infrastructure it took to reach this point.

SpaceX will continue to provide crewed service and cargo service to the ISS, and much more, into the future.

The per-seat cost will amortize over time, drastically dropping with each successful mission.

NASA’s own estimates for the first six missions of Crew Dragon ring in at $55 million per seat.

This is the discrete cost NASA estimates for the Crew Dragon service. SpaceX has been able to obfuscate much of the development cost of Crew Dragon with its successful cargo missions as so much of the underlying systems are shared.

Space and Private Commercial Efficiency

I wrote an article a few years ago with a central theme of identifying the Apollo Program cost. That article identified the total cost, inflation-adjusted to 2020, at about $194 billion. While that crushes our $6.25 billion SpaceX mission cost for today, that was also a much loftier goal: humans on the moon. But, what about the first Apollo mission with a successful trip to orbit?

While Freedom 7 was the first American mission successfully to space with Alan Shephard onboard, Apollo 7 was the first Apollo mission to space. This mission was in 1968 and NASA began appropriating funds for the Apollo Program in 1960. Through 1968, NASA appropriated $14,105,420 for the Apollo missions.

How much did it cost to go to space in 1968 for the US? About $108 billion in costs for the first Apollo mission successfully in orbit with humans aboard, inflation-adjusted to 2020. [4]

SpaceX’s mission goes far beyond the ISS and orbit, eventually onto Mars. It’s not unlike NASA’s grandiose mission beyond Apollo 7.

Congressional testimony in 2017 discussed funding related topics for SpaceX and NASA. The estimate for the total development cost of Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets was $390 million. This estimate was independently verified. Prior to this development, NASA estimated it’d cost $4 billion to develop a rocket system like the Falcon 9 using their traditional methods. That’s approximately ten times SpaceX’s audited cost.

Will SpaceX be our Spacefaring Future?

As technological improvements continue to drive down the price of our phones, tablets, and computers, it does the same for rocket launch systems. SpaceX’s major innovations in rocket recovery have allowed it to drastically cut transportation costs. If estimates turn out to be accurate, NASA should reduce their per-seat cost for sending astronauts to the ISS by nearly half versus paying for Russian Soyuz seats.

There’s one other wild thing I noticed while watching today’s launch to orbit aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule. The two astronauts only had one direct action button they could press: an emergency scrub button.

SpaceX has made launching humans to orbit an automated, algorithmic process controlled by computers. Let’s hope this “autopilot” to space creates safer launches and in turn, more efficient ones.

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken opened up new doors for humans to explore the unknown, and they’ve done so by being as separated from the process as possible.

What was the cost to send two astronauts on a SpaceX rocket to orbit again?


  1. NASA’s Office of Inspector General, 2019 report:
  2. SpaceX, “Funding”:
    via Wikipedia
  3. Elon Musk’s Best Investments:
    via Investopedia
  4. NASA Budget Appropriations:
    via NASA History
  5. Imagery sourced from SpaceX
    SpaceX creative commons Flickr

James River Park Pipeline Walkway (Richmond’s Founding)

When hearing “Pipeline”, you might visualize a sprawling industrial complex supporting oil refineries and distribution in your mind. The opposite of peaceful nature. Instead, the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in Richmond, VA offers stunning views across the city’s rapids.

In Richmond—“Pipeline” is synonymous with access to nature—right in the middle of the city proper.

Pipeline Park may have been similar to your vision of heavy industry in the era of Richmond’s tobacco industry heyday.

Today, even as the namesake’s pipeline still operates, nature has taken over its meaning. It’s one of RVA’s great outdoor activities.

Only a short walk from downtown Richmond, Pipeline Park’s primary points of interest are Pipeline Overlook and a catwalk.

The catwalk is better known as the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. 

Pipeline Overlook offers sweeping views from the banks of the James River atop a small concrete tower. You’ll be just a little jealous of the sights the tall riverside apartments enjoy.

The Pipeline in the Park

The overlook offers a nice view and there are some hiking trails along the bank.

But, the real gem in this park is the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The pipeline juts out from the riverbank in a straight shot west, following the river. A metal catwalk rests atop the pipeline which itself is under a railroad viaduct.

The pipeline below your feet on the catwalk transfers both wastewater and sewage for the city. The viaduct above is actively used by the CSX railroad.

Normally a peaceful walk, it can turn into a very different experience if you happen to catch a train running above you.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway is a secluded natural adventure nestled over the river in downtown Richmond. It's where RVA began, see our tour!
The view from the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The catwalk runs a hundred meters or so while straddling the pipeline before abruptly ending.

At this point, the metal pipeline dons a thick concrete shell that makes for a fine walkway even as the handrails of the catwalk end.

Another few hundred yards without the comfort of the catwalk and you’ll find the pipeline ends at the bank, continuing its snaking infrastructure underground.

A trail along the riverbank offers a chance to continue your walk to the base of Brown’s Island when the water level is low enough.

Animal Life at Pipeline Park

The trails and pipeline walk offer a surprising chance at observing the river’s animal life. Nature isn’t quite as dense here on the James as at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge downstream, but it’s still a lovely sampling. 

There are several small islands visible from the catwalk that are wild, including Baliey’s Island and Devil’s Kitchen Island. Kayakers tend to use them as rest points.

Great Blue Herons roost in the area, and you’ll catch them out hunting if you’re lucky. Osprey also frequent the area. There’s a good chance you’ll spot ducks and geese. You might happen upon beaver in the area as the churning river tends to offer them lots of debris to work with. 

If you’re looking to fish and have a license: smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish are in the area. Rockfish can be found during the spring migration.

The area is also known to have some semi-permanent human residents. Keep an eye out.

Watersport and Outdoor Activities

The rapids that run the river length along the pipeline are very popular with kayakers and rafters. The whitewater is generally Class III although there are some Class IV sections depending on conditions. This isn’t a safe area for beginners.

It’s also a great spot for a picnic, sunbathing, and swimming. There’s multiple fairly large sections of sandy beach you can hop down to from the catwalk or access from the trails past the catwalk.

Founding of Richmond, Virginia Near Pipeline Park

Richmond, and the James, are steeped in history. Only about a hundred meters east of the entry to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway is the estimated location of a cross that was raised by Captain Christopher Newport and Captain John Smith in May of 1607.

The cross was laid only days after the party’s landing in Jamestown.

In the decades that followed, William Byrd, a prominent trader, operated several acres of plantation along the falls in this area. When the land passed to his heir in 1704, the Colonial government worked with William Byrd II to incorporate a town from this land.

The concept of what would become Richmond began in 1705 as this land was put to use.

The city was officially founded in 1737.

Richmond's Newport Cross at Canal Walk
A reproduction and monument to the Newport Cross and landing is along the nearby Canal Walk.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway and Pipeline Park were opened to the public in 2005.

Pipeline Park is part of the James River Park System.

Getting to the Park

A small parking lot is at the entry to the park. A small bike rack is along the trail to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. The park is open from dawn to dusk. 

There’s no cost to visit the park, use the catwalk, or park.

Accessing the catwalk requires a short climb down a metal ladder from the riverbank. Be aware of the water level and weather. High, fast water can easily engulf the pipeline and connected trails.

Attempting to map out the location might be difficult as it’s on a small access road off of S. 12th street in Richmond.

The closest address is:
1101 Haxall Point
Richmond, VA, 23219

Take a look at the photo below that is labeled with locations of the overlook, parking, and the direction of the catwalk. This is from the point of view of driving into the park from Shockoe Bottom/Canal.

Richmond Pipeline Park Parking and Catwalk Directions
Richmond Pipeline Park Parking, Overlook, and Catwalk Directions

James River Park Pipeline Walkway: Nature in Downtown

There aren’t very many “secluded” spots in a city with a metro population of over a million. But, Richmond is an old city on an older river. The James River has been used for centuries by modern Americans, Colonists, and the original Native people to ferry cargo.

The pipeline under the James River Park Pipeline Walkway still ferries cargo, keeping this section of the James pristine.

That pipeline also offers a clever way for us to access this beautiful, secluded park.

Looking for more adventure? I recommend Presquile National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles away.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge (A James River Island)

There is a hidden island sanctuary just 20 miles from the city of Richmond, VA teeming with nature. Presquile National Wildlife Refuge lies in the middle of the James River.

The island habitat exists without roads or private development.

The wildlife refuge covers all of Presquile.

The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the wildlife refuge. It’s home to some endangered species as well as a variety of migratory birds including roosting Bald Eagles.

Established in 1953, Presquile is accessible only with a permit by boat. It’s an enjoyable ferry ride during the annual Field Day. Alternatively, it’s a short paddle by kayak or canoe.

The island is one of the Richmond area’s great outdoor gems. It remains relatively unknown due to the difficulty accessing it.

The refuge is east of Richmond, making it only about 35 miles from Williamsburg. It’s a short trip to this national wildlife refuge in the middle of the James River from much of Central Virginia.

The unspoiled landscape creates an opportunity for fantastic outdoor adventure activities. Hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are all great ways to take in the refuge. There’s only barely a distant hum of city life and industry even though heavy industry surrounds the island from the banks of the James.

The habitat covers 1,329 acres of protected land. You’ll find Tidal Swamp Forest and Mixed Mesic Forest offering thick shade and plenty of lingering webbed branches to get caught in. Much of the wildlife refuge is comprised of Freshwater Marsh which limits access by grassy trail.

This large undeveloped space means you may run into some wild bits of nature.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge’s Creatures

It wouldn’t be a wildlife refuge without plenty of creatures! Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with it.

This, is a wheel bug.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.

They’re quite timid and tend to hide in larger foliage, hunting other insects. If you do manage to bring the wrath of the Wheel Bug, you can look forward to a bite wound more painful than a wasp. It may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months!

If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the infamous James River Sturgeon swimming along, prized for its massive length.

You might hear the Prothonotary Warbler singing its tune.

You’ll likely spot the common American Black Duck paddling around the calm waters.

Monarch Butterflies glide casually from petal to petal across the island’s dense flowers.

America’s icon itself, the Bald Eagle, will be watching you from above protecting its nest.

Presquile As An Outdoor Field Trip for Adults

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plays host to a “field day” semi-annually on Presquile. FWS typically runs this and other Presquile events throughout the month of March and September.

No public facilities are on the island, but FWS does provide access to modern facilities with running water during their events. Pack light as you will pack out everything you bring to the island.

The event allows visitors to explore the miles of grass trails on the island. Take a moment with a pair of binoculars to spot the variety of bird species. Be intrigued by the biodiversity on this small island of Presquile.

You’re only a short distance from urban city life yet you’ll find yourself on this beautiful piece of nature.

FWS also offers educational opportunities on Presquile through the James River Association.

Sunrise on the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
The Sunrise over Presquile

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge sits amid the human history-laden James River, not far from where Richmond was founded: near Pipeline Park in the city.

For the creatures that were here long before us, Presquile remains a true wildlife refuge.

→ Looking for more adventure? I recommend the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in the heart of Richmond.

DK’s “Great LEGO Sets” Book and the LEGO AFOL Community

A gentlemen named Toby reached out to me from DK Publishing in December of 2014. He found me by way of posts I contributed in various LEGO communities and a small parts store I run on BrickLink. Toby was writing a book about great LEGO sets throughout the company’s history. It was apparent I owned some of the sets Toby was looking for photographs of for the book based on the inventory I listed. At the time, the title of the book (“Great LEGO Sets: A Visual History”) wasn’t even finalized. Toby asked for shots of multiple sets I’d collected over the years and from my childhood. Of course, I obliged. Toby was incredibly gracious, responsive, and helpful. Everything you’d want someone interacting with a fan community to be. Getting a copy of the eventual book was quite a surprise, a year later.

DK Publishing sent me an early copy of Great Lego Sets: A Visual History from Denmark!

“Great LEGO Sets: A Visual History” by DK Publishing

DK Publishing’s “Great LEGO Sets: A Visual History” will be available October 8 in the U.S. (you can order now via this Amazon affiliate link). Like many other LEGO community fans and supporters, I helped contribute to the massive undertaking that DK’s LEGO books tend to be. The 256 page book weighs in at just over 5 pounds with thick cardboard sleeve and heavy weight pages. It includes a 102 piece “micro scale space cruiser” model which is a homage to the Classic Space model #487 / #982. The combination makes for a significant book: it feels like you’re getting a lot despite the high price tag.

DK Publishing, Great LEGO Sets: Visual History, Back Cover

What’s so impressive about this book to me is that it’s a culmination of community participation. The book spans the history of plastic brick based LEGO with all the major sets over the last several decades. Well known, nostalgic sets get a full centerfold spread. DK can’t source the hundreds of sets required for such a project in-house and so they reach out to the community.

The Growth of the Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL)

The AFOL community has grown, seemingly exponentially, in recent years. It’s great to see third-parties, like DK, not only leveraging the growing interest as a company, but also supporting it. LEGO itself should be commended as they’ve cleared supported DK and the fan community with special releases like the micro scale Space Cruiser #11910 with this book.

Micro Scale Classic Space Cruiser 11910 with DK Publishing's Great Lego Sets Book

This micro scale model represents a very rare set from 1979 that just about every kid wanted to find under their Christmas tree during that time. These days, the original model, is highly collectible. Even a thoroughly used set goes for hundreds of dollars. DK including this model as the source of the micro scale version with the book is a hat tip to the AFOL community.

“When I Grow Up, I Want to be a LEGO Designer!”

Like so many, I wanted to grow up and become a LEGO designer as a kid. The BBC’s channel 4 recently had a feature, “The Secret World of LEGO“, on just that topic. There’s lots of experienced engineers and designers out there now that grew up with LEGO and are vying for one of the few sought after positions in Billund. LEGO has created an entire theme—originally CUUSOO but now dubbed “Ideas“—to accommodate the community’s wish to participate in the design process. This benefits both parties: LEGO gets free initial designs with proven interest and the community gets to see their dreams come to life.

This was my small opportunity to revel in the world of LEGO again. Seeing my name popup in the Acknowledgements meant more than such a silly couple of words ought to (I’ll forgive the typo in the domain name “”).

Great LEGO Sets: Acknowledgements

But it’s just that feeling that DK can leverage to their advantage: nostalgia in the community. We all love our childhood toys. Many of us have turned them into much more than a toy: a hobby, art, decoration, an activity with our own children. If LEGO, through the community participation and third parties like DK, can keep the positive emotion and nostalgia flowing, there’s a bright future ahead. We might even avoid a repeat of the dreaded early 2000s LEGO era.

With fond thoughts of all the childhood LEGO you desperately wanted but never had, dear reader, I’ll leave you with the centerfold photoset DK created from my contributions to 1983’s Galaxy Commander #6980.

LEGO Galaxy Commander #6980 from 1983

Space Exploration Benefits and Its Future (NASA to SpaceX)

My father had his 60th birthday recently. Every so often I hear a story from him about the benefits of space exploration. He worries about how “things have changed” in the US.

He likes to distill the “things” to emotions like hope, faith, and exceptionalism.

It’s innocence that has been lost.

I always ask for anecdotes.

How have we “lost our way”?

Were the Moon Missions Worth the Cost?

The meandering explanation leads to the Space Program. The story goes that the Apollo Program was the apex of space exploration.

That losing the momentum of chasing a dream after shattering the need resulted in a slow-growing lethargy.

We underappreciate space exploration benefits and what the Apollo Program did for the US.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My father loves America. He’s a veteran, he’s worked hard to bring the American Dream to my family his entire life. I don’t know if he’s right about how “things have changed”. Perhaps it’s just with the benefit of time that we look back on history with rose-colored glasses.

Nostalgia is a cloudy set of specs.

Still, I can’t help but think of Norman Rockwell whenever the tale is spun. The family sits around the bubble-television watching on tenterhooks as the latest NASA mission is detailed. I can almost see my father there with a cowboy hat and a red wagon.

Apollo Space Program 1969 Norman Rockwell Art
“From the Earth to the Moon” by Norman Rockwell, 1969.

This thought of “innocence lost in America” isn’t unique to my dad. My uncles and aunts love to chime in with agreement when they’re around. I can nearly hear someone holding back a “kids these days” comment. My family wasn’t the first to think of this, either. In fact, “America lost its innocence”, verges on repetitive trope. I think it’s a loss of vision, a loss of priority.

Is the US Spending Enough on NASA’s Space Exploration?

Perhaps there’s an argument to be had with the benefits of space exploration. The U.S. isn’t spending like it used to. In the age of the Apollo Program, NASA’s portion of the federal budget hovered near 3% in some years.

The Apollo Program cost was outweighed by its tremendous benefits.

On average, NASA has cost about 1% of the federal budget. Space exploration, as a subset of NASA’s funding, is only a fraction of the U.S. federal budget.

Chart of NASA Budget as Percent of Federal Budget
NASA budget as a percentage of the federal budget

NASA funding is trending down. The 2015 budget request is for $17.5B, a bit less than 2014. It represents about 0.45% of the federal budget. $4B of that is dedicated to human space exploration. NASA is consistently underfunded, despite the fact that the public overestimates NASA’s cost. A 2007 study found that the average American thinks that we spend about 24% of our federal budget on NASA or about 48x reality.

NASA’s budget reality has been diverging from public perception for decades. It’s no wonder we have science celebrities panhandling to the public over half of a penny.

Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best with “We Stopped Dreaming”

Neil deGrasse Tyson delivers a powerful speech about a mindset in “We Stopped Dreaming”. A mindset where the average American would “think about tomorrow”. The idea that we, as a people, would look forward to technology advances; the possibilities unlocked from research and development.

Humans were galvanized to dream about the future. A future in which we have invested for the long term. This isn’t a future guided by quarterly reports or election cycles. It’s one in which we are guided by improving the human condition.

When the guiding light of exceptional goals is replaced with maintenance and status quo, dreams are shattered. The engineers, scientists, technologists, and mathematicians of tomorrow need to be led by the vision of exceptional goals. Without them, scientific progress stalls. Without a dream to pursue, we mortgage our future.

Benefits of Space Exploration

The Apollo Program yielded an incredible return on investment. The U.S. had real, tangible gains from the investments made in the project. The program was a major stepping stone into future beyond Earth projects.

Hardware developed during the Apollo era was used in Skylab, our first space station. Skylab produced valuable results through its solar observatory and experiments performed onboard. Skylab is just one of the spacecraft that would not have been feasible without knowledge from the lunar program.

In 1975 a space docking with the Soyuz spacecraft occurred. It was a major step toward rebuilding relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.. It played a key role in the end of the Cold War. A variety of breakthroughs in early breast cancer detection occurred. The accelerated development of integrated circuits was made possible through space exploration research. Several major spin-offs were the product of the lunar program. There are real benefits to space exploration.

Tyson makes a point in his speech. Perhaps the one in which this entire story is based upon. He suggests that having a cultural mindset where the people are internally invested in the future enables those very people to bring the future to the present. Perhaps that’s what my father means when he says “things have changed”.

Maybe there’s solace in a place we wouldn’t have expected it. Traditionally, the government has been the only source with the authority and resources to breach space. That might be changing. Can private entities with commercial needs exist within the vacuum of space?


SpaceX the Future of Space Exploration?
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft

I found myself anxiously waiting in front of a screen for a launch countdown. I’d say I’m a fan of space exploration, but I’m not the type to sit around watching rocket launches. I regret not having seen a Space Shuttle launch before the program ended, though. However, this felt like something entirely different. The Internet was awash in excitement for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft launch.

It wasn’t just the geeks and nerds, either.

Mainstream media had picked up the story and Elon Musk had become a celebrity. Musk founded SpaceX on the basis, eventually, Earth will no longer support our species. It’s a difficult concept to internalize as it’s an event far in the future, but it is inevitable. At some point, someone has to make the decision to spread humanity beyond Earth or our species dies with it. Across the globe, regular people were excited about space exploration again.

My screen had less of a bubble shape to it than did my father’s during the first lunar missions, but I bet the feelings were similar. I watched the ground crew at SpaceX as Dragon completed its mission. You could see what Tyson had described in his video. I was inspired. The internalized goals, desire, and faith in the dream their project created were written all over the faces of the young talent at SpaceX.

These engineers, scientists, technologists, and mathematicians were bursting with genuine excitement.

They had a cause and a dream.

Space Exploration Excitement at SpaceX Dragon Launch
SpaceX’s Dragon leaving HQ

Just like them, I felt a rush of excitement. It was excitement for technology, exploration; for moving the goal post further. NASA intends to go back to the MoonMars seems a little less impossible. Hell, Opportunity Rover completed a marathon:

It was excitement for the future.

The Future of Space Exploration

How will we move beyond the scope of the Apollo Program missions? SpaceX is doing a terrific job as a company, but to the general public, they’re little more than a goods transport service. A rocket-powered tractor-trailer. One which is primarily paid for by a publicly funded NASA.

As of 2020, SpaceX has raised the bar. They’ve answered how much does it cost to go to space with a successful crewed ISS docking.

Still, I’m not sure we have the right appreciation for the benefits of space exploration.

There will undoubtedly be more: a tractor-trailer that can support humans, one which can travel further into the solar system, a system by which to deliver a payload to Mars. Ultimately, private companies will rely upon public funding to reach uncharted territory because there’s little reason for other private money to participate. As public interest and funding fade, so goes the revenue source of dependent private companies.

If we haven’t made extending humanity beyond Earth a priority, one day, we’ll be forced off it. As much of a gift as Earth is, it will not last forever. If we can raise the desire to go out and explore — to stretch our boundaries — we may be ready for whichever event forces us off before it happens. If we can find that awe in space exploration again, we may avoid sitting on the Earthly-Titanic, scrambling for a lifeboat.

We can help by raising awareness of the benefits of space exploration: there are numerous NASA-supported inventions and advances already this year. We can help by telling our representatives that space exploration deserves at least a penny on the dollar. And we can help expressing interest in space exploration with friends and through social media: the excitement spreads.

It wasn’t a Saturn V or Shuttle launch, but I won’t forget watching the Dragon capsule’s first success. Humanity started down another possible avenue to expand among the stars. Not unlike my dad decades before, I sat by the screen watching and wondering in awe. All I needed was a cowboy hat and a red wagon.

This post published in the American Astronautical Society’s “Space Times” Magazine July/August 2015 issue.

This essay is a continuation of a post from 2009 detailing the Apollo space program cost. Give it a read if you liked this and consider sharing or commenting below!

All SpaceX photos courtesy their public domain gallery.

How to Become an Adjunct Professor (and What It’s Like)

I’ve recently taken an opportunity to teach my area of expertise at The George Washington University, in Washington, DC as an adjunct professor. In this article, I’ll tell you about my experience and explain how to become an adjunct professor.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to instruct a skills-focused, graduate-level course for GWU’s School of Media & Public Affairs (SMPA).

Let me tell you a little about the part-time experience, what I learned, and why you might consider pursuing something similar.

What is an Adjunct Professor?

An adjunct professor is typically a part-time employee of a university or college with a history or background in industry as opposed to academia.

An adjunct professor is defined as someone hired by the institution to teach but isn’t a full member of the faculty.

Adjunct Professor Requirements

Becoming an adjunct professor does not require any particular legal credential or certification. The institution looks to an adjunct professor for their expertise in fields outside of academia with a proven record of performance within an industry.

This functional expertise is what the institution seeks to be taught to their students.

An adjunct professor’s job description will look much like any other teaching position.

An adjunct professor will need to create or utilize learning criteria, a set of goals likely laid out by the department head. They’ll need to create lesson plans, grade tests, and projects, and spend time in a classroom setting teaching.

How to Become an Adjunct Professor

How did I find out about the opportunity to become an adjunct professor? An existing client had offered my name up when they were made aware that the school was looking to fill a spot for an often-requested course dealing with web skills.

I’ve had experience teaching: training in a variety of web technologies is a service offered by Daymuse.

My primary purpose in the Peace Corps was Small Business Development.

I’ve mentored and taught other developers & programmers.

However, teaching as an adjunct professor at a major university was a new pursuit for me.

The nitty-gritty of how to become an adjunct professor is much like any other job application: find the right fit, interview, negotiate, and get started.

What I Thought about Education

Prior to the invitation, I’d thought about getting more directly involved in education, perhaps as an adjunct professor.

A good chunk of my day-to-day work was tangentially involved (web development projects in higher education), and I’d been thinking about fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in life more and more.

The big Thirtieth Birthday was around the corner.

I set myself on a course for “Early Retirement” years ago which meant my work time was being replaced with free time steadily.

That free time could be used constructively to make some good in the world, perhaps as an adjunct professor, I’d thought.

Teaching Web Essentials in Washington, DC and Online at SMPA

Adjunct Professor in Washington, DC at The George Washington University

I was told the course could be taught virtually (a big plus as I’m not a fan of commuting and DC is over 200 miles away, roundtrip), and that it would run only a part of the semester.

I was told students had been requesting a course that would provide them with essential web skills they could use in their career pursuits, as, these days, just about everything is somehow connected with web-oriented work.

I took it as the perfect chance to get my feet wet and accepted on the spot as an adjunct professor. 

I hadn’t even thought about compensation, which I’d later learn is a big sticking point in today’s field of higher education.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t too much more to getting started than that.

I filled out several forms (official forms any part-time worker would be familiar with). I had an adjunct professor faculty handbook to review, a syllabus guide, and access to a course on teaching virtually via Blackboard.

It was just enough of a foundation, along with support offered by the administration, to build a curriculum without a thick layer of bureaucracy (a fear in this endeavor).

After the requisite forms, I needed to put together a class description and mini-bio, which would be made available to the students in the official semester courses outline:

Web Essentials:  How do you leverage the web from the perspective of business strategy to create value? What do you need to understand within the sphere of web technologies to apply what the modern web has to offer? We’ll learn the practical basics to the many effective uses of the web in today’s business landscape.

Cooper, a founder of multiple web dependent businesses, has a wide variety of experience in web application development and user experience design. His educational background in Communication and Engineering often allows him to serve as a bridge between business strategy and information technology. After departing GW’s External Relations, Mr. Cooper’s latest venture partners with government, enterprise, non-profit, and healthcare-related business to leverage the web to serve organizational missions.

Those couple of paragraphs weren’t as easy to write as I thought they’d be.

I needed to first come up with an outline of the curriculum so I could break that down, even further, to just a couple of sentences.

I also had to write a bit of background about myself, which felt slightly narcissistic for someone who tends to be introverted (this blog itself is an attempt to stretch that comfort zone).

It was hard.

I rewrote that little section on the course and myself several times, never quite satisfied.

At that moment, I began to think about how the whole course would be of students analyzing my instruction, my words, my teaching.

It made me anxious.

It’s funny: in my day-to-day, I write plenty of “words” which are “read” by many thousands of people, every day. Those words are code, though, and they’re interpreted by a web browser, a server, or another application.

Here I was, stuck thinking about how just a handful of students would interpret my simple English.

I made it through those few paragraphs and the submission found its way to publishing. I wrote many more paragraphs for the curriculum: a course outline, a syllabus, a structure for the assignments.

I talked with my previous professors and adjuncts, seeking advice and direction. Soon enough, course sign-ups were closed for the semester and I had my roster of seven students.

I decided to reach out to them directly, asking what they expected to learn and what they were interested in:

  • Are you more interested in the business/communication/strategy side of the web or the technical side?
  • The web can be leveraged to great effect whether you’re in enterprise, non-profit, government, or even starting your own business. If you had to guess (or if you’ve already done so), how would you envision beginning your career path in the workforce? This will help us create realistic scenarios to study for class.
  • What single topic are you most interested in that is web-related? Perhaps this was the impetus to your interest in the course. This can be a personal interest or something fun, it doesn’t have to be career-related.

As you might imagine, the responses were varied. Some were more interested in non-technical aspects, while others were interested in the technology itself. Students were aiming in different directions with their careers.

Everyone was interested in different things. This was all expected.

However, the goal was to start the students talking and thinking about why they were taking the course and to give me a direction that would allow us to overlap what I could offer and what they wanted.

It worked!

The conversation about creating value through their education continued throughout the course.

We could always step back from a topic at hand, and think from the student’s perspective: “How is this valuable to me?”

I ended up centering the course around developing different web-oriented knowledge, skills, and abilities:

  1. Creating a Foundational Web Presence
  2. Defining Success: Incorporating Metrics
  3. Delivering Information through Newsletters, Social Media, and Active Communication
  4. Gathering Feedback with Surveys, Polls, and Forms

Each of these topics was formed around a scenario. We discussed the specifics, each week, developing the details of the scenario requirements in class together.

This way we could cater to specific learning desires while I offered overall direction. We also brought in an “industry expert” each week, that was experienced with the scenario’s topic and could serve as a potential future boss, peer, or colleague; offering a real-world perspective.

These folks really brought the curriculum together, offering insight I otherwise could not.

Thank you:

  1. Tracy Helbert, Web Consultant (Creating a Foundational Web Presence)
  2. Max Entman, PCI Communications (Defining Success: Incorporating Metrics)
  3. Tom Cosgrove, The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus (Delivering Information through Newsletters, Social Media, and Active Communication)
  4. Anthony Nelson, The Advisory Board Company (Gathering Feedback with Surveys, Polls, and Forms)

Throughout the course’s five weeks of learning, the class used all sorts of free or open-source tools.

The tools were used to produce functional web presences:

  • WordPress
  • Weebly
  • MailChimp
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Google Analytics
  • Jetpack
  • GIMP
  • Prezi
  • WuFoo Forms
  • And a variety of social networks

We divided the class into teams, each utilizing a different set of tools to create their web presence.

As of this writing, they’re still available:

  • The Financial Aid is Too Darn Late!
  • The Jeffersonians
  • District Floral

The students imagined their own ideas of what they could build a web presence around, giving them some freedom and a creative outlet. The less structured nature proved to be one of the harder parts of the curriculum to overcome.

As there was not a predefined script that applied to all the student groups; questions, and their answers, were unique to each group.

The advantage was that each group had different methods to solve problems which exposed the class to more solutions. This created a multiplier for experience earned from the class.

After each scenario, I asked the students to answer to questions as it related to what they learned that week:

  1. Did you find this scenario to be applicable to the goals and premise of the course, why or why not?
  2. Did you derive value from completing the scenario; learning about web-related topics, tools, and skills, why or why not?

This feedback proved invaluable, and the critical feedback (though hard to take sometimes), helped immensely in creating more value for the students and lessons for me as an adjunct professor.

I have a few key takeaways.

Teaching is Hard

Be ready for crickets when you ask questions, no matter how engaged you think students are. Everyone has a lot going on in their head, you’re probably not the top priority.

Students will stump you, teaching is an opportunity for everyone to learn.

Lean on Others

More than likely, someone else can explain any specific topic better than you can. Better yet, they’ve probably done it before and it’s probably available on the internet or you can reach out directly.

Use your network to gather advice, expertise, and direction to amplify what you can offer students. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

I’ve been making use of an online community for educators, LINCS, which acts as a forum to ask questions. I’ve found some very helpful folks and great advice.

What Does an Adjunct Professor Make?
It’s a Passion Project.

I alluded earlier that direct financial compensation wasn’t a top priority for this endeavor.

I don’t think it should be a top priority, but there’s the issue of a reasonable wage which is a very controversial topic as it applies to an adjunct professor.

Fortunately, I wasn’t doing this to make ends meet.

However, I also did the math and even figuring in a roughly 4:1 ratio of external hours to class hours, and the hourly wage came out to a reasonably middle-class income if one had a full-time schedule.

It seems GWU and SMPA likely pay a wage at the higher end of the spectrum as it’s an expensive school.

This ignores the lack of benefits, stability, or security  prominent conversation topics in higher education right now  though expected for someone who normally works on a contract-basis anyway.

My Experience as an Adjunct Professor

I remember, as a student, typically looking up to my professors as role models. Externally they were: focussed, deliberate, effective, and giving. I wasn’t sure how to become an adjunct professor with qualities like that.

Those are big shoes to fill. 

It’s hard to see how I could have expressed those qualities, especially as I internally felt like I was bumbling through.

It’s important to remember not to compare your internal to someone else’s external.

Every now and then a student would tell me they learned something new.

They’d smile as the light bulb clicked on.

They’d show their new knowledge by baking together different concepts to create something novel, teaching me in the process.

How Much Did the Apollo Program Cost (and Was It Worth It)?

Today I’m going to analyze the Apollo Program budget. We’ll answer: how much did the Apollo Program cost? I’ll also review the return on that investment in space exploration.

Were the Moon Missions really a worthwhile endeavor?

Did sending a man to the moon accomplish anything more than create celebrity in the dark Cold War times?

Apollo Program Cost

The idea of returning to the moon has gained great interest in recent times. NASA indicated that it intends to re-explore our closest space neighbor.

America is working hard to lower the cost to return to space with SpaceX recently sending the first two astronauts to the ISS since 2011 aboard hardware made in the USA.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to Space? $6.25 Billion in 2020.

It seems that this has also created quite a bit of interest in our original moon exploration.

Let’s take a look at the hard numbers to see how the cost of going to the moon compares to the cost of other projects. Then I’ll tackle the subjective question of what gains can be attributed to going to the moon. 

But first up, how much did the Apollo Program cost?

The Apollo Program cost roughly $25.4 billion, unadjusted.

What’s the cost of Apollo Program in 2020 dollars? $194 billion.

That’s our total cost to go to the moon.

Consider, however, that this was for a project spanning from 1959 to beyond 1970 with six successful missions.

Eventually, Apollo 11 landed humans on the moon.

Consider that some 409,000 laborers were employed by the lunar program. These jobs were either directly through NASA, outside university research, or contracted workers.

Total US Federal Outlays vs. Apollo Program (1959-1972)

How does the total Apollo Program cost compare to the U.S. budget in the mission’s years?

US Federal Outlays vs. Apollo Program Cost

Let’s also look at the Apollo Program cost compared to other major government expenditures in U.S. history.

This data is adjusted for inflation to 2008 U.S. dollars.

Major US Government Expenditures vs. Apollo Program

NASA Apollo Program Budget

NASA’s official budget appropriations for the entire organization from 1960 to 1973, including work after the final Apollo mission, was $56.6 billion.

That means the Apollo Program budget represented 34% of NASA’s spending, $19.4 billion.

The total Apollo Program budget appropriations from NASA don’t quite match the calculated total Apollo Program cost already mentioned from official depositions ($25.4 billion). This is most likely because of other funding sources and cost overruns.

NASA Official Budget Appropriations, Apollo Program
NASA’s official Budget Appropriations during and for the Apollo Program, unadjusted, 1960-1973.

Adjusted for inflation to 2008, NASA’s entire budget for this period was about $363 billion.

Some of the work for Apollo began in 1959. The last Apollo mission flew in 1972. NASA provides data for 1960-1973 to represent Apollo as these were the years that had Budget Appropriations specific to Apollo.

The US annual federal outlays (the amount of money the country spends per year, which is typically more than our budget) from 1959 to 1972 totaled $1.9 trillion US dollars.  Converting these outlays from each of their years to an inflation-adjusted 2008 total brings the outlays to $11.9 trillion.

NASA represented roughly 2.2% of the total US federal outlays from 1959 to 1972. 

The Apollo Program in the same timeframe accounted for about 50% of NASA’s budget or just 1.1% of US total federal outlays during this timeframe.

Apollo Program vs Other Federal Projects

It is important to consider what the country has gained from the cost of the Apollo Program. 

I’m going to compare the gains of the Apollo Program against those of several large federal government projects or initiatives.

Let’s define some of the Apollo Program benefits first.

Apollo Program benefits

Apollo Program: Mission to the Moon

Aside from all of the historic achievements that made it into the history books through the Apollo Program, America had real, tangible gains from the investments made in the project.

For one, the Apollo program was a major stepping stone into future beyond Earth projects.

Much of the hardware developed during the Apollo era is in our first space station, Skylab. Skylab produced many valuable results based on its solar observatory and various experiments performed onboard, none of which would have been possible without the Apollo program.

Skylab is just one of many spacecraft that would not have been possible without the knowledge gained with the Apollo program.

The 1975 space docking with the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft was one of the major steps forward in rebuilding relations between the US and the USSR, eventually resulting in the end of the Cold War.

Benefits of the Apollo Program

The Apollo program created a variety of breakthroughs:

  • Early breast cancer detection
  • Integrated circuit development was sped up
  • Freeze-dried foods
  • Simplification of kidney dialysis
  • Insulation in an Alaskan pipeline
  • Spacesuit textiles in green building
  • And numerous more

The Apollo Program cost US taxpayers a significant amount of money but the benefits have been numerous.

The acceleration of research in fields that have benefited medicine, construction, and electronics pushed the country to lead the 20th century.

The cost to return to the moon

NASA estimated in 2005 that the cost to return to the Moon would be $104 billion over the course of 13 years.  These plans have recently come under great question. NASA has already invested some $7.7 billion in the project.

As of 2020, NASA’s goal is to return to the moon by 2024 via the Artemis program.

F-22 Raptor Project Cost & Benefit

The F-22 Raptor has been another source of much scrutiny at its expense.  The dominant, highly advanced Air Force backed fighter jet program had an estimated cost of $62 billion in 2006, $66.9 billion in 2008 US dollars.

That’s about half the cost of the Apollo program. 

As of this writing, the F-22 has never flown a combat mission (2020 edit: while still a questionable program fiscally, it’s flown many missions).

F-22 Raptor Program Cost

The F-22 program has provided the US with a spectacular dog-fighter, but we simply don’t currently live in an era that America has a direct competitor in this space. 

The fighter is so head and shoulders above the competition that it has no competition.

The US finds itself fighting against enemies where the F-22 simply does not make sense as a reasonable expenditure.

However, there is value in the US maintaining its technological lead in military hardware.  The US is so far ahead of other countries when it comes to conventional armies because of our constant investment. 

I can only hope the day comes that this is no longer a valid concern as the world unites to fight larger foes. Climate change, starvation, and over-population of our planet are just the beginning of the issues we face.

Interest on U.S. Debt Cost

The total interest paid on US federal budget debt was $140.3 billion during the Apollo Program timeframe ($870.56 billion 2008 US dollars).

This means that interest paid on debt accounted for 655% more outlays than the Apollo Program cost in the same period. 

For reference, the US paid $252.8 billion in 2008 in interest on the national debt—nearly twice the total cost of the entire Apollo program.

Taxpayers are funding horrendous amounts of interest on the debt of the current generation and its ancestors.

A single year of interest paid currently would pay for the entire original Apollo program.

It could cover the cost of a future Moon program and still have enough to produce most of the F-22 project.

While our country needs to get its debt wrangled, missing out on solid investments that pay dividends is foolhardy.

If we can pay out a few hundred billion dollars to reform health care and save the nation a few trillion dollars in the process—that’s an investment worth making (2020 note: consider the context this was written in 2008).

U.S. Interstate Highway System Cost & Benefit

The final cost for the Interstate Highway System to the Federal government started in 1956 by President Eisenhower was $114 billion by completion in 1991, about $500 billion in 2008 dollars.

That’s 376% the cost of the Apollo program.

Federal Interstate Highway System Cost

The Interstate Highway System has provided tens of thousands of government-sponsored jobs over the decades. It’s lead to much of the growth of the countries entire economic system.

Without this interstate highway system, how would our country have been able to move its goods to different regions for consumption and manufacturing?

The program is considered a necessity but another means of transportation was not weighed properly: railroads.

Prior to the Interstate Highway System, America revolved around the rails

Rails were much more widely used to transport goods and people around the country. Subsidies to the highway system eventually lead to the somewhat sorry state of our current rail system.

Look to Europe for an example of a system still capable of using a modicum of transportation techniques across a fairly large distance.  The highway system was vital to the culture and development of the US.

However, I believe that a slightly more balanced development of the highway system alongside the rail system could have lead to a strong, less car-dependent country.

Vietnam War Cost & Benefit

The cost of the Vietnam War from 1965-1975 was $111 billion or $686 billion in 2008 US dollars.

That’s 516% the cost of the Apollo program.

It’s a bit hard to describe the gains from the Vietnam War as we certainly lost many brave souls in the conflict.

The US was able to gain military experience which lead to a more thorough victory in Desert Storm.

During this period, the voting age was lowered to 18 from 21.

The military draft was eliminated.

An all-volunteer system was instated after the war.

U.S. Economic Stabilization (2008 Recession) Cost & Benefit

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 has authorized the Treasury Secretary to spend up to $700 billion taxpayer dollars. 

There is hope taxpayers will come out of this bailout program without too deep of a loss.

A portion of the expenditures should result in profits to offset the expected losses.  The true cost of the recent Federal bailouts of the financial sector are unknown.

If the program suffers a complete loss, it would represent 526% of the cost of the Apollo program.

The state of the economy was unclear for several years after the 2008-2009 Great Recession.

Would our nation have withstood the damage of the Great Recession without the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008?

The economic program cost taxpayers up to $700 billion.

It’s hard to say, we can’t rewind time, toss out the policy, and see what would have happened.

Economists generally agree that the Great Depression of the ’30s arose so strongly because of the hands-off approach of the governing body at the time.

With the country facing a dire recession, modern government has taken a much more hands-on approach. A variety of bailout-related acts were passed in an attempt to stabilize the country’s weakening economy.

Only time will tell how successful these programs have been.

Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Cost & Benefit

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated by the CBO to cost $2.4 trillion by 2017, $1.9 trillion attributed to Iraq.

Much of the cost of the war has been from deficit spending.

Iraq and Afghanistan War Costs

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are still in progress (2020 note: STILL).

The entire notion of our country even entering these wars has thoroughly divided much of the US population, but I’ll attempt to stick to the facts.

The wars are estimated to cost the country some $2.4 trillion, nearly twenty times the Apollo Program cost.

The human cost in Iraq is estimated at over 100,000 lives, with over 30,000 being Americans.  

There have been thousands of more casualties in Afghanistan

Economically, we’ve gained greater access to natural resources in the region (oil). 

We’ve prevented the growth of radical anti-Americanism in some specific regions but many would argue that the whole ordeal has also created a negative attitude towards the US.

Was the Apollo Program worth it?

The jobs created, the technology gains, the intangible feeling of love for the country, American ideals, the future of generations, and hope for spreading humankind through the galaxies are just some of which was inspired by and created from the Apollo Program missions.

I find it difficult to argue against the comparatively low Apollo Program cost, especially when looking at other significant expenditures taken on by the U.S.

Why are we so worried about attempting to push the envelope further with more space exploration?

Any future Moon landing project is just a stepping-stone for Mars and beyond.

The US is working with private industry to create efficient ways to send astronauts to space and beyond.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to Space? $6.25 Billion in 2020.

Do you really believe humankind will survive on Earth into perpetuity?

Part Two, this analysis continues in:
Space Exploration Benefits and Its Future (NASA to SpaceX).

Apollo Program Cost FAQ

How much did the Apollo Program cost in today’s dollars?

The Apollo Program cost roughly $25.4 billion, unadjusted, in 1973. In 2020 dollars, that’s about $194 billion adjusted for inflation.

How much did Apollo 11 cost?

The total cost of the Apollo Program, including Apollo 11, was $25.4 billion, unadjusted.

How much did it cost to go to the moon in 1969?

NASA’s total budget appropriations for the Apollo Program through 1969 was $16.1 billion per official documents. The total cost of the Apollo Program up through about 1974 was $25.4 billion. Both amounts are unadjusted for inflation.

“Education Week” on Hackathons and Apps4VA in Richmond, VA

I was recently interviewed by a well regarded publication, Education Week, as it relates to my entrepreneurial background, the Apps4VA hackathon competition, Daymuse Studios, and a recent project of mine: Predictive Outcomes.

How to Pack Light for Europe (Top Tips & List for 2 Weeks)

I’ve been to a few dozen countries around the world with just a backpack on my back. Today I’m going to show you how to pack light for Europe.

I’ve had my fair share of overpacking and under packing for trips around the world through the years.

Overpacking is far worse. You really don’t need much for a 2-week trip!

Avoid my mistakes by following these tips on how to pack light for Europe.

Types of Health Insurance Plans (Full Guide for Individuals)

Sadly, affordable individual health insurance has been a big roadblock to getting to the meat of operating a business as an entrepreneur lately. There are so many types of health insurance plans that it can be incredibly confusing to pick what’s best for yourself.

There’s a lot of options these days for individual health insurance plans.

At the highest level, there are generally two types of individual health insurance coverage, the PPO and the HMO. But in this guide, I’m going to work through the nitty-gritty of all the popular health insurance plans.

Types of Health Insurance Plans

There are several different types of health insurance plans and various levels of coverage.

The primary plans (HMO, PPO, POS) differ in how they require you to use the coverage or the costs which they cover.

Let’s review each of these types of health insurance plans and find the one which best fits your situation.

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plan

The Health Maintenance Organization has existed since the ’70s in the US and is centered around a pre-selected network of doctors and medical services the plan participants can utilize while being covered by the HMO.

Generally, the patient has to have selected a Primary Care Physician (usually a general practitioner) who acts as a “gatekeeper” to other specialists and medical services. If, for example, the patient believed they needed to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (an otolaryngologist) for a severe ear infection, the patient would first have to be examined and a referral given by the PCP to an otolaryngologist in the HMO’s network. Generally, coverage via an HMO is high (lower out-of-pocket costs) but strictly limited to the HMO network.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plan

The Preferred Provider Organization has become more popular in the past few decades as it offers greater flexibility to that of an HMO. The PPO designates a network that offers preferred (set, lower) rates for medical services to the PPO. This means that the doctors, specialists, hospitals, etc that exist in the network charge lower rates to the insured members of the PPO, and in exchange the network would receive the lion’s share of customers in the network.

n this, it functions quite similarly to an HMO – both offer networks of professionals that charge lower rates to members of the network, both charge a premium for access to the network rates for the member. However, PPOs do not have a PCP requirement nor do members need referrals to visit specialists.

Additionally, a PPO allows a patient to visit out-of-network medical services and still have coverage though at a significantly reduced level. This means that if you’re on vacation in Maui and pick-up a case of Shigellosis, your first call doesn’t absolutely have to be to your PCP for a referral (after all, you’re in Maui). You could visit a local doctor without worry though you may pay a bit more for the out-of-network service. Premiums are usually a bit higher for PPOs while care isn’t generally covered at quite as high of a level.

Point of Service (POS) Plan

The Point of Service option combines some of the advantages and disadvantages of both the HMO and the PPO. A POS is based on managed care (like an HMO), limiting service choices but lowering costs. An enrollee needs to utilize a PCP as a “gatekeeper” but the PCP may make recommendations for treatment outside the plan network, though with a lower coverage level. The patient may also have greater responsibility for form filings and general process management.

The Differences Between a PPO, HMO, and POS

So, a PPO offers flexibility at a bit higher cost while an HMO offers restricted, though often better coverage. A POS ends up combining the two, leveraging some advantages and disadvantages of both. It seems to me that most self-employed and entrepreneurs are going to wind up being traveling more often than their location- and employer-bound counterparts.

PPOs win in as being flexible and having a variety of choices. PPO individual health insurance plans for a healthy 27-year-old male in my region run from as low as $140/month to upwards of $400/month. If you qualify for ACA-related subsidies, the price can get below $100/month. There are dozens of plans to choose from with a variety of coverage levels. Let’s look at the most important ones.

Details of Health Insurance Plan Coverage


If you visit a GP or specialist because you’re feeling a bit ill, have a sudden rash, or any myriad of “I should probably go to the doctor” things, you’ll often end up with a copay for the visit you must pay out-of-pocket. Traditional PPOs have fairly low co-pays ($20-$40/visit) for doctors and specialists.

The co-pays do apply to your deductible generally which helps to reduce that amount. High-deductible plans (more on this later), often do not offer co-pays for routine services (though preventive services are still usually free) and you’ll need to fully cover the cost out-of-pocket.


When you’re looking at different types of health insurance plans, the deductible amount should be a serious consideration.

It’s the amount the patient must pay before the health insurance plan will pay for services rendered (often this is waived for preventative care — things like an annual check-up or physical, blood pressure screenings, cholesterol blood tests, etc).

For example, you break your arm in Ireland while mountain biking and the hospital charge is $3,000. Your deductible is $1,000. Out of your pocket comes $1,000 to cover the deductible, then the individual health insurance company’s coverage is applied to the remaining $2,000 (though that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be responsible for any of the $2,000 – see Coinsurance). A deductible resets yearly.


Coinsurance is the percentage the patient has to pay once the deductible is meant. In the example of a $3,000 hospital charge where the deductible was met at $1,000, if the patient has a coinsurance rate of 20%, they’ll need to cover an additional $400 while the insurance plan pays the remaining $1,600 — assuming this all falls under reasonable and expected services for the injury and is covered by the plan (but that’s a whole separate discussion).

Doing the math, you can see how out of the $3,000 bill, the insurance company only covered about 55% due to the deductible and coinsurance rate (this assumes the patient had no other medical expenses in the year that would have reduced the deductible and therein the total out-of-pocket cost for the broken arm). Fortunately if the patient decide to go skiing after their arm is all healed up and break a leg the same year, their deductible will be fully met and that $5,000 bill for the x-rays and cast will only require the 20% coinsurance on the patient’s part.

Out-of-pocket Maximum

An out-of-pocket maximum is a maximum amount the patient will be required to pay within a given year (resets annually). Often this is double the deductible (though the deductible is included). Given the above scenario of a broken arm and leg with a $2,000 out-of-pocket maximum, the patient paid $1,400 towards the broken arm services ($1,000 deductible and $400 coinsurance), so there’d be $600 left to meet the maximum.

The broken leg was another $1,000 in coinsurance at 20% of $5,000 but the out-of-pocket maximum of $2,000 would be reached with $600 more so the patient would only be responsible for $600 of the $5,000 for the broken leg. Additionally, any services within the same year will not require further payments from the patient now that both the deductible and out-of-pocket maximums were met.

What About The Affordable Care Act (ACA)/”Obamacare”?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) altered many minimum requirements of healthcare coverage plans. It also pushes individuals to get coverage by way of a penalty if they do not have coverage (edit: no longer applicable).

The most interesting aspect is that it also creates a competitive marketplace for you to shop for individual health insurance.

While the marketplace may list certain “levels” associated with coverage plans (Bronze, Silver, Gold); they still represent an underlying type of plan. The levels just indicate a general sense of your liability and the cost of the plan. You still need to have a good grasp of the types of coverage, the risks/rewards of each, and how they’ll most benefit your lifestyle.

The marketplace for the ACA may vary from state-to-state as implementation, acceptance, or incorporation of the ACA evolves in each state. You will likely still be able to shop for plans without utilizing the healthcare marketplace in your state if you want to. As long as the plan meets the ACA requirements (and they generally should), you won’t be eligible for a penalty even if you buy the plan privately.

Overall, the ACA offers a wider breadth of choice shopping for individual health insurance plans while simultaneously mandating minimum coverage levels. Costs will rise for some enrollees and drop for others as certain mandates within the ACA affect maximum reimbursements or allowable costs.

Health Insurance Plan Coverage Aspects Summary

Now it’s important to consider there’s lots of nuance within the plan beyond these items so be sure to review them, additionally out-of-network coverage will have its own set of rules with higher deductibles, coinsurance, and so on. Fortunately the Affordable Care Act made lifetime maximums a non-issue where it used to be that the insurance company could stop paying once they met a certain dollar payment amount. Each plan will have specific entries for prescription, maternity, mental health coverages and more so be sure to review how the plan relates to specific services.

In review, the deductible is the amount you have to pay before your coverage kicks in, the coinsurance is how much you have to pay for coverage once the deductible is met, and the out-of-pocket max is the total amount you’re responsible for within a given year. That means you can quickly figure out how much your maximum cost-per-year is for medical coverage if the proverbial crap hits the fan. If your monthly premium is $200 and your in-network out-of-pocket maximum is $4,000, that’s a total potential cost of $6,400/year assuming you stay within the network and follow the rules. This means you better make sure your emergency fund is at least $4,000.

Affordable individual health insurance ideas

Picking An Affordable Health Insurance Plan

If you’re a healthy individual and read between the lines here, it might seem like you could be paying $200/month just so your annual physical is only $30 instead of $150 if you’d just paid it yourself. Hell, even if you did have a minor health problem during the year that ran $500 in doctor visits and prescriptions, none of that would be covered until you met your deductible. So why buy any particular one of the types of health insurance plans?

The obvious answer is of course that it’s for emergencies and the big expenses. When you have a major health issue that cost tens of thousands of dollars to treat the monthly fee for insurance and out-of-pocket maximum will pale in comparison and you’ll be happy to have the insurance. If you’re young and healthy, it’s simply a gamble to go on without it. What doesn’t make sense at all though is to have a high monthly premium in order to get low copays for the few times per year you might visit the doctor for routine aches and pains. You could pay a higher monthly premium for a lower deductible (and lower out-of-pocket maximum) or lower coinsurance as well and that could be a wise investment.

So how do you balance the cost of a monthly premium against the optional levels of coverage in a way that makes sense? You probably don’t want to pay through the teeth just to have low copays or a low deductible and rarely have a need to use it. You also probably don’t want to pay $52/month and have to shell out $15,000 when a real emergency happens, all the while having crap coverage for routine service (yes, that’s a real plan option for me at least).

Let me introduce you to the solution:

High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with Health Savings Account (HSA) Eligibility

Why would you want a plan that has a high deductible? Most HDHPs come with good coverage for preventative care but require you to pay for absolutely everything else out-of-pocket up to your deductible.

Catastrophic Health Insurance

For 2015, a “high deductible” health plan qualifies if its deductible is at least $1,300 for an individual or $2,600 for a familyAdditionally, an HDHP sets a limit to the maximum out-of-pocket expenses – currently $6,600 for an individual or $13,200 for a family. Often, High Deductible Health Plans are referred to as catastrophic individual health insurance since they really only kick-in for very expensive procedures or many procedure occurrences within an coverage period.

Affordable Medical Insurance

HDHPs usually are quite a bit cheaper than a similar traditional co-pay oriented PPO as the mindset is that the patient has some skin in the game for every visit so the premium should be less expensive. This means that the HDHP offers a high level of flexibility of choice of doctor/specialist and a high level of responsibility for costs.

The monthly premium of an HDHP can easily be 50% less than that of an otherwise equivalent traditional co-pay PPO. Makes sense, but wouldn’t you lose the savings getting nickeled and aimed for every little thing? Not necessarily.

First, an HDHP will cover everything once you’ve met your deductible (minus your coinsurance, and even that is only up to the out-of-pocket max). Second, a wide range of preventative care is fully covered by most HDHPs (no copays even required) which is probably what you’ll use most often. Third, and most important for a long-term looking work-independent individual like yourself, is the Health Savings Account or HSA.

Health Savings Account Rules

A Health Savings Account allows you to make contributions to a bank account for medical expenses that has tax advantages as long as you follow the rules. You might be familiar with an FSA or Flexible Savings Account — they’re very similar but an HSA allows you to roll the balance over each year and earn interest on the balance or even invest it.

Whereas with an FSA your employer owns the account, you own an HSA. It travels with you year-to-year and is only tied to the bank you opened the account with. Now, just like an FSA, an HSA only allows you to spend your balance on certain medically related services and products.

There are also contribution limits ($3,350 individual, $6,550 family for 2015) just like an FSA.

The real kicker to all of these bonuses though is that the account is tax-deductible “above the line” which means that it reduces your total taxable income for the year. This health savings account deduction will likely reward you with a large refund come tax time.

When you’re considering the various types of health insurance plans, HSA eligibility might be an important factor for you.

Let’s look at a real-world scenario and see just how the numbers work.

Saving Money with a Health Savings Account

Pulling it Together: HDHP as PPO with an HSA

Let’s say Johnny who’s a freelance copyrighter fractures his left radial head (that’s your elbow!) while horseback riding in Colorado, just a few hours from home.

He’s rushed off to the emergency room and ends up needing surgery, a cast, and repeated visits for rehabilitation over the next few months. Johnny has individual health insurance qualifying as an HDHP with a $3,000 deductible and 0% coinsurance.

The out-of-pocket max is also $3,000 (the 0% coinsurance essentially means Johnny wouldn’t pay anything beyond the deductible anyway so the individual health insurance company ends up matching the deductible and out-of-pocket max).

Johnny has been contributing to his HSA for the past year and a half with a goal to meet his deductible annually, which means his contribution was $250/month ($3,000/12 months), just under the max contribution to his HSA per year.

The only other medical expenses he had in the last year was when his doctor, during a covered physical, prescribed a generic version of Nexium for frequent heartburn he was having which he’s been paying for monthly via his HSA.

At $40/month, 6 months into the year, with a total HSA investment of  $4,500 ($250/month for 18 months), he’s spent $240 on the heartburn medication leaving him with $4,260 in his HSA and $2,760 remaining for the deductible.

The cost of his fractured elbow and recovery ended up being in excess of $10,000. Johnny’s HDHP pays everything beyond the remaining $2,760 deductible which he covers with his HSA, leaving him with $1,500 in his HSA for future expenses and 100% coverage by the HDHP for the rest of the year for any further medical expenses.

Johnny’s HDHP cost him $120/month, his $3,000 contribution to the HSA reduced his taxes by $1,000 (almost completely paying for the monthly premium) and his HSA will be earning interest and investment returns for the next few decades until he retires at 65 and can draw on his HSA for regular living expenses just like a traditional IRA.

The flexibility of a PPO, the cost-control of an HDHP, and the tax advantages plus investment options of an HSA form to a fairly compelling, though not simple, individual health insurance option.

For the long-term thinking self-employed person or entrepreneur, it can provide a great shield from excessive emergency health expenses, low monthly costs, flexible investment options, tax advantages, and options in healthcare service.

This is my favorite way to use the various types of health insurance plans.

Even if you’re a cubicle worker and your deductible is over $1,200 per year, there’s a chance your employer-sponsored plan is HSA eligible — it might be time to give human resources a call!