(CBS) – The Apollo program, which first took man to the moon, took a tremendous amount of resources – more than 400,000 people and $25.4 billion. In today’s dollars that is roughly $180 billion.
“At one point NASA was receiving over four percent of the federal budget, and today it’s less than half a percent,” pointed out Teasel Muir-Harmony, Space History Curator at the Smithsonian Museum.
The funding dynamic has helped create a different relationship between the public-private partnership and space exploration.
“It used to be that NASA would hire subcontractors to build spacecraft or components for them,” said Kimberly Slater, Space Innovations Lead at Draper. “Now it’s that commercial companies are really leading that development, building their own components, building their own spacecraft, and NASA’s helping them launch them.”
“When we can leverage the commercial capability whenever possible, it really offsets our costs and allows us to do more with fewer dollars,” explained John W. Dankanich, Marshall Chief Technologist at NASA.
One example of commercial partnership is the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
“NASA says, ‘here’s my payload.’ Could be a box, could be a sensor, could be whatever they want. And these companies bid on how much it would cost to transport those to the moon,” explained Seamus Tuohy, Principal Director of Civil & Commercial Space Programs at Draper, which is one of 9 contractors in the lunar transport program.
“It’s an amazingly different way of doing things, built on the foundation of commercial utilization of space and the modern technology we have.”
Companies bid on specific NASA projects, incentivizing private companies, while keeping costs within budgets.
“We’re accomplishing more in collaboration and working together than we would have ever before in history,” Slater said.
“We are getting together with our partners, and it’s not just the U.S. – that’s another exciting part about it – and preparing ourselves for learning that we can move beyond the moon,” said Lakiesha V. Hawkins, Depute Manager of the Habitation System Development Office at NASA.
The result is more space launches.
“We are in the golden age of space exploration,” Tuohy said. “Currently we have more human spacecraft being developed than ever in United States history. It’s going to be an exciting ten years or so that’ll see a lot of interest and a lot of action going on with the moon. You’ll see launches multiple times a year, targeting going back to the moon.”