SHOW ME THE
Everyone "knows" that Apollo had an allegedly colossal budget, and
what a waste of money it was. A Funny Thing estimates Apollo's
budget at $135 billion adjusted for inflation, and the 7% fixed profit
for the contractors at $9 billion. This sounds like an enormous sum
until you realize that it was spread out over more than a decade.
Sibrel tries to put it in terms of feeding the poor and hungry, but he
doesn't realize just how much of that was already going on.
NASA's budget appropriations fluctuated through the 1960s.
Apollo's portion of that budget also fluctuated. But if we take an
outside estimate, in 1960s dollars, of Apollo's cost (i.e., $35
billion) and amortize it over the years 1961 through 1972, we come up
with an average expenditure of just under $3 billion per year. During
that same time, disbursements for entitlement programs for just one
year amounted to $75 billion -- some 25 times the average
annual budget of Apollo.
And the indirect benefits from Apollo continue to be realized
today in the form of less perishable food, less expensive medical
care, global communications, and hundreds of other boons. Sibrel
doesn't realize that those billions were not loaded into a rocket and
shot away into space. The billions spent on Apollo were spent right
here at home, providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers who
were glad to have them. The thousands of workers who got pink slips
the day Apollo 17 landed didn't see the cessation of Apollo as a
return to sensible spending of tax dollars.
Mr. Sibrel simply states, as if it were a self-evident fact, that
the contractors were in bed with NASA and conspired unethically to get
these procurements. The contract letting process is a matter of
public record, but A Funny Thing doesn't discuss it. North
American Aviation came within a hair's breadth of losing the command
and service module contract when their performance slipped. The
smaller engine contracts were reassigned when their contractors failed
to meet production schedules and requirements. In short, there's all
kinds of evidence that the management of Apollo contracts was on a
merit basis and not on a basis of who was getting palms greased.
If the moon lander
didn't actually have to function, then the contractors could hide
additional profit in the form of inflated costs.
That would be plausible if Sibrel had first shown that the lunar
module did not work. He tried,
subsequently, on his web site. But all he can show is that he doesn't
understand engineering at all. His argument amounts to little more
than additional unsupported claims. And while we acknowledge
Mr. Sibrel's attempt to try to support a hole in his previous
argument, we lament that it wasn't there in the first place; it was a
necessary premise to the conclusion he already drew. That indicates
that Sibrel draws his conclusions first and then concocts arguments in
favor of them.
In fact detailed plans and specifications for the spacecraft are
easily obtained, and eager engineers pore over them today with
fine-toothed combs. Examples of the spacecraft themselves survive for
inspection. Mr. Sibrel argues that the Apollo missions never went any
farther than low Earth orbit, and from that would follow that a
functioning lunar module was not needed. But nowhere does the film
break that circularity using actual data. As far as the real experts
have determined, the lunar module not only worked, it worked
Mr. Sibrel also neglects the fact that the hardware applicable
only to a moon landing -- the lunar module -- was a small portion of
Apollo's total budget and was shepherded by only one contractor. The
lion's share of Apollo development cost was the Saturn V launcher,
which involved several top-level contractors and received nearly a
billion dollars a year during much of Apollo's reign. This is
significant because out of all the Apollo components, the Saturn V was
the only one not exclusively intended for missions to the moon.
The Saturn family was intended to be the mainstay launchers for all of
America's space activities in the 1970s and beyond. Sibrel argues
that the moon landings had to be continued in order to keep the
dollars flowing, but as long as most of those dollars went to the
Saturn producers, any space project would do -- space stations,
satellite launches, etc.
And while Mr. Sibrel makes a case that huge amounts of profits
could have been generated, he declines to provide any proof of actual
huge profits. The relevant companies downsized dramatically after
Apollo closed. Where are the conspicuous signs of those billions of
dollars in ill-gotten profit? Where are the ex-engineers driving
Porches? Where are the beachfront houses? Where are the fine
clothes? Perhaps the beneficiaries were warned not to spend their
rewards lest they arouse suspicion, but what good is a payoff if you
can't spend it?
As with the film's other claims, the assertions made here simply
fail to materialize in the form of actual historical data. Sibrel
says what "could have" been the case, what "must have" been the case,
but doesn't verify for the viewer that it was the case.
Even though it had fewer
parts than a Jeep, each lunar rover cost $60 million. Where did that
Yes, where did it go? Bart Sibrel introduces himself as an
investigative reporter. It is the job of investigative reporters to
answer questions, not merely ask them and leave the innuendo
hanging there. Did Sibrel go to Boeing and ask to see their records?
Did he talk with anyone about the difference between producing six
units of a product and producing sixty million of them?
A Funny Thing's hidden assumption is that part count is the
only objective measure of how complicated something is. Something
with few parts must automatically be less complicated, less expensive,
less difficult to build than something with many parts.
Fig. 1 -An automated car assembly line. Car
manufacturers design their products specifically to be manufactured
inexpensively on such lines. (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
Chrysler spends hundreds of millions of dollars developing a new
automobile model. The sticker price reflects the amortization of that
development cost over tens of millions of units produced -- and
produced by inexpensive (per unit) automated means whose tooling costs
are also amortized (Fig. 1). It also reflects a certain design
philosophy that sacrifices potential quality for affordability. For
customers who don't want leather seats, there are cloth seats. For
customers who can't afford air conditioning, there's a cheaper model
that omits it. The lesson is that consumer marketing and specialized
design for aerospace are very different things and aren't expected to
obey the same economic laws.
The unit cost of each lunar rover included painstaking hand
fabrication and assembly to assure the utmost reliability and quality.
It also included the amortization of development costs -- greater than
that of the typical auto because of the additional requirements of
engineering for space -- over a much smaller production run. Though
the rover contained fewer individual parts, those parts were important
and advanced. The LRV could navigate itself, steer with all four
wheels, relay communications; and the whole thing could be carried in
lunar gravity by two men, after folding up into a bundle approximately
the size of a coffee table. Your average Jeep just can't do that, and
that -- not part count -- translates into a high cost.
One lunar landing
suffices for the public, but the greedy contractors staged more
missions in order to maximize their profit.
This would make more sense if Apollo funding continued at a high
level throughout Apollo's operational period, 1969-1972. But in fact
the highest funding levels were, appropriately, during Apollo's
developmental period, 1961-1969. Just manufacturing the equipment was
not very lucrative once it had been designed and tested -- especially
on a fixed profit margin. It would have made more sense to curtail
the operational phase and move on to another high-priced development
phase, if profit had been the motive.
The film here becomes confused about motive. The original motive
for hoaxing the landings was to fool the Soviets into thinking the
U.S. had clearly superior technology. But halfway through the film,
Mr. Sibrel suggests the motive is to pay greedy contractors out of the
American public coffer, and that conducting several missions instead
of just one was a way to maximize profits. That isn't very compatible
with the first motive. The more missions you fake, the more
opportunity the Soviets have to inspect -- and possibly expose -- each
alleged Apollo mission. A magician never repeats a trick, and for
The Apollo 13 emergency
was staged to provide additional drama for a program that had lost
public attention. This was necessary in order to keep the dollars
That simply makes no sense. The accident renewed calls in
Congress and in the general public -- and even within NASA -- to
truncate what was perceived as a dangerous program. The result of
Apollo 13 was a shorter Apollo program with fewer missions and thus
less money for contractors.