On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin made history as Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Seven days later, they returned to a country of adoring fans, astonished that these brave astronauts accomplished a feat few thought possible. They filled out all of their paperwork, which included customs documents accounting for the harvested moon rocks and travel vouchers — because, technically, they were listed as troops on TDY.
When Col. Buzz Aldrin got his travel voucher back, he was approved for $33.31 for his time spent and distance traveled. Yep. A whole thirty-three bucks for going to the moon. Accounting for inflation, that's all of $228.73 in 2018 dollars.
In his voucher, every aspect of his travels was itemized. First, Aldrin left his home on July 7th and arrived at Ellington Air Force Base (8 miles). He flew to Cape Kennedy that day (1,015 miles), then flew to moon via "Gov. Spacecraft" (238,900 miles) and touched down in the Pacific Ocean on the 24th (another 238,900 miles). He was then picked up by the USS Hornet and made his way to Hawaii on the 26th (900 miles) and flew back to Ellington (3,905 miles) before finally going home on the 27th (8 more miles).
In total, he traveled roughly 483,636 miles and was away for twenty days.
Out of context, Aldrin's $33.31 compensation is a pittance. But, officially, we know he was given the roughly $30 bucks exclusively for the distance traveled between home and Ellington and the 100 miles of authorized use of a privately-owned vehicle around Cape Kennedy. But, just for fun, let's find out just how much Col. Aldrin should have been paid.
It should also be noted that the Defense Travel System usually pays out pre-approved amounts for travel in most cases — it's how they avoid paying out ridiculous sums (like the one we're about to calculate). This article is just a thought experiment to find out how much Col. Aldrin, and any likely Space Force cadets, would get for making an interstellar trip.
Since DTS records of pricing rates for service members' travel are hard to understand (at best) in 2018 and nearly nonexistent for 1969, we are going to have to extrapolate the data using recent travel rates and work our way backwards, accounting for the 85.44% inflation between now and then to get a grand total.
First, let's start with the easy stuff: per diem rates. Right now, DTS offers $144 per day of travel within the continental United States and $735 per day of travel outside. Using these numbers, we arrive at a total of $9,381, including his nine stateside days and 11 days spent outside of the continental U.S. (there's no existing rate for travel outside of the Earth's atmosphere, so we're just going to consider those 8 days in Space as definitely outside of the continental U.S.). Right off the bat, we're looking at roughly $1,366.17 in 1969 dollars.
To put this in perspective for our younger, junior-enlisted audience, that's around half the price of a '69 Ford Mustang back then.
But since Aldrin was still in the Air Force at the time of his Apollo 11 mission, he was listed as TDY — hence the travel voucher — so we're going to need to calculate distance, too. Mileage rates are categorized by car, motorcycle, airplane, and 'other.' This last category is typically reserved for boat or ferry travel (which he did use after splashing down the the Pacific to get to Hawaii), but we're going to lump spacecraft travel in here, too. If that's not 'other,' I don't know what is.
Using these rates, he'd be paid $8.72 for driving to and from the base, $5,953.20 for the plane travel, $162 for the USS Hornet trip, and, at .18 cents for every mile traveled, another $86,004 for going to the moon and back. That's a grand total of $92,127.92 in 2018 travel pay, or $13,416.72 in 1969 dollars.
With both distance and per diem rates, that's a whole $14,782.89 that Col. Buzz Aldrin could have been paid — but wasn't.
But, hey! I'm sure that the money means nothing compared to forever looking up at the moon and saying, "yeah. I was there."
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