Buzz Aldrin filed an expense report for $33.31 in 1969. For perspective, that’s $216.59 today. Where did the astronaut travel? From the Langley training facility in VA to Kennedy Space Center in FL? No. From Johnson Space Center in Houston to Langley or Kennedy? No. That claim was Aldrin’s expense report for his Apollo 11 moon trip.1 Was $33.31 what Aldrin spent to get to the moon and back? No. Certainly not.
You may recall that Aldrin was the second person to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. After his return, he submitted his expense report. In the copy of the paperwork we have, it’s not exactly clear what expenses he was claiming, but it is believed to have covered ground travel to and from the airports he used (on Earth, of course).
What he “spent” was a whole lot more. A better term to use would be investment. He invested his time, his heart, his body, his mind, and even his life (there was certainly no guarantee of safe return!) into that trip.
It may look easy to us, but I’m pretty sure that learning how to walk and get around in a spacesuit is no easy task. Imagine hanging sideways from an apparatus and learning to walk and run along a wall. It might sound fun, but really? (This was an early technique for simulating the moon’s 1/6G environment.)
How about, after splashdown, moving from the spacecraft to a water raft, wearing a spacesuit? Imagine the effect of miscalculating a movement and going into the water wearing that heavy suit! But what if Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins missed the intended ocean splashdown altogether and landed in a remote jungle location? For that contingency, they conducted survival training at the Panama Jungle Survival School on Albrook Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone.
But wait! What if they missed the ocean and the jungle? Aldrin and the crew might have ended up in the desert. So, yes, they conducted desert survival training, too.
They also did field training in geology in locations such as West Texas, and scuba training to simulate zero G environments, and centrifuge training for high G situations (launch and re-entry), and many more situations.2
I can’t imagine all the other investments Aldrin and the others made over many years. Aldrin earned a BS in mechanical engineering at West Point and was a jet fighter pilot in the US Air Force. He flew 66 combat missions in Korea. Both of those are rigorous endeavors on their own, each requiring great investment.
$33.31 doesn’t come close to capturing Aldrin’s expenses for his Apollo 11 moon journey.
Every journey has expenses, investments, that aren’t immediately apparent. As a leader, your journey might currently be toward a higher performing team. You might be working toward developing new leadership skills in yourself or others. You might be developing the ability to negotiate among diverse stakeholders. You might be working on a cultural shift toward greater trust and transparency.
Your journey might be more personal. You might be developing patience. You might be learning to trust others with important responsibilities. Perhaps you need to listen and ask more questions. It could be that embracing risk is your journey.
Whatever your journey, take a moment to count the cost, or, rather, weigh your investment. As a leader you likely have a strong grasp of your current journey. You know what you’re struggling with, fighting against, or pursuing.
However, have you really considered your investment? Have you taken time to evaluate whether what you’re putting into this journey is appropriate for the goals of the trip you’re on?
Aldrin didn’t get to the moon on $33.31. If that’s all he put into his journey after high school, he might have only made it to a fast-food job.
What are you expecting? Moon shot results or fast-food joint results?
What are you investing?
Update (August 6, 2015):
CNet posted an article today indicating that the Apollo 11 astronauts also filed customs forms upon their return to Earth. NASA, what were you thinking?
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “The Road to Hana” by Alex Yorkovich. Instagram @therandomspectator.
1: “Buzz Aldrin claimed $33 in travel expenses after Moon trip,” August 5, 2015. The Financial Express. Located at
2: For more on the training that NASA astronauts worked through, see “The Incredible Things NASA Did to Train Apollo Astronauts,” by Betsy Mason. July 20, 2011. Wired.com. Located at http://www.wired.com/2011/07/moon-landing-gallery/