Budget of NASA

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
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Agency overview
FormedJuly 29, 1958;61 years ago (1958-07-29)
Employees17,336 (2018)
Annual budget US$20.7 billion (about 0.489% of total FY2018 budget at about US$4 trillion) [1]

As a federal agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) receives its funding from the annual federal budget passed by the United States Congress. The following charts detail the amount of federal funding allotted to NASA each year over its history to pursue programs in aeronautics research, robotic spaceflight, technology development, and human space exploration programs. As of 2018, NASA employs 17,336 people. [2]

NASA US government agency responsible for civilian space programs, and aeronautical and aerospace research

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

United States federal budget Budget of the U.S. federal government

The United States federal budget comprises the spending and revenues of the U.S. federal government. The budget is the financial representation of the priorities of the government, reflecting historical debates and competing economic philosophies. The government primarily spends on healthcare, retirement, and defense programs. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office provides extensive analysis of the budget and its economic effects. It has reported that large budget deficits over the next 30 years are projected to drive federal debt held by the public to unprecedented levels—from 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 to 144 percent by 2049. The United States has the largest external debt in the world and the 14th largest government debt as % of GDP in the world.

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, and consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election, though vacancies in the Senate may be filled by a gubernatorial appointment. Congress has 535 voting members: 435 representatives and 100 senators. The House of Representatives has six non-voting members representing Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia in addition to its 435 voting members. Although they cannot vote in the full house, these members can address the house, sit and vote in congressional committees, and introduce legislation.


Annual budget

NASA's budget as percentage of federal total, from 1958 to 2017 NASA-Budget-Federal.svg
NASA's budget as percentage of federal total, from 1958 to 2017

NASA's budget for fiscal year (FY) 2019 is $21.5 billion. [3] It represents 0.49% of the $4.4 trillion the United States plans to spend that year. [4]

Since its inception, the United States has spent $601.31 billion (in nominal dollars) on NASA. When adjusted for inflation the cumulative figure is $1.32 trillion, an average of $22.03 billion per year over its entire history.

History of NASA's annual budget (millions of US dollars)
NASA budget
Nominal Dollars
% of Fed Budget [5] [6] 2014 Constant Dollars
NASA budget
Nominal Dollars
% of Fed Budget [5] [6] 2014 Constant Dollars
200917,782 [7] 0.57%19,714
201018,724 [8] 0.52%20,423
FY 201118,448 [9] 0.51%17,833
FY 201217,770 [10] 0.50%17,471
FY 201316,865 [11] 0.49%17,219
FY 201417,647 [12] 0.50%17,647
FY 201518,010 [13] 0.49%17,989
FY 201619,300 [14] 0.50%19,037
FY 201719,508 [15] 0.47%18,866
FY 201820,736 [16] 0.50%20,050
FY 201921,500 [17] 0.47%
FY 202022,619 [18] 0.48%

Notes for table: Sources for a part of these data: U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (needs proper citation-link, numbers here differ from NASA Pocket Statistics),
Air Force Association's Air Force Magazine 2007 Space Almanac
Secondary references: [ full citation needed ]

Air Force Association

The Air Force Association (AFA) is an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit, professional military and aerospace education association that promotes American aerospace power. It is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Cost of Apollo program

NASA's spending peaked in 1966 during the Apollo program NASA budget linegraph BH.PNG
NASA's spending peaked in 1966 during the Apollo program

NASA's budget peaked in 1964–66 when it consumed roughly 4% of all federal spending. The agency was building up to the first Moon landing and the Apollo program was a top national priority, consuming more than half of NASA's budget and driving NASA's workforce to more than 34,000 employees and 375,000 contractors from industry and academia. [19]

Apollo program 1961–1972 United States human spaceflight program, which landed the first humans on the lunar surface

The Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo, was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which succeeded in landing the first humans on the Moon from 1969 to 1972. First conceived during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration as a three-person spacecraft to follow the one-person Project Mercury which put the first Americans in space, Apollo was later dedicated to the national goal set by President John F. Kennedy of "landing a man on the Moon by the end of this decade and returning him safely to the Earth" in an address to Congress on May 25, 1961. It was the third US human spaceflight program to fly, preceded by the two-person Project Gemini conceived in 1961 to extend spaceflight capability in support of Apollo.

Aerospace manufacturer company involved in manufacturing aircraft, aircraft parts, missiles, rockets, and/or spacecraft

An aerospace manufacturer is a company or individual involved in the various aspects of designing, building, testing, selling, and maintaining aircraft, aircraft parts, missiles, rockets, or spacecraft. Aerospace is a high technology industry.

In 1973, NASA submitted congressional testimony reporting the total cost of Project Apollo as $25.4 billion (about $153 billion in 2018 dollars). [20]

Economic impact of NASA funding

A November 1971 study of NASA released by MRIGlobal (formerly Midwest Research Institute) of Kansas City, Missouri concluded that "the $25 billion in 1958 dollars spent on civilian space R & D during the 1958–1969 period has returned $52.5 billion through 1971 – and will continue to produce payoffs through 1987, at which time the total payoff will have been $181 billion. The discounted rate of return for this investment will have been 33 percent." [21]

A map from NASA's web site illustrating its economic impact on the U.S. states (as of FY2003) NASA dollars.jpg
A map from NASA's web site illustrating its economic impact on the U.S. states (as of FY2003)

Other statistics on NASA's economic impact may be found in the 1976 Chase Econometrics Associates, Inc. reports [22] and backed by the 1989 Chapman Research report, which examined 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during an eight-year period (1976–1984) and found more than:

According to a 1992 Nature commentary, these 259 applications represent ". . .only 1% of an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Space program spin-offs." [23]

A 2013 report prepared by the Tauri Group for NASA showed that NASA invested nearly $5 billion in U.S. manufacturing in FY 2012, with nearly $2 billion of that going to the technology sector. NASA also develops and commercializes technology, some of which can generate over $1 billion in revenue per year over multiple years [24]

In 2014, the American Helicopter Society criticized NASA and the government for reducing the annual rotorcraft budget from $50 million in 2000 to $23 million in 2013, impacting commercial opportunities. [25]

The 2017 Economic Impact Report prepared by NASA for their Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards found that for FY 2016, these programs created 2,412 jobs, $474 million in economic output, and $57.3 million in fiscal impact with an initial investment of $172.9 million. [26]

Public perception

The perceived national security threat posed by early Soviet leads in spaceflight drove NASA's budget to its peak, both in real inflation-adjusted dollars and in a percentage of the total federal budget (4.41% in 1966). But the U.S. victory in the Space Race — landing men on the Moon — erased the perceived threat, and NASA was unable to sustain political support for its vision of an even more ambitious Space Transportation System entailing reusable Earth-to-orbit shuttles, a permanent space station, lunar bases, and a manned mission to Mars. Only a scaled-back Space Shuttle was approved, and NASA's funding leveled off at just under 1% in 1976, then declined to 0.75% in 1986. After a brief increase to 1.01% in 1992, it declined to about 0.49% in 2013.

To help with public perception and to raise awareness regarding the widespread benefits of NASA-funded programs and technologies, NASA instituted the Spinoffs publication. This was a direct offshoot of the Technology Utilization Program Report, a "publication dedicated to informing the scientific community about available NASA technologies, and ongoing requests received for supporting information." according to the NASA Spinoff about page the technologies in these reports created interest in the technology transfer concept, its successes, and its use as a public awareness tool. The reports generated such keen interest by the public that NASA decided to make them into an attractive publication. Thus, the first four-color edition of Spinoff was published in 1976. [27]

The American public, on average, believes NASA's budget has a much larger share of the federal budget than it actually does. A 1997 poll reported that Americans had an average estimate of 20% for NASA's share of the federal budget, far higher than the actual 0.5% to under 1% that has been maintained throughout the late '90s and first decade of the 2000s. [28] It is estimated that most Americans spent less than $9 on NASA through personal income tax in 2009. [29]

However, there has been a recent movement to communicate discrepancy between perception and reality of NASA's budget as well as lobbying to return the funding back to the 1970–1990 level. The United States Senate Science Committee met in March 2012 where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson testified that "Right now, NASA's annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th-century birthright to dream of tomorrow." [30] [31] Inspired by Tyson's advocacy and remarks, the Penny4NASA campaign was initiated in 2012 by John Zeller and advocates the doubling of NASA's budget to one percent of the Federal Budget, or one "penny on the dollar." [32]

Political opposition to NASA funding

Public opposition to NASA and its budget dates back to the Apollo era. Critics have cited more immediate concerns, like social welfare programs, as reasons to cut funding to the agency. [33] Furthermore, they have questioned the return on investment (ROI) feasibility of NASA's research and development. In 1968, physicist Ralph Lapp argued that if NASA really did have a positive ROI, it should be able to sustain itself as a private company, and not require federal funding. [33] More recently, critics have faulted NASA for sinking money into the Space Shuttle program, reducing funding available for its long-term missions to Mars and deep space. [34] Manned missions to Mars have also been denounced for their inefficiency and large cost compared to unmanned missions. [35] In the late 1990s climate change skeptic political groups opposed the Earth science aspects of NASA spending, arguing that spending on Earth science programs such as climate research was in pursuit of political agendas. [36]

Recent developments

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 was signed into law on March 21, 2017, and marked some changes to NASA's mission. It reaffirms interest in:

The law also expanded the TREAT Astronauts Act, which provides medical diagnostic and treatment services to former astronauts. [37] Absent from the law is any mention of NASA's earth science programs, which some critics believe is a politically motivated move. [38]

The proposed NASA Authorization Act of 2018 would increase NASA's budget from $19.5 billion in FY 2017 to $20.74 billion in FY 2018, and again to $21.21 billion in FY 2019. [39] This act supports the initiatives outlined in the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, and adds a detailed outline of goals regarding NASA's earth science division. [40]

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