NASA Budget: Current Funding and History

How $1 Spent on NASA Adds $10 to the Economy

NASA Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida, USA,
NASA Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida, USA,. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The National Aeronautic Space Administration budget for FY 2018 is $19.1 billion. That's a 0.8 percent decrease from current funding levels. It's a 4.4 percent increase over Obama's FY 2017 budget request of $18.3 billion.

The U.S. government funds NASA using federal revenue from income, corporate and other taxes. The Trump administration plans to focus more on public-private partnerships. The budget provides incentives for businesses to partner with the government on space station operations, deep-space exploration and small satellite groups.

It will take a more active role in commercializing new space technologies.

There is $624 million for aeronautics research and development. NASA will collaborate with commercial aerospace companies to create new space exploration technologies. These include new energy-efficient aircraft, solar electric propulsion and robotic satellite servicing. For example, it will work with companies to provide commercial supersonic coast-to-coast flights.

NASA manages the satellite imagery of Earth. It will work with a growing U.S. commercial satellite servicing industry. Other areas of the Earth Science budget are being cut by $102 million. These include research grants and the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite. 

NASA will spend $3.7 billion to further develop the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket. It could carry astronauts to the moon, Mars and deep space. Funds will also support the Orion crew capsule.

It was successfully tested in 2014 and is the first new U.S. design to carry humans in 40 years. It will enable the United States to transport its own crews to the International Space Station. Right now, we have to pay Russia for crew transport. The United States will regain its ability to shuttle its crew and cargo by using commercial partners.

NASA hasn't done this since it retired the space shuttle Discovery in 2012. NASA continues to support research on the space station.

Another $1.9 billion goes toward the 2020 Mars rover mission. NASA will also use its deep-space system to explore asteroids. But the Asteroid Redirect Mission was canceled to save money. This program would have protected Earth from any impacts. It would have identified potential asteroid threats, fly an astronaut to the asteroid and redirect it using solar electric propulsion systems.

NASA is replacing the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the new James Webb Space Telescope. It is scheduled to launch October 2018. Those projects will cost $1.25 billion. (Source: "The James Webb Space Telescope Builds Up Expectations," NASA, Summer 2016. "NASA Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, April 10, 2014.)

It costs $3.3 billion to maintain NASA facilities and equipment. It has 20 facilities and 14 visitor centers. NASA employs 18,000 people as employees and contractors. To save on some of these costs, the Education Department is being eliminated. That will save $115 million. (Source: “NASA FY 2017 Budget Request.” “Centers and Facilities,” NASA.)

Why Every Dollar Spent on NASA Adds $10 to the Economy

report by the Space Foundation estimated that activities related to space contributed $180 billion to the economy in 2005.

More than 60 percent of this came from commercial goods and services created by companies related to space technology. The space economy includes commercial space products and services. It also includes commercial infrastructure and support industries. In addition, it includes U.S. government space budgets outside of NASA. Here are eight examples.

  1. Department of Defense
  2. National Reconnaissance Office
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  4. Department of Energy
  5. Federal Aviation Administration
  6. National Science Foundation
  7. Federal Communications Commission
  8. United States Geological Survey

The space economy also counts aerospace budgets in private companies. 

That means that each dollar of NASA spending is a catalyst for $10 of economic benefit. NASA is in a unique position to provide some of the technological innovation that drives the space economy.

NASA research led to many of the goods and services we take for granted every day. These include weather and communication satellites. That allowed ATM machines, which provide an immediate electronic response via satellite. It also allows GPS, which was developed by the Air Force for military applications. Other technologies developed for exploring space are now used to increase crop yields or search for good fishing regions.

2002 study by Professor H.R. Hertzfeld of George Washington University showed one way NASA helps the economy. Hertzfeld observed a significant return to companies that work with NASA on its research contracts. These companies can commercialize the products developed and market them. The 15 companies studied received $1.5 billion in benefits from a NASA R&D investment of $64 million.

Small businesses didn't receive as much benefit because they didn't have the ability to market the technology on a larger scale. The study concludes that NASA could create a greater economic advantage by continuing the relationship with the companies they work with. NASA could also help open additional financial and marketing doors for these companies.

These benefits trickle down to everyday life. Since 1976, NASA created 1,400 inventions that later became products or services. These include kidney dialysis machines, CAT scanners and even freeze-dried food.

Compare NASA's Budget to Other Departments

For all it does, NASA receives just 0.4 percent of the $4.001 trillion FY 2018 federal budget. Compare that to the Department of Defense. Its budget is $574 billion, or 13 percent of the total. DoD's budget would pay for 30 NASA departments.

NASA also receives less than these other six departments.

  • Health and Human Services – $65.3 billion.
  • Veterans Administration – $78.8 billion.
  • Education – $59 billion.
  • Homeland Security – $44.1 billion
  • Housing and Urban Development – $31.2 billion.
  • State Department – $28.2 billion. 

Budget History Since FY 1998

NASA's budget continues to grow. In FY 2017, Congress appropriated more than President Obama asked for. NASA's budget was cut during the 2008 financial crisis and during sequestration. Despite this growth, the federal government has spent less on NASA since its beginning than it spent on the 2008 bank bailout. (Source: "Missions Aborted," New York Times, October 11, 2015. President's budgets since FY 2001.) 

  • FY 2017 - $19.2 billion. President Obama requested $18.3 billion.
  • FY 2016 - $19.3 billion. Obama requested $18.5 billion. Congress allocated more.
  • FY 2015 - $18.0 billion.
  • FY 2014 - $17.6 billion.
  • FY 2013 - $16.9 billion. Obama requested $17.7 billion. All programs were cut to comply with sequestration.
  • FY 2012 - $17.8 billion appropriated by Congress. President Obama requested $18.7 billion.
  • FY 2011 - $18.4 billion. Obama requested $19 billion.
  • FY 2010 - $18.7 billion.
  • FY 2009 - $18.8 billion. One billion came from ARRA funding. President Bush requested $17.6 billion.
  • FY 2008 - $17.1 billion. Bush requested $17.3 billion. Congress cut programs in response to the financial crisis.
  • FY 2007 - $16.2 billion. Bush requested $16.8 billion.
  • FY 2006 - $16.3 billion
  • FY 2005 - $16.1 billion.
  • FY 2004 - $15.4 billion
  • FY 2003 - $15.3 billion.
  • FY 2002 - $14.8 billion.
  • FY 2001 - $14.3 billion.
  • FY 2000 - $13.6 billion.
  • FY 1999 - $13.7 billion.
  • FY 1998 - $13.6 billion.