NASA Budget, Current Funding, History, and Economic Impact

A dollar spent on NASA adds more than $8 to the economy

Astronaut in space
•••  Photo by NASA via Getty Images

NASA's $25.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 was about a 12% increase over FY 2020. Every dollar of NASA's budget has a bigger impact on the U.S. economy. It spurs technological advancements that contribute to our everyday lives. NASA partners with multiple private industries. Its research has led to many products and services that go well beyond the scope of space exploration.

Key Takeaways

  • NASA's budget is much smaller than other government agencies
  • Yet NASA’s research and operations have stimulated high economic output relative to its expenditures
  • Its R&D on space exploration has produced technological innovations
  • Thank NASA for GPS, weather satellites, dialysis machines, and freeze-dried food

NASA's Focus

NASA’s top priority is to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024. It will be the first time a woman has landed on the moon. The agency plans to build a sustainable presence by 2028. It will be used as a launchpad to explore Mars.

The budget includes $3.4 billion to develop landing systems. Another $700 million goes to supporting lunar surface activities. NASA will direct $233 million for robotic precursor missions to Mars. 

The U.S. government funds NASA using federal revenue from income, corporate, and other taxes. The budget also provides incentives for private businesses to partner with the government on space station operations, deep-space exploration, and small satellite groups. NASA has funded 23 research concepts with $7 million to further space technologies.

How NASA Impacts the Economy

A report by the Space Foundation estimated that activities related to space contributed $180 billion to the economy in 2005—more than eight times the department's own budget. More than 60% of this came from commercial goods and services created by companies related to space technology. The space economy includes commercial space products and services, commercial infrastructure, and support industries. It also counts aerospace budgets in private companies. 

The space economy also includes eight U.S. government space budgets outside of NASA:

  • Department of Defense
  • National Reconnaissance Office
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Department of Energy
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • National Science Foundation
  • Federal Communications Commission
  • United States Geological Survey

How NASA Impacts Technology

NASA research leads to many of the goods and services we take for granted every day, such as weather and communication satellites. Such technology has led specifically to things like GPS devices, based on technology 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.

A 2002 study by Professor H.R. Hertzfeld of George Washington University 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 research and development investment of $64 million.

Such benefits trickle down to everyday life. From 1976 through 2019, NASA has created more than 2,000 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

NASA receives 0.5% of the $4.8 trillion FY 2021 federal budget. The Department of Defense, by comparison, has a $636.4 billion budget, or 13% of the total.

Six other departments also receive more funding than NASA:

  • Department of Health and Human Services: $96.4 billion
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: $105 billion
  • Department of Education: $66.6 billion
  • Department of Homeland Security: $49.7 billion
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development: $47.9 billion
  • Department of State: $44.1 billion

Budget History Since FY 1998

NASA's budget expanded by more than 85% from 1998 through 2021. In some years, Congress appropriated more money for it than the president requested. NASA's budget was cut slightly during the 2008 financial crisis and during sequestration. A look at the year-by-year appropriations:

  • FY 2021: $25.2 billion requested by the Trump administration
  • FY 2020: $22.6 enacted, $23 billion requested by Trump
  • FY 2019: $21.5 billion, Trump requested $19.5 billion, Congress allocated more
  • FY 2018: $19.5 billion, Trump requested $19.1 billion
  • FY 2017: $19.2 billion, Obama requested $18.3 billion
  • FY 2016: $19.3 billion, Obama requested $18.5 billion.
  • 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, Obama requested $18.7 billion
  • FY 2011: $18.4 billion, Obama requested $19 billion
  • FY 2010: $18.7 billion
  • FY 2009: $18.8 billion, President George W. Bush requested $17.6 billion, an additional $1 billion came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding
  • 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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who controls NASA's budget?

NASA's budget is set annually along with the rest of the president's annual budget request, which Congress must approve. A new budget goes into effect each October.

How much of the federal budget goes to NASA?

It changes slightly each year, but NASA's budget represents around 0.5% of all federal spending.

Why was NASA created?

The Space Act of 1958 originally laid out NASA's purpose, which still stands today. It has several goals, including expanding humankind's knowledge of space, improving aeronautical technology, studying the potential of using space exploration and activities for scientific purposes, and maintaining the United States' role as a leader in space science and technology.

Article Sources

  1. The White House. "A Budget for America's Future," National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Page 101.

  2. NASA. "NASA Selects Early-Stage Technology Concepts for New, Continued Study."

  3. NASA. "NASA Administrator Griffin Discusses Value of the Space Economy."

  4. NASA. "FY 2020 Budget Estimates," Pages BUD 1-5.

  5. The Journal of Technology Transfers. "Measuring the Economic Returns From Successful NASA Life Sciences Technology Transfers."

  6. NASA. "Did You Know That's a NASA Technology?"

  7. The White House. "A Budget for America's Future," Table S-8. 2021 Discretionary Overview by Major Agency. Page 123.

  8. NASA. "Budget Documents, Strategic Plans and Performance Reports."

  9. NASA. "NASA FY 2021 Budget Request."

  10. The Planetary Society. "NASA's FY 2020 Budget."

  11. NASA. "The Birth of NASA."