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 is 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. It plans to build a sustainable presence by 2028. This 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. The agency 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:

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