NASA's budget as percentage of federal total, from 1958 to 2012
Seen in the year-by-year breakdown listed below, the total amounts (in nominal dollars) that NASA has been budgeted from 1958 to 2011 amounts to $526.18 billion—an average of $9.928 billion per year. By way of comparison, total spending over this period by the National Science Foundation was roughly one-fourth of NASA's expenditures: $101.5 billion, or $2 billion a year. NASA's FY 2011 budget of $18.4 billion represented about 0.5% of the $3.4 trillion United States federal budget during that year, or about 35% of total spending on academic scientific research in the United States.
According to the Office of Management and Budget and the Air Force Almanac, when measured in real terms (adjusted for inflation), the figure is $790.0 billion, or an average of $15.818 billion per year over its fifty-year history.
History of NASA's annual budget (millions of US dollars)
NASA's budget peaked in 1966, during the Apollo program
NASA's budget peaked in the period 1964-1966, during the height of construction efforts leading up to the first moon landing under Apollo program which involved more than 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 employees of industrial and universitycontractors. Roughly 4% of the total federal budget was being devoted to the space program.
In March 1966, NASA officials briefing Congressional members stated the "run-out cost" of the Apollo program, aimed at achieving a manned lunar landing, would be an estimated $22.718 billion for the 13-year program, which had begun in 1959. According to Steve Garber, the NASA History website curator, the final cost of project Apollo was between $20 and $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (approximately $136 billion in 2007 dollars). The costs associated with the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rockets amounted to about $83 billion in 2005 dollars (Apollo spacecraft cost $28 billion (Command/Service Module $17 billion; Lunar Module $11 billion), Saturn I, Saturn IB, Saturn V costs about $46 billion in 2005 dollars).
Economic impact of NASA funding
A November 1971 study of NASA released by MRIGlobal (formerly Midwest Research Institute) of Kansas City, Missouri ("Technological Progress and Commercialization of Communications Satellites." In: "Economic Impact of Stimulated Technological Activity") concluded that "the $25 billion in 1958 dollars spent on civilian space R & D during the 1958-1969 period has returned $52 billion through 1971 -- and will continue to produce pay offs through 1987, at which time the total pay off will have been $181 billion. The discounted rate of return for this investment will have been 33 percent."
A map from NASA's web site illustrating its economic impact on the U.S. states (as of FY2003)
A 1992 commentary in the British science journal Nature reported:
"The economic benefits of NASA's programs are greater than generally realized. The main beneficiaries (the American public) may not even realize the source of their good fortune. . ."
Other statistics on NASA's economic impact may be found in the 1976 Chase Econometrics Associates, Inc. reports ("The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending: Preliminary Executive Summary.", April 1975. Also: "Relative Impact of NASA Expenditure on the Economy.", March 18, 1975) 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:
— $21.6 billion in sales and benefits;
— 352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs created or saved, and;
— $355 million in federal corporate income taxes
According to the "Nature" commentary, these 259 applications represent ". . .only 1% of an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Space program spin-offs."
In 2002, the aerospace industry accounted for $95 billion of economic activity in the United States, including $23.5 billion in employee earnings dispersed among some 576,000 employees (source: Federal Aviation Administration, March 2004).
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.
According to the United States Constitution, the funding of all federal public works, including those of NASA, is determined by the Congress, and thus is subject to the will of the people, who elect the Congress. As Abraham Lincoln observed, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed." As such, NASA depends on the good will of the American public. The Apollo program (1961–72), motivated by a perceived national security threat posed by early Soviet leads in spaceflight, generated the highest budget levels that NASA has ever seen, both in real inflation-adjusted dollars and in percentage of total federal budget, sharply peaking at 4.41% in 1966 and then descending. After the US won the Space Race by achieving the goal of landing men on the Moon, the perceived threat was gone, 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 shallowly declined to 0.75% in 1986. Despite a brief rally to 1.01% in 1992, it then repeated the steady decline to approximately 0.5% in 2012, the last year for which data is available.
The American public perceives the NASA budget as commanding a much larger share of the federal budget than it in fact 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. It is estimated that most Americans spent less than $9 on NASA through personal income tax in 2009.
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." Inspired by Tyson's advocacy and remarks, the ScienceGrowsJobs campaign was initiated in 2012 by Dr. Liz Jensen and Eric Davis, and advocates an annual 8% increase to NASA's budget for ten years, with an end goal of $32.11 Billion.
^NASA Historical Data Books (SP-4012), Volume VI: NASA Space Applications, Aeronautics and Space Research and Technology, Tracking and Data Acquisition/Support Operations, Commercial Programs, and Resources, 1979-1988, Compiled by Judy A. Rumerman, 1999, Reference: Chapter 7: NASA Personnel, Table 7-1 (Titled: Total NASA Workforce (at end of fiscal year), Page 468 Link: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012/vol6/cover6.html