Note: This analysis is by David Emery from the SciManDan Patreon Slack group, a big thanks to him for this content.
What has NASA done with all that money?
It is often said by NASA (hater) conspiracy theorists that NASA does nothing with the billions of dollars they receive each year in funding. In this post, it will be shown an estimate of where money is spent for NASA. The 2020 budget for NASA is 22.6 billion dollars which is a 5% increase over 2019. This amounts to 60 million dollars per day. This is 0.48% of the U.S. federal budget. It is less than ½ the budget for each of the State Department, HUD, and Homeland Security. There is about 25 times as much spent on discretionary spending and 10 times as much on interest.
The last trip to the Moon was in 1972. The U.S. Congress felt that there was nothing left to learn by further trips to the Moon. NASA’s budget was cut from more than 4% to less than 0.5% of the U.S. federal budget. That is a budget cut of 80%. Think about what you would do with an 80% budget cut?
Many Space Engineers were terminated, no matter their expertise. Much of the resources, work areas and high bays were reassigned to other projects. Cost for testing and trips of manned missions skyrocketed due to added regulations. The decision was made to abandon manned missions beyond near earth because technological or robotic trips could return similar research data at a much lower cost.
NASA or Congress has arranged to spend its budget across the U.S. This “spread the wealth” policy allows every state to benefit from federal money. You can visualize this policy in the attached graph (from Wikipedia). Every state plus the District of Columbia receives money from NASA for work done.
This NASA website link provides links to detailed annual reports for NASA. These show the amounts spent on line items for any given year.
This leaves you asking “What exactly does NASA spend money on?”
There are 10 NASA field centers, which provide leadership for and execution of NASA’s work. All other facilities fall under the leadership of at least one of these field centers. There are 155 smaller facilities controlled by one of the larger facilities. Additionally, there are many abandoned facilities that were used for completed programs such as Gemini, Apollo, etc. Some of these unused facilities could cost millions to repair, something a cash-strapped NASA just does not have. Even just to tear them down is cost-prohibitive.
There are too many NASA programs for me to count. Managing and controlling these projects are more than 17,000 civil servant NASA employees. US Congress has mandated that all work be performed by Contractors consisting of 60,000 employees working for more than 100 companies.
Many of NASA’s programs accomplish non-space activities. NASA contributes to many non-profit programs worldwide, doing publicity for students and operating external experiments. In addition, a lot of NASA programs create everyday objects that we often take for granted. A short list follows:
• Light Emitting Diodes
• Infrared Ear Thermometers
• Artificial Limbs
• Portable Cordless Vacuums
• Freeze Drying Technology
• Harnessing Solar Energy
I watched a documentary this past week about the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were some that were unreadable due to degradation. They used a camera system invented by NASA.
NASA is a government-funded agency that uses their funding not only for space exploration but for ground-based and non -profit projects as well.
I would like to offer my congratulations to NASA and SpaceX for their milestone achievement of successfully sending astronauts from the U.S. to the ISS on a commercially built rocket. Well done everyone.
B.S. Mathematics, M.S. Industrial Engineering
16 years as a NASA Statistical Analyst, University Statistical Analyst