How Expensive is NASA?

Yesterday marked the first-ever launch of the Space Shuttle on Independence Day.  NASA’s manned space program continues to slowly emerge from the shadow of the Columbia disaster.  While newspaper headlines focused somewhat warily on the Shuttle launch, the $700 million Mission to Mars program was under attack by cost-cutting democrats in Congress. The measure failed by a wide margin, but it highlights the constantly-embattled NASA budget.

Although NASA’s recent manned space missions lack the scientific rigor of their unmanned deep space research, manned space flight captures the public’s imagination – and political support for NASA.  The NASA budget is surprisingly small – only $16.7 billion in 2006 – paltry by Pentagon standards. In real terms, NASA’s budget has been declining since 1991, and that’s likely to continue in the near future.

Less that half of NASA’s 2006 budget (about $7 billion) is applied for space operations such as the Shuttle and the International Space Station. The rest goes toward earth science, deep space exploration, research and development.  To give a point of comparison, the annual budget for NASA is about the same as the cost of 2 months of Iraqi occupation, 167 brand new F-22s, 2 more years of failed research for missile defense systems, or about 2 quarts of Tang for every person on earth.

NASA Budget Relative to Other Government Expenditures

1$100 million per fighter
2Based on Cost of Estate Tax repeal of 2007-2016 is $369 billion
32001-2006 Missile Defense spending was $43 billion
4Based on 2006 Budget of $101.8 billion
5 Only $4.19 for enough Tang to make 4 quarts
7Based on 2006 Peace Corps Budget of $317,440,000
9Based on 2006 EPA Budget