The Cost of Space

Zepfanman via flickr.com

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson advocates for increased NASA funding.

“How much would you pay for the universe?” - Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

Space exploration isn’t cheap. The scientific and economic returns on investments in space science have been huge, but whether we’re designing new telescopes or launching humans and equipment into Earth orbit, it takes a lot of money to get programs off the ground.

But just how much do we spend, and how does our current space budget compare to what we’ve spent in the past?

NASA’s budget for 2012 will probably be a little less than one half of one percent of the federal government’s budget. That means that less than one half of one penny out of each dollar the national government spends goes to NASA. It’s still a lot of money—about 17.7 billion dollars—but it’s a lot less than we’ve spent in the past. At the peak of the Apollo program, when NASA sent astronauts to the moon, the agency received almost four and a half percent of the federal budget. Since then, NASA’s portion of the budget has steadily shrunk, and today it’s as small as it has been since the first two years of the United States’ space program.

Take a look at the tabs below to get an better idea of NASA's place in the federal budget.

NASA's portion of the federal budget
NASA's portion of the federal budgetCourtesy SMM
Right now, NASA receives less than one half of one percent of the federal budget. See how NASA's portion of the budget, in blue, has changed from the beginning of the space program to the Apollo days to 2012.
(Click on the graph to zoom in.)

Highs and lows
Highs and lowsCourtesy SMM
Take a closer look and compare NASA's current and past funding levels to its portion of the federal budget at the peak of the Apollo program!

NASA' portion of the federal budget in 2012: NASA's estimated funding for this year measures up to about .48% of the federal budget
NASA' portion of the federal budget in 2012: NASA's estimated funding for this year measures up to about .48% of the federal budgetCourtesy SMM
A 1997 poll determined that Americans estimated, on average, that NASA received about 20% of the federal budget. The actual figure has been less than 1% since the early 1990s, and has never exceeded 4.5%.

This year, about one half of one percent of the money the federal government spends will go to the space program. It's a tiny percent of the budget, but the government has to pay for a lot of things. What do you think is the right amount?