How much money is invested in NASA?
The percentage of the federal budget for NASA and space research
has not kept pace with our dreams, or with the pace of scientific
discovery since the Apollo Years. Entire generations weaned on
'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' demand more from NASA than what we are
financially willing to commit to this great adventure. Because NASA
must obey the laws of nature, and most of these laws require
expensive solutions, NASA cannot continue this decline without
great human and technological risk. (Credit: The Author).
The recent budgets are at a level of about $15 billion and
amount to one percent of our total federal budget. In the 1960's
this fraction was closer to 5%. Since the 1980's it has been slowly
declining until by 2003 it is just under 0.7%. We spend as much on
NASA as we do buying potted plants and gardening materials every
year. You can hardly argue that we, as a Nation, have a very
serious attitude towards space. About 10 percent of the NASA budget
goes to aviation. The remainder goes to space research both manned
and unmanned. Since the beginning of NASA back in 1959, a total of
$466 billion has been spent by NASA over 44 years when correction
to '2003 dollars' is made to take into account inflation.
It's interesting to note that $466 billion about equal to a
single-years expenditure by the Department of Defense. It is well
known that NASA is horribly under-funded compared to the objectives
and missions it is asked to carry out. If the budget were doubled
you would see many more very ambitious engineering and scientific
projects to detect life and planets orbiting other stars. There
would be a full-fledged lunar research outpost with some very
impressive telescopes in operation. During the last 20 years we
have spent endless time 'debating' why we need a Space Station, why
we 'really' need to go to the Moon and Mars etc. While the debating
goes on, and budgets are reduced, we loose precious opportunities
to carry out these projects at lower cost than what we now have to
pay. When the USSR was still our enemy, the debate was about
political prowess and national security. But today, it is
infinitely harder to convince anyone to do anything that costs
money other than prepare for war or national defense.
It will take a national calamity such as a direct asteroid
impact on a major city to change this around. The second problem is
that our basic understanding of how to carry out large projects is
still rudimentary. We do not know how to put someone in space for
more than 200 days without serious medical impacts. We do not know
how to build a closed biological system for long-term habitation.
Our technologies for putting material in orbit still cost thousands
of dollars a pound. Even if we had more money, it is not obvious
how to accelerate the learning process, but it would sure help to
have more resources and people involved. But we cannot seem to
convince anyone that without reliable support and investment, we
will never be able to solve these big problems that still daunt us.
No matter how clever we think we are as designers, Nature can not
be short-changed and still allow us to operate safely in space.