On average the costs of NASA and its budget are $8.7 billion per year.
Since 1958, the amount allocated to the program has been in the region of over $400 billion.
Its budget for the year 2008 was $17 billion. It makes up less than half a percent of the $3 trillion federal budget in the US. It takes up 35% of expenses for the entire scientific research costs in the US however.
The Apollo Missions
While the budget now seems high, it actually reached its zenith in the mid-1960s.
When Project Apollo started, America was in a race with the Soviet Union to put the first man on the Moon.
In 1966, there were over 34,000 personnel employed. This made the costs of NASA the highest it has been.
Apart from the employees, there were nearly 400,000 contractors from universities to industries employed.
Based on the budget allocation, more than 4% of the entire country’s budget was spent on the space program. That is roughly 4 cents for every dollar.
The total cost to put men on the Moon was pegged at $22 billion. This was spread out over a 13-year period commencing in 1959. That would be $146 billion today.
The spacecraft itself came up to $30 billion and the Lunar Module $11 billion. The Command Module cost over $16 billion. These are converted into today’s dollars.
The Costs of NASA Today
Even with its large budget, the American space program is plagued with cost overruns. More than two-thirds of the agency’s projects are now behind schedule in terms of completion.
This became evident since laws were passed obligating the space agency to inform Congress if a project would exceed its budget.
The agency must also report if the project lags by half a year. The space agency has a dozen new programs. Almost all are over budget or behind schedule.
Reasons for Greater Expenses
Some of the reasons are technical in nature. Building a spacecraft and space rovers is difficult. The slightest mistake might render it useless.
Fixing it usually costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Another reason the costs of NASA go up is that their partners experience technical problems, affecting the timeline.
In other instances, the rising expenses are simply unexpected. The Mars Science Lab saw a surge in cost by nearly $200 million.
Another project that has gone over budget is Glory. Glory is a satellite designed to track climate change. In terms of expenses, it has exceeded its budget by over $50 million.
Other cost overruns come from Project Kepler ($80 million) which looks for Earth-like planets. The Polar Satellite Preparatory Project aims to monitor ocean and air temperatures. Its cost has exceeded $100 million of its budget, or 20%.
Despite the high costs of NASA, the agency continues to get a substantial budget from Congress. Its contribution to space exploration, climate change, and other issues has shown that it remains relevant to this day.