Putting NASA's Budget in Perspective

(Unless otherwise indicated, the dollar figures cited in this webpage were obtained from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2000, World Almanac Books, PRIMEDIA Reference Inc., 1999, ISBN 0-88687-847-0.)

The federal government spent roughly $14 billion (B) on NASA in fiscal year 1999. That's a lot of money! But what does that mean? How much is $14B? For most folks $14B is merely an abstract concept.

This webpage aims to put NASA's budget in perspective by comparing this $14B figure with other governmental and private expenditures in the United States.

For example, in fiscal year (FY) 1999, total federal expenditures were $1,699,217 million (M) -- approximately $1.7 trillion! NASA's budget of $14B, thus, represented only about 0.8% of total federal expenditures during FY '99. In fact, since 1975 NASA's budget has varied only between 0.7% and 1.0% of total federal expenditures. NASA's highest ever share of total federal expenditures was 5.5%, which occurred in 1966. (Click here to see a graph illustrating NASA's share of federal expenditures for the past 40 years.)

Many other interesting comparisons can be made:

  • Microsoft's corporate revenues in 1998 were roughly the same as NASA's budget that year.
  • NASA's budget is roughly the same size as the budgets of each of the following states: Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee. 
  • The federal government spends over 30 times as much money on Social Security as it does on NASA. 
  • Americans spent over 19 times as much at restaurants in 1997 as the federal government spent on NASA that year. 
  • NASA's budget represents approximately 0.2% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

What follows are a set of tables further illustrating how much -- or how little -- the federal government spends on NASA. Note that these comparisons do not necessarily imply a cause-effect relationship between the governmental or private expenditure in question and NASA's budget. These comparisons are meant merely to illustrate the size of NASA's budget.

Table Menu

Table 1 -- NASA's budget compared to other federal government expenditures

1999 data

Explanatory Notes
The blue row near the top, illustrating NASA's data, is provided for reference purposes. Using the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) as an example . . . . The VA's budget in 1999 was about $43 B (2nd column). NASA's budget, of about $14 B, was thus about 32% the size of the VA's budget (3rd column). Put another way, the VA's budget was over 3 times the size of NASA's budget (4th column). Put yet another way, for every dollar the federal government spent on NASA, the federal government spent $3.16 on the VA (5th column).

    Federal Department/Agency Dollar Amount
    (in millions)
    NASA budget as % of Dept./Agency budget Ratio of Dept./Agency budget to
    NASA budget
    Dept./Agency budget
    per NASA
    dollar
    NASA 13,664 100% $1.00
    VA 43,169 32% 3 1/6 $3.16
    Congress 2,621 521% 1/5 $0.19
    Judiciary 3,793 360% 2/7 $0.28
    Executive 416 3285% $0.03
    International Assistance Programs 10,059 136% 3/4 $0.74
    Agriculture (includes food stamps) 62,885 22% 4 3/5 $4.60
    Food Stamps [alone] 19,051 72% 1 2/5 $1.39
    Commerce 5,036 271% 3/8 $0.37
    Defense 293,387 5% 21 1/2 $21.47
    Education 33,521 41% 2 4/9 $2.45
    Energy 16,079 85% 1 1/6 $1.18
    HHS 359,700 4% 26 1/3 $26.32
    HUD 32,736 42% 2 2/5 $2.40
    Interior 7,773 176% 4/7 $0.57
    Justice 18,318 75% 1 1/3 $1.34
    Labor 32,459 42% 2 3/8 $2.38
    State 6,464 211% 1/2 $0.47
    Transportation 41,819 33% $3.06
    Treasury 387,280 4% 28 1/3 $28.34
    EPA 6,752 202% 1/2 $0.49
    Social Security 419,790 3% 30 5/7 $30.72

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Table 2 -- NASA's budget compared to various consumer expenditures

1997 data -- latest data available

Explanatory Notes
The blue row near the top, illustrating NASA's data, is provided for reference purposes. Using consumer expenditures on groceries as an example . . . . Consumers as a whole spent about $494 B on groceries in 1997 (2nd column). NASA's budget, of about $14 B, was thus about 3% the size of what all consumers spent on groceries that year (3rd column). Put another way, consumers spent over 34 times as much money on groceries as they did on NASA* (4th column). Put yet another way, for every dollar the federal government happened to spend on NASA in 1997, consumers happened to spend $34.32 on groceries (5th column).

    Category
    Dollar Amount (in billions) NASA budget as % of Consumer Expenditures Ratio of Consumer Expenditures to
    NASA budget
    Consumer Expenditures per NASA
    dollar
    NASA 14.4 100% $1.00
    Groceries 494.2 3% 34 1/3 $34.32
    Restaurants 277.2 5% 19 1/4 $19.25
    Tobacco 51.4 28% 3 4/7 $3.57
    Shoes 39.8 36% 2 3/4 $2.76
    Clothing & accessories 237.9 6% 16 1/2 $16.52
    Jewelry & Watches 43.1 33% $2.99
    Toilet articles, preparations 52.6 27% 3 2/3 $3.65
    Barber shops, beauty parlors, health clubs 26.8 54% 1 6/7 $1.86
    Household Operation 620.7 2% 43 1/9 $43.10
    Furniture (including bedding) 54.8 26% 3 4/5 $3.81
    Kitchen & other household appliances 29.7 48% $2.06
    China, glassware, tableware, utensils 28.6 50% $1.99
    Household Utilities 178.5 8% 12 2/5 $12.40
    Medical Care 957.3 2% 66 1/2 $66.48
    Drug preparations & sundries 98.1 15% 6 4/5 $6.81
    Health insurance 58 25% $4.03
    Funeral & Burial Expenses 13.8 104% $0.96
    New Autos 86.2 17% $5.99
    Used Autos 57.3 25% $3.98
    Gasoline & oil 126.5 11% 8 7/9 $8.78
    Airline 31.5 46% 2 1/5 $2.19
    Recreation 462.9 3% 32 1/7 $32.15
    Books, maps 25.2 57% 1 3/4 $1.75
    Magazines, newspapers, sheet music 29.1 49% $2.02
    Non-durable toys and sport supplies 47.8 30% 3 1/3 $3.32
    Flowers, seeds, potted plants 15.9 91% 1 1/9 $1.10
    Spectator sports 6.7 215% 1/2 $0.47
    Clubs, fraternal organizations 13.8 104% $0.96
    Education & Research 129.4 11% $8.99
    Higher education 69.6 21% 4 5/6 $4.83
    Nursery, elementary and secondary schools 25.7 56% 1 7/9 $1.78
    Religious & Welfare Activities 157.6 9% 11  $10.94

* [Editorial Comment: Of course, consumers don't really "spend" money on NASA. People are forced to support NASA through their taxes.]

to Table 2

 

Table 3 -- NASA's budget compared to the budgets of the 50 state governments

1997 data -- latest data available.

Explanatory Notes
The blue row near the top, illustrating NASA's data, is provided for reference purposes. Using California as an example . . . . California's state expenditures in 1997 were about $118 B (2nd column). NASA's budget, of about $14 B, was thus about 12.2% the size of California's budget (3rd column). Put another way, California's budget was over 8 times the size of NASA's budget (4th column). Put yet another way, for every dollar the federal government happened to spend on NASA, California happened to spend $8.19 on all of its state government programs (5th column).

    State
    Dollar Amount
    (in millions)
    NASA budget as % of state budget Ratio of state
    budget to NASA budget
    State budget
    per NASA
    dollar
    NASA 14,358 100% 1 $1.00
    Alabama 12,945 110.9% 1 $0.90
    Alaska 5,722 250.9% 2/5 $0.40
    Arizona 12,419 115.6% 6/7 $0.86
    Arkansas 7,685 186.8% 1/2 $0.54
    California 117,643 12.2% 8 1/5 $8.19
    Colorado 10,861 132.2% 3/4 $0.76
    Connecticut 13,826 103.8% 1 $0.96
    Delaware 3,404 421.8% 1/4 $0.24
    Florida 37,464 38.3% 2 3/5 $2.61
    Georgia 21,975 65.3% 1 1/2 $1.53
    Hawaii 6,093 235.6% 3/7 $0.42
    Idaho 3,674 390.8% 1/4 $0.26
    Illinois 35,302 40.7% 2 1/2 $2.46
    Indiana 16,370 87.7% 1 1/7 $1.14
    Iowa 9,348 153.6% 2/3 $0.65
    Kansas 7,496 191.5% 1/2 $0.52
    Kentucky 12,949 110.9% 1 $0.90
    Louisiana 14,286 100.5% 1 $0.99
    Maine 4,441 323.3% 1/3 $0.31
    Maryland 16,200 88.6% 1 1/8 $1.13
    Massachusetts 25,791 55.7% 1 4/5 $1.80
    Michigan 36,092 39.8% 2 1/2 $2.51
    Minnesota 18,443 77.9% 1 2/7 $1.28
    Mississippi 9,006 159.4% 5/8 $0.63
    Missouri 14,230 100.9% 1 $0.99
    Montana 3,204 448.1% 2/9 $0.22
    Nebraska 4,802 299.0% 1/3 $0.33
    Nevada 5,130 279.9% 1/3 $0.36
    New Hampshire 3,324 431.9% 1/4 $0.23
    New Jersey 29,430 48.8% 2 $2.05
    New Mexico 7,059 203.4% 1/2 $0.49
    New York 83,243 17.2% 5 4/5 $5.80
    North Carolina 22,864 62.8% 1 3/5 $1.59
    North Dakota 2,426 591.8% 1/6 $0.17
    Ohio 37,407 38.4% 2 3/5 $2.61
    Oklahoma 9,593 149.7% 2/3 $0.67
    Oregon 12,388 115.9% 6/7 $0.86
    Pennsylvania 39,296 36.5% 2 3/4 $2.74
    Rhode Island 4,002 358.8% 2/7 $0.28
    South Carolina 12,847 111.8% 8/9 $0.89
    South Dakota 2,070 693.6% 1/7 $0.14
    Tennessee 14,284 100.5% 1 $0.99
    Texas 48,887 29.4% 3 2/5 $3.40
    Utah 6,818 210.6% 1/2 $0.47
    Vermont 2,123 676.3% 1/7 $0.15
    Virginia 19,287 74.4% 1 1/3 $1.34
    Washington 22,207 64.7% 1 5/9 $1.55
    West Virginia 7,145 201.0% 1/2 $0.50
    Wisconsin 18,200 78.9% 1 1/4 $1.27
    Wyoming 2,127 675.0% 1/7 $0.15

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Table 4 -- NASA's budget compared to revenues of various large corporations

1998 data -- latest data available

Explanatory Notes
The blue row near the top, illustrating NASA's data, is provided for reference purposes. Using Sears Roebuck as an example . . . . Sears' revenues in 1998 were about $41 B (2nd column). NASA's budget, of about $14 B, was thus about 34% the size of Sears' revenues (3rd column). Put another way, Sears' revenues were approximately 3 times the size of NASA's budget (4th column). Put yet another way, for every dollar the federal government happened to spend on NASA, Sears happened to earn $2.91 in revenues (5th column).

    Company
    Corporate Revenues
    (in millions)
    NASA budget as % of corporate revenues Ratio of corporate revenues to
    NASA budget
    Corporate revenue
    per NASA dollar
    NASA 14,206 100% 1 $1.00
    Sears Roebuck 41,322 34% 3 $2.91
    Wal-Mart Stores 139,208 10% 9 4/5 $9.80
    Kmart 33,674 42% 2 3/8 $2.37
    J.C. Penney 30,678 46% 2 1/6 $2.16
    BankAmerica Corp. 50,777 28% 3 4/7 $3.57
    Chase Manhattan Corp. 32,379 44% 2 2/7 $2.28
    Bank One Corp. 25,595 56% 1 4/5 $1.80
    Wells Fargo 20,482 69% 1 4/9 $1.44
    Walt Disney 22,976 62% 1 5/8 $1.62
    Time Warner 14,582 97% 1 $1.03
    CBS 9,061 157% 2/3 $0.64
    RJR Nabisco Holdings 17,037 83% 1 1/5 $1.20
    Archer Daniels Midland 16,109 88% 1 1/7 $1.13
    Kroger 28,203 50% 2 $1.99
    Safeway 24,484 58% 1 5/7 $1.72
    Walgreen 15,307 93% 1 $1.08
    McDonald's 12,421 114% 7/8 $0.87
    Boeing 56,154 25% 4 $3.95
    Lockheed Martin 26,266 54% 1 6/7 $1.85
    United Technologies 25,715 55% 1 4/5 $1.81
    AlliedSignal 15,128 94% 1 $1.06
    Delta Air Lines 14,138 100% 1 $1.00
    Nike 9,553 149% 2/3 $0.67
    Pepsico 22,348 64% 1 4/7 $1.57
    Coca-Cola 18,813 76% 1 1/3 $1.32
    Anheuser-Busch 11,246 126% 4/5 $0.79
    E.I. du Pont de Nemours 39,130 36% 2 3/4 $2.75
    Dow Chemical 18,441 77% 1 2/7 $1.30
    Electronic Data Systems 16,891 84% 1 1/5 $1.19
    Microsoft 14,484 98% 1 $1.02
    IBM 81,667 17% 5 3/4 $5.75
    Hewlett-Packard 47,061 30% 3 1/3 $3.31
    Compaq Computer 31,169 46% 2 1/5 $2.19
    Xerox 20,019 71% 1 2/5 $1.41
    Dell Computer 18,243 78% 1 2/7 $1.28
    Citigroup 76,431 19% 5 3/8 $5.38
    Lucent Technologies 30,147 47% 2 1/8 $2.12
    Motorola 29,398 48% 2 $2.07
    Cigna 21,437 66% 1 1/2 $1.51
    Aetna 20,604 69% 1 4/9 $1.45
    Columbia/HCA Healthcare 18,681 76% 1 1/3 $1.32
    Marriott International 7,968 178% 5/9 $0.56
    Caterpillar 20,977 68% 1 1/2 $1.48
    Deere 13,822 103% 1 $0.97
    Prudential of America 34,427 41% 2 3/7 $2.42
    Metropolitan Life 26,735 53% 1 7/8 $1.88
    New York Life (Mutual) 19,849 72% 1 2/5 $1.40
    Northwestern Mut. Life 14,645 97% 1 $1.03
    State Farm Ins. 48,114 30% 3 2/5 $3.39
    Allstate 25,879 55% 1 5/6 $1.82
    United Parcel Service 24,788 57% 1 3/4 $1.74
    FedEx 15,873 89% 1 1/9 $1.12
    Alcoa 15,489 92% 1 $1.09
    General Motors 161,315 9% 11 1/3 $11.36
    Ford Motor 144,416 10% 10 1/6 $10.17
    Exxon 100,697 14% 7 $7.09
    Mobil 47,678 30% 3 1/3 $3.36
    Texaco 31,707 45% 2 1/4 $2.23
    Chevron 26,801 53% 1 8/9 $1.89
    Merck (pharmaceuticals) 26,898 53% 1 8/9 $1.89
    Johnson & Johnson 23,657 60% 1 2/3 $1.67
    Bristol-Myers Squibb 18,284 78% 1 2/7 $1.29
    Pfizer 14,704 97% 1 $1.04
    Union Pacific 10,553 135% 3/4 $0.74
    McGraw-Hill 3,729 381% 1/4 $0.26
    New York Times 2,937 484% 1/5 $0.21
    Goodyear Tire 12,649 112% 8/9 $0.89
    3M 15,021 95% 1 $1.06
    Eastman Kodak 13,406 106% 1 $0.94
    Merrill Lynch 35,853 40% 2 1/2 $2.52
    Morgan Stanley 31,131 46% 2 1/5 $2.19
    Intel 26,273 54% 1 6/7 $1.85
    Procter & Gamble 37,154 38% 2 3/5 $2.62
    Home Depot 30,219 47% 2 1/8 $2.13
    AT&T 53,588 27% 3 7/9 $3.77
    Bell Atlantic 31,566 45% 2 2/9 $2.22
    GTE 25,473 56% 1 4/5 $1.79
    Sprint 17,134 83% 1 1/5 $1.21
    Manpower (temporary services) 8,814 161% 5/8 $0.62
    Philip Morris 57,813 25% 4 $4.07
    Houston Industries (utility company) 11,488 124% 4/5 $0.81
    PG&E Corp. (utilities) 19,942 71% 1 2/5 $1.40

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NASA's Share of Total Federal Government Expenditures Since 1958

To view a graph showing NASA's historical share of total federal expenditures, click here. To view this graph you will need Adobe Acrobat. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat you can download it for free by clicking here.

The graph is based on the following data (in the table below) obtained from various editions of The World Almanac and Book of Facts -- beginning with the 1960 edition.

to "Putting NASA's Budget in Perspective"

(Click here to read a note concerning the formats of the table's data.)
Year NASA Budget Total Federal Expenditures NASA Budget as % of Total Federal Expenditures
1958 89,193,256 71,936,171,353

0.1%
1959 145,491,018 80,697,239,466

0.2%
1960 401,033,012 76,539,412,798

0.5%
1961 744,308,502 81,515,167,453

0.9%
1962 1,257,047,821 87,786,766,580

1.4%
1963 2,552,035,238 92,589,764,029

2.8%
1964 4,170,997,324 97,684,374,794

4.3%
1965 5,092,904,122 96,506,904,210

5.3%
1966 5,932,630,931 106,917,396,868

5.5%
1967 5,425,815 172,442,136

3.1%
1968 4,723,783 194,032,346

2.4%
1969 4,252,749 206,618,289

2.1%
1970 3,754,839 214,751,199

1.7%
1971 3,380,613 210,318,388

1.6%
1972 3,434,842 265,713,255

1.3%
1973 3,324,391 289,082,372

1.1%
1974 3,252,305 268,391,983

1.2%
1975 3,329,924 324,641,586

1.0%
1976 3,669,502 365,610,129

1.0%
1977 3,943,817 401,896,376

1.0%
1978 3,980,022 450,758,000

0.9%
1979 4,187,232 493,221,018

0.8%
1980 4,849,924 579,602,970

0.8%
1981 5,421,388 660,544,033

0.8%
1982 6,026 728,424

0.8%
1983 6,664 795,916

0.8%
1984 7,048 841,800

0.8%
1985 7,251 945,987

0.8%
1986 7,403 990,231

0.7%
1987 7,591 1,003,804

0.8%
1988 9,092 1,063,318

0.9%
1989 11,036 1,144,020

1.0%
1990 12,429 1,251,776

1.0%
1991 13,878 1,323,757

1.0%
1992 13,961 1,380,794

1.0%
1993 14,305 1,408,532

1.0%
1994 13,695 1,460,553

0.9%
1995 13,377 1,515,412

0.9%
1996 13,882 1,560,094

0.9%
1997 14,358 1,600,911

0.9%
1998 14,206 1,651,383

0.9%
1999 13,664 1,704,545

0.8%


 to discussion of graph

Note on the Table's Data Formats: Normally in tables like this all the numbers entail a common multiplication factor (e.g., the numbers are reported to be in "millions of dollars" or in "thousands of dollars"). However, over time the federal government changed its accounting conventions concerning the magnitude of its budgetary numbers. So, in this table the dollar amounts for the fiscal years:

  • 1958 through 1966 are actual dollar figures
  • 1967 through 1981 are in thousands of dollars
  • 1982 through 1999 are in millions of dollars.

to top of table

As examples from the table:

  • In FY 1958, NASA's budget was exactly $89,193,256.00 -- roughly $89 M -- out of roughly $72 B in federal expenditures. This means that NASA received 0.1% of total federal expenditures.
  • In FY 1967, NASA's budget was approximately $5,425,815,000.00 -- roughly $5.4 B -- out of roughly $172 B in federal expenditures. This means that NASA received 3.1% of total federal expenditures.
  • In FY 1982, NASA's budget was approximately $6,026,000,000.00 -- roughly $6 B -- out of roughly $728 B in federal expenditures. This means that NASA received 0.8% of total federal expenditures.


Ultimately, the magnitude of the dollar figures for any given fiscal year are not important when calculating the percentage of the total federal budget NASA received for that year (assuming, of course, that the magnitudes of NASA expenditures and total federal expenditures are the same for that year).
 


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