2013 NASA Budget Gutted

The proposed 2013 NASA budget has just been released. A good summary document is here. The actual budget is down by about $59 million from what’s been laid out for 2012. Since the 2012 budget was already a $700 million decrease from 2011, which was in turn a few hundred million below 2010, the total NASA budget has decreased about one billion dollars in the last three years.

NASA’s budget is already tiny compared to other government programs; a drop from its high of $18.7 billion to less than $17.8 billion (a six percent decrease), has really hamstrung space science the last few years. Of course there is a recession right now, but pushing the agency that has always (at least since the 1960s) worked on a shoestring budget to do with even less is crazy. The actual savings are equivalent to about three hours of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

It’s become a cliché to compare the chronically underfunded NASA to the comically-bloated military establishment, but the comparison is instructive. In 2010, total military spending (not including indirect costs from interest on incurred debts) was 683.7 billion dollars. This was a three percent increase over the previous year.

Let me put it another way. At the same time the NASA budget was being nickle and dimed with budget decreases every year, the budget increase in the military for that year was about equal to the total NASA budget. The military budget increased by nearly $20 billion dollars the same year that NASA was cut back by a critical few hundred million.

This is not simply a shame for the curious among us, it’s bad fiscal planning. Some experts predict the accrued interest on the borrowed money for of the out-of-control military spending of the last decade (mostly due to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) will exceed the original spending before it is paid down. Anyone who has had trouble with credit card debts understands that when you borrow more than you can easily pay back, the interest can cause the debt to spiral out of control. Every dollar spent on the wars thus far, therefore, is actually at least two.

In contrast, past economic studies of NASA spending have determined a rate of return as low as seven or as high as 23 times the original investment as a result of technology advances. I.e., for every dollar you put in to NASA, you will eventually get back at least seven dollars due to economically valuable spin-off technologies. Whether these numbers will hold with future discoveries or not, it’s a near certainty that there will be a return of some kind. Basic research always pays off in the long run.

That means that gutting NASA’s budget by a billion dollars a year isn’t saving that amount of money. It’s actually throwing away several times as much. That billion dollars not being spent this year might mean $10 billion the economy could have gained a decade from now.

Phil Plait (“the Bad Astronomer”) has a more detailed analysis where he looks at the specific programs being cut (which include both education and Mars exploration, unfortunately). He also makes a great analogy. If you need to clear room on your hard drive, are you going to delete a bunch of tiny 100 kilobyte text files or are you gonna look at clearing an item or two from your big folder of multi-gigabyte movie files?

I might alter it slightly. If you have to remove programs to clear space on your hard drive, do you want to delete something small and incredibly useful like Notepad or can you do without some of your flash-based browser add-ons that take up 100 times the memory “budget” on your hard drive?

It’s time to loosen the purse strings for science again. There certainly are examples of inefficient, bloated government programs. But they don’t look anything like the folks at NASA, who stretch every dollar. We could be visiting distant planets, each one for the cost of a few hours of military spending. Why aren’t we?

Related stories:

Is Anyone Out There? Do We Care?

NASA One Step Closer to Finding Earth’s Twin

New NASA Video Provides Peek At Life on Mars

Image credit: NASA

67 comments

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers1 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers1 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers1 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers1 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Silvestr Vetchinin

Thank you for the article...

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

We already have anti gravity ships, this technology is kept hidden by the corporations that profit from fossil fuel http://www.disclosureproject.org/ is a great place to start. The information is from top Military and government officials that came forward in 2001 at the National Press Club. (viewed by over a billion people). Our Government Officials started demanding to know why this information has not been disclosed to them or the public. Even our presidents are told they have no need to know. This Information makes the Iran Contra Scandel look petty. The world governments including our own government want this technology and are being denied any access. We have the ability to learn about this and demand clean energy now. The disclosure project was started to bring the information to us with constant threats and ridicule about the people coming forward, even our astronauts that courageously told the truth.

Greg Flowers
Gregory Flowers4 years ago

just goes to show how the GOP-"led" Congress is a bunch of idiots!!

wchi wink
.4 years ago

I'm not sure, even though i follow and am subscribed to NASA site, that their current funding is doing this organisation justice, as they have been known to practice what i call certain "un-information", perhaps due to backers that have an agenda to keep us rather in the dark about certain things.....Hmmmm
Would be nice if it was "we the people" that funded them!

Ginger Strivelli
Ginger Strivelli4 years ago

it is the year 2012...and we are a generation, or two behind the '2001-a space odyssey' level of Space-exploration/colonization that we thought we'd be at now...why? Because we won't fund NASA....we fund wars for oil, and fund tax cuts for millionaires and teapot museums and bridges to nowhere....but refuse to fund the future.

Pieter Jacobus O.
Pieter Jacobus O4 years ago

Humanity is facing complete annihilation due to global warming, and the only agency capable of finding an alternative home for humans is under funded and the greatest contributors to both annihilation and global warming get more funding. Now that's some damn stupid budgeting right there.