Order Code RS22625
Updated January 9, 2008
National Aeronautics and Space
Administration: Overview, FY2008 Budget in
Brief, and Key Issues for Congress
Daniel Morgan and Carl E. Behrens
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts U.S.
civilian space and aeronautics activities. For FY2008, the Administration requested
$17.309 billion for NASA, an increase of 6.4% from the FY2007 regular appropriation
of $16.264 billion. The 2005 authorization act authorized $18.686 billion. The House
provided $17.623 billion. The Senate provided $17.460 billion, including $1 billion in
emergency funding. The final appropriation was $17.309 billion. The key issue for
Congress is implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration, including development
of new vehicles for human spaceflight, plans for the transition to these vehicles after the
space shuttle is retired in 2010, and the balance in NASA’s priorities between human
space exploration and the agency’s other activities in science and aeronautics.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by the
1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act (P.L. 85-568) to conduct civilian space and
aeronautics activities. NASA opened its doors on October 1, 1958, almost exactly a year
after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik. In the five decades
since, NASA has conducted programs in human and robotic spaceflight, technology
development, and scientific research.
NASA is managed from headquarters in Washington, DC. It has nine major field
centers: Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA; Dryden Flight Research Center,
Edwards, CA; Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH; Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, MD; Johnson Space Center, near Houston, TX; Kennedy Space Center,
near Cape Canaveral, FL; Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA; Marshall Space
Flight Center, Huntsville, AL; and Stennis Space Center, in Mississippi, near Slidell,
LA. In addition, it has a federally funded research and development center, the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, operated by the California Institute of
Technology. NASA’s programs are organized into four Mission Directorates:
Aeronautics Research, Exploration Systems, Science, and Space Operations. More
information on the agency’s centers, directorates, and management team can be found on
the NASA website at [http://www.hq.nasa.gov/hq/org.html].
NASA’s FY2008 Budget in Brief
The requested FY2008 budget for NASA was $17.309 billion. That was 6.4% more
than the FY2007 regular appropriation of $16.264 billion, but 7.4% less than the $18.686
billion authorized by the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-155). The House
provided $17.623 billion (H.R. 3093, H.Rept. 110-240). The Senate provided $18.460
billion (H.R. 3093; see also S. 1745, S.Rept. 110-124). The final appropriation was
$17.309 billion, the same as the requested amount but allocated differently (P.L. 110-161,
explanatory statement in the Congressional Record, December 17, 2007). For a
breakdown of these amounts by program, see Table 1.
Table 1. NASA FY2008 Budget
Science, Aeronautics, and Exploration
Cross-Agency Support Programs
International Space Station
Space and Flight Support
Return to Flight (emergency funding)
Sources: NASA briefing charts based on the FY2007 initial operating plan; the FY2008 NASA
congressional budget justification ([http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/]); H.R. 3093 as passed by the House
and H.Rept. 110-240; H.R. 3093 as passed by the Senate and S.Rept. 110-124 (accompanying S. 1745); and
P.L. 110-161, Division B, and explanatory statement, Congressional Record, December 17, 2007, pp.
Notes: The FY2007 column consists of base amounts appropriated by Sec. 20915 of P.L. 110-5 plus $17
million for civil service pay increases under Sec. 111 of P.L. 110-5, adjusted for accounting changes. A
supplemental appropriation of $20 million in FY2007 for Hurricane Katrina recovery (P.L. 110-28) is not
included. All reductions not yet allocated have been applied proportionately to the affected programs.
The Vision for Space Exploration
On January 14, 2004, President Bush announced new goals for NASA: the Vision
for Space Exploration, often referred to as the Moon/Mars program. The President
directed NASA to focus its efforts on returning humans to the Moon by 2020 and some
day sending them to Mars and “worlds beyond.” (Twelve U.S. astronauts walked on the
Moon between 1969 and 1972. No humans have visited Mars.) The President further
directed NASA to fulfill commitments made to the 13 countries that are its partners in the
International Space Station (ISS). In the 2005 authorization act, Congress endorsed the
goals of the Vision and directed NASA to establish a program to accomplish them.
NASA is developing a spacecraft called Orion (formerly the Crew Exploration Vehicle)
and a launch vehicle for it called Ares I (formerly the Crew Launch Vehicle). An Earthorbit capability is planned by 2014 (although NASA considers early 2015 more likely)
with the ability to take astronauts to and from the Moon following no later than 2020.
NASA stresses that its strategy is to “go as we can afford to pay,” with the pace of
the program set, in part, by the available funding. In 2004, the President proposed adding
$1 billion to NASA’s budget for FY2005 through FY2009 to help pay for the Vision, but
subsequent Administration budgets more than eliminated this increase, and actual
appropriations by Congress have been even less. Most funding for the Vision is thus
being redirected from other NASA activities. To free up funding for Orion and Ares I,
the space shuttle program will be terminated in 2010, and U.S. use of the ISS will end by
2017. NASA has not provided a cost estimate for the Vision as a whole. Its 2005
implementation plan estimates that returning astronauts to the Moon will cost $104
billion, not including the cost of robotic precursor missions or $20 billion to use Orion
to service the ISS.1 A report by the Government Accountability Office gives a total cost
for the Vision of $230 billion over two decades.2
The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) is responsible for
implementing the Moon/Mars program. The FY2008 request for ESMD was $3.924
billion. Although this was a substantial increase from FY2007, the FY2007 appropriation
was $750 million less than had been requested (after adjusting for accounting changes).
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has testified that the FY2007 funding reduction and
other factors will delay the schedule for Orion and Ares I by four to six months, with an
initial operating capability (i.e., a first crewed flight) now expected in early 2015.3 The
House provided the requested amount for ESMD, while the Senate provided a $49 million
increase for development of Ares I. The final appropriation was $3.821 billion, or $103
million less than the request.
Along with a host of implementation challenges, the Vision creates issues about the
balance between human space exploration and NASA’s other activities in science and
aeronautics. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has reportedly said that “I will do
NASA, Exploration Systems Architecture Study: Final Report, NASA-TM-2005-214062,
November 2005, [http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/exploration/news/ESAS_report.html].
Government Accountability Office, High Risk Series, GAO-07-310, January 2007, p. 75.
Michael D. Griffin, testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences, February 28, 2007.
everything I can to keep Orion and Ares I on schedule. That will be right behind keeping
shuttle and station on track, and then after that we’ll fill up the bucket with our other
priorities.”4 The 2005 authorization act emphasized that NASA should have a balanced
set of programs, including science and aeronautics as well as activities related to the
Vision. The House and Senate appropriations committee reports for FY2008 again
expressed concern about NASA’s programmatic balance.
NASA Science Programs
The FY2008 request for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) was $5.516 billion,
a 5% increase from FY2007. After adjusting for accounting changes, the request reflected
no net change from NASA’s previous plans, which projected 1% growth in Science
funding each year through FY2011. In response to critics who note that 1% growth is less
than inflation, NASA officials say that funding for science at NASA grew faster than the
agency’s total budget during the 1990s and early 2000s and that sustaining such increases
is impossible. They also state that the 32% share of NASA’s budget allocated to Science
in the FY2008 request is significantly more than the 24% allocated to science programs
in FY1992. (Accurate comparisons between current programs and FY1992 are difficult
because of numerous intervening changes in how NASA presents its budget and
categorizes expenditures.) The House and Senate provided increases for Science of $180
million and $139 million respectively. The final appropriation was $5.547 billion, an
increase of $31 million relative to the request.
In late 2006, NASA announced a reorganization of the Science Mission Directorate,
creating four divisions where previously there had been three. The main result of the
reorganization was to create a separate Earth Science Division. In the FY2006 and
FY2007 budget cycles there was no separate budget for Earth science at NASA, and
supporters were concerned that this was adversely affecting the field. The National
Research Council (NRC) recommended in January 2007 that the United States “should
renew its investment in Earth observing systems and restore its leadership in Earth science
and applications.”5 Although the FY2008 request included increased funding for Earth
Science and projected further increases in FY2009 and FY2010 relative to previous plans,
most of the proposed increases were to cover cost growth and schedule delays in existing
missions. The House provided an increase of $60 million relative to the request to begin
development of new missions based on the NRC survey, as well as $60 million more for
Research and Analysis to be “allocated in an equitable fashion” among the four Science
divisions. The Senate provided $138 million more than the request, including $25 million
to begin implementation of the NRC survey and $96 million more for Earth Science
Research. The final appropriation for Earth Science was $27 million more than the
request. It included $40 million for NRC survey missions.
In the Astrophysics Division, the FY2008 request reinstated funding for the SOFIA
airborne infrared telescope but deferred the Space Interferometer mission (SIM) beyond
Quoted in “NASA Will Protect CEV, Station Against Flat-Budget Squeeze,” Aerospace Daily
and Defense Report, January 11, 2007.
National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives
for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007, [http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11820.html].
FY2012. An initial operational capability for SOFIA is now expected in about 2010, and
a full operational capability in about 2013. The requested funding for SIM in FY2008
was $22 million, down from a projected $139 million, with further reductions projected
in future years. According to the budget request, the lower funding level for SIM would
support engineering risk reduction, mission design, and core scientific expertise, but no
actual development work. The House provided $72 million for SIM, which it said is
ready for development. In contrast, the Senate provided reductions in the Navigator
program (which includes SIM) and urged NASA to reformulate Navigator toward a
smaller, medium-class satellite development program. The final appropriation for SIM
was $60 million.
NASA Aeronautics Research
The FY2008 request for Aeronautics Research was $554 million. Although that was
$163 million less than the FY2007 appropriation, it was $49 million more than NASA
had projected for FY2008 in its previous plans. The House provided an increase of $146
million. The Senate provided the requested amount. The final appropriation was $622
million, an increase of $68 million relative to the request. These funding changes follow
significant changes in the structure and content of the program, the release of a major
policy report on the future of aeronautics at NASA, and the establishment of a new
national policy on federal aeronautics research and development.
In late 2005, the NASA aeronautics program was refocused on core competencies
in subsonic, supersonic, and hypersonic flight. The former Vehicle Systems program was
renamed Fundamental Aeronautics to reflect its new character. The other two programs,
Aviation Safety and Airspace Systems, had their content reorganized. A fourth program,
the Aeronautics Test Program, was created to ensure the availability of wind tunnels and
other test facilities, whose continued viability has been under pressure for several years.
In June 2006, the National Research Council released a decadal strategy for federal
civil aeronautics activities, with a particular emphasis on NASA’s research program.6
Along with other recommendations, the report identified 51 technology challenges to
serve as the foundation for aeronautics research at NASA for the next decade. The House
committee report and the explanatory statement for the final bill both directed NASA to
apply a portion of its funding increase to the top-ranked priorities of the decadal survey.
In December 2006, as required by the FY2006 appropriations act (P.L. 109-108, Sec.
628), President Bush issued a new National Aeronautics Research and Development
Policy ([http://www.ostp.gov/html/NationalAeroR&DPolicy12-19-06.pdf]). The policy
establishes general principles and goals for federal aeronautics activities, lays out the roles
and responsibilities of NASA and other agencies, and directs the National Science and
Technology Council to issue a national aeronautics R&D plan by December 2007 and at
least every two years thereafter. The House committee report urged NASA to “continue
to support the principles and objectives outlined in the Policy.”
National Research Council, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future,
The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station
Construction of the ISS, suspended after the Columbia disaster in February 2003,
resumed in September 2006. NASA plans 10 shuttle flights in 2008-2010 to complete the
ISS, plus one mission in 2008 to service the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA has also
allocated $500 million over five years to help private-sector companies develop low-cost
space transportation systems that could service the ISS after the shuttle is retired.
The gap between the end of shuttle flights in 2010 and the expected availability of
Orion in 2015 raises several issues. Some analysts are concerned that placing a fixed
termination date on the shuttle may create schedule pressure similar to that identified as
a contributing factor in the Columbia disaster. Some question whether the United States
should be dependent on Russia to launch U.S. astronauts to the ISS during the gap period.
A major concern is how NASA will retain its skilled workforce during the transition from
shuttle to Orion, especially if Orion’s schedule slips and the gap lengthens. The
explanatory statement for the final bill directed the Government Accountability Office to
review NASA’s transition plans and provide quarterly updates. Administrator Griffin has
testified that Orion’s first flight could be moved forward to September 2013 at the cost
of an additional $2 billion.7
Considering the modest ISS research agenda that remains, some question is whether
completing the ISS is worth the cost — more than $2 billion per year plus about $4 billion
per year for the shuttle. Alternatively, some want to restore the ISS research program:
for example, the 2005 authorization act directs that 15% of ISS research spending be used
for non-Vision-related research. Fulfilling U.S. commitments to its international partners
in the ISS (Russia, Japan, Canada, and 10 countries in Europe) is seen as essential by
some observers; others find this rationale insufficient to justify the expense.
The FY2008 request included $6.792 billion for the Space Operations Mission
Directorate, which consists of the space shuttle, the ISS, and the Space and Flight Support
program. This was an increase of about 11% above the FY2007 appropriation, but almost
the entire increase was previously planned to reflect the schedule of ISS construction.
New funding for two additional Tracking and Data Relay System (TDRS) satellites,
required for ground communications with near-Earth spacecraft, was approximately offset
by reductions in reserves for the shuttle and the ISS. The Senate provided approximately
the requested amount. The House provided $20 million less for the ISS (mostly from
reserves), provided $80 million less for Space and Flight Support, and rejected the
requested increase for TDRS procurement. The final appropriation was $6.734 billion,
including $27 million less than the request for the shuttle and $30 million less for the ISS.
A Senate floor amendment provided an additional $1 billion in emergency funding
for the post-Columbia shuttle return-to-flight effort. The final appropriation did not
include this provision.
Michael D. Griffin, testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences, November 15, 2007.