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Budget of NASA 1959-2020

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the US Government, founded in 1958, taking over from the dissolved National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It oversees the US space program, as well as research into aeronautics and aerospace, while the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) oversees military matters regarding space. NASA was founded at the beginning of what has become known as the 'space race,' a period of Cold War history where the Soviet Union and the US competed for dominance and superiority of space technology. In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) into the earth's orbit, marking the first significant development in the space race. While the relationship between the US and Russia is much friendlier today, with both countries cooperating on space endeavors such as the International Space Station (ISS), it is important to remember that tensions between both nations were very high during this time, and the launch of the satellite displayed the potential ability to launch nuclear warheads from space.

America responds

The US responded in 1958 with the launch of Explorer I, and this was also the year that NASA was founded. From the graph we can see that US investment in NASA in its infancy grew exponentially, jumping from 330 million US dollars in 1959 to 5.25 billion in 1965, which translates to approximately $34 billion in 2020 dollars, which is more than NASA has ever been allocated by the US government since its founding. During this time NASA also worked with the CIA and US Air Force to monitor Soviet military activity. The reason that the United States began investing more money during the early 60s was because of advancements made by the Soviets in this time, such as the launch of Luna 2, and Yuri Gagarin's first manned orbit of the earth. Three weeks after Yuri Gagarin's orbit, Alan Shepard became the first American man to go into space, and in February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

The Apollo Program

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy made the claim that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and the Apollo project was born. The Apollo Program, which lasted between 1961 and 1972, cost almost 30 billion US dollars at the time. Kennedy's dream of landing man on the moon was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to stand on the moon, and NASA sent a further five manned missions to the moon, culminating with Apollo 17 in December 1972.

...and beyond

By landing on the moon first, and with four failed attempts by the Soviets to land on the moon, the US claimed to have 'won' the space race. After this point government investment in NASA decreased to just 3 billion US dollars in 1974. From 1972 onwards NASA's main focuses have included the Space Shuttle Program, the ISS, and space exploration, among many others. While investment has gradually grown until today, the government has never invested money in space exploration in the same way it did during the space race. In 2019, fifty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA's budget is 21.5 billion US dollars.

Budget of NASA from 1959 to 2020 (in million U.S dollars), by 2020 and non-adjusted dollars

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Release date

June 2019


United States

Survey time period

1959 to 2019

Supplementary notes

* FY2019 enacted budget
**FY2020 presidential budget request

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