Space Research Is Too Costly

It seems to me…

That is the exploration that awaits you!  Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”  ~ Leonard Nimoy.

Following any posting about space exploration, I always receive several comments saying “we should stop spending on space exploration“, “it’s a total waste of finances or resources“, “we can’t afford it“, or “it’s a waste of our money“.  Ironically, these people who do not believe in space exploration or in many other scientific research projects fail to appreciate that if not for those expenditures, they would not have the Internet or many other items they use on a daily basis originally developed as part of space-related research.

Computers originally used to launch man into space or to the moon were not nearly as powerful as those currently available.  Considerable progress has resulted directly from science and engineering developments from space exploration.

The U.S. (NASA) spent about $17.7 billion dollars on space exploration in 2012 which was 0.48 percent[i] of the total U.S. federal budget of $3.8 trillion in a $14 trillion economy[ii].  This is a significant reduction from the mid-1960s during the Apollo moon landing program when nearly 4 percent of the total U.S. federal budget was spent on reaching the moon.

Let’s place this in perspective by comparing it with other Federal budget amounts for 2012:

Social Security: $817.5 billion (self-funding)
Defense: $716.300 billion
Medicare: $484.486 billion
Health: $361.625 billion
Education, Training, Employment and Social Services: $139.212 billion
Veterans Benefits and Services: $129.605 billion
Transportation: $102.552 billion
Energy: $23.270 billion

Granted comparing just the budget for space exploration against other categories is a bit like comparing apples and oranges but the entire budget for General Science, Space and Technology was only $30.991 billion.

But if some of these amounts seem excessive, compare them with the following:

Gambling: $910 billion (2006)[iii]
Tobacco products: $90 billion
[iv]
Illegal drugs: $65-80 billion (2009)
[v]
Alcoholic beverages: $57 billion
[vi]

 Additionally, during 2003, Americans also collectively spent[vii]:

Eating out: $224 billion
Frozen dinners: $67 billion
Gardening: $25 billion
Hunting: $22.1 billion
Pet products: $21.3 billion
Junk food: $15 billion

 A 1971 NASA study by the Midwest Research Institute[viii] concluded: “The 25 billion in 1958 dollars spent on civilian space R & D during the 1958-1969 period has returned $52 billion through 1971 and will continue to produce pay-off through 1987, at which time the total pay off will have been $181 billion.  The discounted rate of return for this investment will have been 33 percent.”

Confirmation that “Space Pays” may also be found in the 1989 Chapman Research report[ix], which examined only 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during an eight year period from 1976-1984 and found more than:

352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs created or saved
$21.6 billion in sales and benefits
$355 million in federal corporate income taxes

These 259 applications represent only 1 percent of an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 space program spinoffs.  These benefits were in addition to benefits in the space industry itself and to the ordinary multiplier effects of any government spending.

Other benefits, not quantified in the study, include state corporate income taxes, individual personal income taxes (federal and state) paid by those 352,000 workers, and incalculable benefits resulting from lives saved and improved quality of life.

Supporters of space exploration know the investments the U.S. has made in space technology have helped maintain the country as the world’s number one technological superpower.  The problem is not that we are spending too much on space-related research, it is one of the best investments we can make and we obviously are spending far too little.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[i] Budget of NASA, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA.

[ii] How much does the US spend on space exploration?, Wikipedia, http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_does_the_US_spend_on_space_exploration.

[iii] How much do Americans spend on gambling every year?, Experts123, http://www.experts123.com/q/how-much-do-americans-spend-on-gambling-every-year.html.

[iv] How much money, per year, is spent on cigarettes?, ChaCha, http://www.chacha.com/question/how-much-money%2C-per-year%2C-is-spent-on-cigarettes.

[v] Adini, Sigal.  Just the Stats and Nothing But the Stats, Sobering Thoughts, http://sobering-thoughts.com/2010/11/29/just-the-stats-and-nothing-but-the-stats/, 29 November 2010.

[vi] How much money is spent on alcohol each year in the united states?, ChaCha, http://www.chacha.com/question/how-much-money-is-spent-on-alcohol-each-year-in-the-united-states.

[vii] These amounts obviously have changed since 2003 but was not able to find updated values.

[viii] Schnee, Jerome.  The Economic Impacts of the U.S. Space Program, http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/economics.html.

[ix] Comstock, Douglas A., Daniel P. Lockney and Coleman Glass.  A Sustainable Method for Quantifying the Benefits of NASA Technology Transfer, http://spinoff.nasa.gov/pdf/AIAA%202011%20Quantifying%20Spinoff%20Benefits.pdf, 27-29 September 2011.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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4 Responses to Space Research Is Too Costly

  1. Earle Curran says:

    Welcome home. The listing of federal programs and amounts spent is quit interesting. I think the these totals need to be much more visible in various medias i.e. newspapers, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever folks are current reading. Thanks for gathering this info together.

  2. alza de plan says:

    I love what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and reporting! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

  3. tyler says:

    Excellent read, I just passed this kind of onto a new colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me personally lunch since i found it pertaining to him look So i want to rephrase that.

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