NASA & the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal

White House Budget

Wednesday morning, the Obama administration released its requested budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year. The nearly 250 page document, which essentially outlines all federal government spending for 2014, was delivered to Congress considerably later than any other time in history.

Overall, the budget request would fund NASA at $17.7 billion, a $50 million or 0.3 percent cut from enacted FY12 levels and $1.3 billion below authorized levels. The administration has repeatedly made calls for federal investment in STEM research and development, and makes good on that promise with an R&D portfolio totaling $11.6 billion, an increase of $290 million or 2.6 percent over the 2012 enacted level.

Most surprising is the inclusion of $78 million in funding for an asteroid capture mission whereby a near-Earth object (NEO) would be placed in lunar orbit for future study by a manned crew sometime by 2025. This particular funding priority was met with skepticism by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) who said that the proposal got “points for creativity,” but regardless “[The] mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”

The new asteroid-lasso program will likely face an uphill battle in Congress especially taking into account the $300 million cut in Planetary Science funding from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion from FY12. Rightfully upset about the request is the Planetary Society, noting that any good news in the planetary sciences account (including Plutonium funding) are essentially budget tricks. A welcome addition, however, is the effective doubling of NASA’s NEO Program Office from $20.4 to $40.5 million. Continue reading

The Circle of NASA – From Jobs to Technology & Back


With the Space Shuttle retired and the US economy in its current state, many people are wondering how both the economy and the space industry can possibly move forward.

What they aren’t realizing, however, is that the two are, or at least can be, directly related.

The simple fact is that NASA creates jobs. How? Well, it happens with a one-two punch: A new NASA program or project creates jobs all around and spinoffs create even more.

The following is information taken from studies conducted to investigate the true relationship of NASA expenditures and economic growth.

A study by Midwest Research Institute (MRI) showed that the relationship between Research & Development (R&D) expenditures and technology-induced increases in GNP were directly mutually beneficial. Each dollar spent on R&D returns an average of slightly over seven dollars in GNP over an eighteen-year period following the expenditure. Assuming that NASA’s R&D expenditures produce the same economic payoff as the average R&D expenditure, MRI concluded that a total gain of $181 billion resulted from the $25 billion (1958) spent on civilian space R&D during the 1959-69 period, with $52 billion of that coming in through 1970 and the rest continuing to stimulate benefits through 1987.

A second econometric investigation of the relationship between NASA expenditures and the U.S. economy was conducted by Chase Econometric Associates. This study consisted of two phases. The first phase used a University of Maryland input-output model to analyze short-run economic impact of NASA R&D expenditures. Using an example of $1 billion being proportionately transferred to NASA from other non-defense programs, Chase estimated that the transfer would increase manufacturing output in 1975 by 0.1 percent, or $153 billion (measured in 1971 dollars), and would increase 1975 manufacturing employment by 20,000 workers.

The second phase of Chase’s study analyzed the long-term economic impact of NASA R&D expenditures. Using a production function which related NASA R&D expenditures to the productivity growth rate in the U.S. economy from 1960 to 1974, Chase concluded that society’s rate of return on NASA R&D expenditures was 43 percent.

Lastly, the Space Division of Rockwell International conducted a third study of the macroeconomic impact of NASA R&D programs involving the relationship between NASA’s Space Shuttle program and employment in the state of California. Using an econometric model developed at UCLA, Rockwell estimated that the Space Shuttle program generated an employment multiplier of 2.8; that is, direct Shuttle employment of 95,300 man-years in California produced an increase of 266,000 man-years in total employment.

It’s a lot to take in, but the basic story is this: If NASA wants to create a new spacecraft, people are needed from almost every sector of the science and technology industry to create each and every part of that spacecraft. And after all that, even more jobs can be created as these new products are applied to technology we use right here on Earth.

The result is called a “NASA Spinoff,” and here’s a little bit about them:

“A NASA spinoff is a technology, originally developed to meet NASA mission needs, that has been transferred to the public and now provides benefits for the Nation and world as a commercial product or service. NASA spinoffs enhance many aspects of daily life, including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity. These spinoffs are transferred to the public through various NASA partnerships including licensing, funding agreements, assistance from NASA experts, the use of NASA facilities, and other collaborations between the Agency, private industry, other government agencies, and academia. As of 2012, NASA has documented nearly 1,800 spinoff technologies in the annual NASA Spinoff publication.”

There’s a good chance you don’t realize just how many products out there are NASA spinoffs. Memory foam? Spinoff. Infrared ear thermometers? Spinoff. Freeze-dried food? Spinoff. Here are some more NASA discoveries that have discreetly changed your life:

As our motto goes, all it takes is one penny to launch this nation. Let’s get a Penny4NASA.

Read more:

Throw the Rocket in Reverse (Pt.2); Sequestration is a “go”

Sequester 8
Last Saturday on SNL’s  cold opening, “President Obama” brought on representatives from different agencies to talk about the effects of the sequester. One guest, an “astronaut,” said that “Thanks to the budget cuts, our space helmets will no longer have glass, so when we go outside to repair the ship, we’ll just have to hold our breath.” The line was met with laughs, and while the comic relief was humourous, it underscores a very real scenario.

At 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 1st, the sequester officially took effect. An avoidable crisis that was 16 months in the making and of Congressional design fell down like an axe on budgets throughout the federal government. Its effects, however, are far from certain and difficult to forecast. We wrote an article on the sequester and how we arrived at our current destination last September. Allow us to reiterate, this time with complete certainty, the consequences of failing to deal with the sequester going forward:

  1. NASA will face a revised 5% cut in its budget year totaling $1.458 billion dollars (assuming FY13 numbers).
  2. That percentage exists regardless of whatever NASA’s funding levels are.
  3. The formula will go on for 9 years afterwards.
To those that haven’t done the math, this means that assuming NASA was funded at just its FY13 numbers, that’s a total of $14.58 billion dollars cut from NASA over the course of ten years. To put things in perspective, to build one Space Shuttle costs about $1.7 billion, the Mars Curiosity rover cost $2.5 billion, and the Constellation program (prior to its disposal) would have cost $97 billion over a twelve year period. Relative to NASA’s yearly budget, $14.58 billion is a pretty significant number.

And when it rains, it pours. On March 27th, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that has funded NASA at FY12 levels and that was signed by the president back in September will expire. Either a new CR will be passed with continued funding levels (albeit lower effective funding due to the sequester) or an entirely new FY13 budget will be proposed that will fund the federal government through September 30th. The former is a definite negative for NASA. However, the latter presents several opportunities for Congress to undo damage from the sequester. Negotiations on a budget extension going forward present Democrats and Republicans with ample opportunity to raise funding levels that, taking into consideration the 5% cut put in place by the sequester, would restore funding at previous levels or even increase them. This is likely to be done on a program-by-program basis, and would result in funding levels being raised for some agencies, staying the same for most, and potentially decreasing for a few. Congress could also, with literally one sentence, introduce an amendment to any budget extension that would strike the law that put the sequester in place to begin with. Go figure.

Again, there is a high degree of uncertainty as to the future of NASA and U.S. space policy going forward. As one Facebook member who works at the Johnson Space Center put it:

“[E]verything we have been told by HQ is nothing will change/be cut for the near term as they are taking sort of a wait and see with March 27th CR deadline. In the hopes that if they pass an actual budget it will help backfill the sequestration.”

Even NASA administrators don’t know what will happen. It is worth noting that the implementation of the sequester is also ambiguous, and its actual “start” date can be determined by several factors - POLITICO wrote a good piece on that.

What is certain is how embarrassing this entire scenario is. The only nation that has ever placed a human being on another celestial body, or traveled beyond low Earth orbit for that matter, is now squabbling over how best to nickle-and-dime one of its greatest economic engines. In the coming months, we are planning on ramping up our efforts on Capitol Hill and advocating some creative measures that will ensure sustained funding for NASA and the future of human space exploration. With any conflict comes the opportunity for creative solutions, and while Congress may be mired in partisan squabbles, we are optimistic that with your continued support, the future holds some promising opportunities.

Throw the Rocket in Reverse (Pt.1); How The U.S. Fiscal Crisis Will Decimate NASA

Last summer, America had a problem. With the first legislative session in Congress since the 2010 midterms almost over and partisan gridlock entering new phases of ridiculous, many members of Congress decided it would be a good time to put our fiscal house in order. The debt ceiling, which is raised periodically so that America can pay debts it has already incurred, was up for a vote to be extended once again. Instead of the mostly procedural task that needed to take place, as had always been the case, the issue became a political hot button that divided Congress and many Americans for several weeks.

Its resolution was bittersweet. Those who opposed raising the debt ceiling, and with it destroying the full faith and credit of the United States, got essentially what they wanted; the U.S. would face its skyrocketing budget deficits and ever-increasing national debt. The agreement goes like this – Republicans in the House and Senate agreed to raise the debt ceiling, HOWEVER deep cuts in the national debt would need to be made. The Budget Control Act of 2011 raised the debt ceiling and created a “super committee” evenly comprised of senators and representatives from both parties. Members of the super committee would be responsible for coming up with $917 billion over 10 years in deficit reduction measures, whether by revenue increases, spending cuts or both.

If the super committee failed to make cuts totaling the prescribed amount by Dec. 23, 2011, then things would get nasty. Part of the compromise that was reached to raise the debt ceiling was the creation of a contingency plan to ensure that lawmakers couldn’t kick the can down the road. Known as “sequestration cuts” or just “the sequester,” it would blow up in the faces of Democrats and Republicans alike. If the committee couldn’t come up with ways to reduce the national debt by $917 billion, then automatic and indiscriminate cuts would kick in across all federal spending. Republicans, whose biggest concern was defense spending, would see their pet programs cut by a whopping 10 percemt. Democrats, concerned about welfare programs and spending on things like education and the environment, would see their budget items cut between 7.6 and 8.2 percent. Sure enough, on Nov. 21, 2011, members of the super committee admitted defeat – they simply could not agree on how to cut the debt.

Why does this affect people who care about NASA? Well, unless Congress acts to repeal the sequester, NASA will face an 8.2 percent cut next year totaling $1.45 billion dollars. And remember, that percentage exists regardless of whatever NASA’s budget is. Let’s say NASA has its budget doubled tomorrow? They’ll see an 8.2 percent cut. How about if its budget was cut in half? Here’s an 8.2 percent cut anyway! That formula will go on for nine years afterwards. The bomb drops on Jan. 2, and Congress has very little time and a lot of major issues to tackle before then.

The team at Penny4NASA believes wholeheartedly that the United States faces many serious fiscal challenges that deserve the attention of our elected officials and the American voter. However, we do not support the notion that indiscriminate, vicious and sweeping cuts made on the backs of all those whom NASA benefits (everyone) is the proper way to go about it. In the coming days, we’re going to go a lot more in-depth on this issue and break down exactly what this means for NASA and the immediate future of American space exploration. We’re also working on a new widget message that will be aimed solely at communicating with your member of Congress so you can let them know that averting these disastrous cuts is paramount.