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Civil Space Activities

Last Updated ( 03-Jun-2017 04:22 PM )


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Brief Introduction


NASA's FY2010, FY2011 and FY2012 Budgets

NASA's FY2013 Budget

NASA's FY2014 Budget

NASA's FY2015 Budget

NASA's FY2016 Budget and FY2017 Budget Request

U.S. Civil Space Policy Documents



The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to conduct a civil space program, while assigning military space activities to the Department of Defense. 

Over the past five decades, other U.S. government agencies have taken leadership roles in various aspects of civil space activities, but NASA remains by far the largest and most visible U.S. civil space agency. Others with significant roles in civil space include: fact sheets are available on NOAA's satellite programs and associated FY2015, FY2016 and FY2017 budget requests under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports" on the left menu.

Other agencies also have roles in the space program. The President submits to Congress an annual Aeronautics and Space Report of the President that provides funding and programmatic information about all U.S. Government agencies involved in space activities. Visit's "Other Reports of Interest" webpage for links.


NASA conducts both aeronautics and space activities. This website is devoted to space policy and thus does not discuss NASA's aeronautics programs as critical as they are to the nation. For information on NASA's aeronautics programs, visit the website of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

NASA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has nine field centers around the country: Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA); Armstrong Flight Research Center (Palmdale, CA, formerly Dryden Flight Research Center); Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH, formerly Lewis Research Center); Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD), which also operates Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA), the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (New York, NY) and the Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, WV ; Langley Research Center (Langley, VA); Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX), which also operates White Sands Test Facility (White Sands, NM); Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, FL); Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL); and Stennis Space Center (in South Mississippi). Many consider the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) as another NASA center, but it is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology. Nonetheless, NASA is usually referred to as having 10 centers around the country, in addition to its headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

NASA's FY2010, FY2011 AND FY2012 BUDGETS  

President Obama's first budget request for NASA shortly after he took office was for FY2010.  The request was $18.686 billion.  Funding for NASA was incorporated Into the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288, P.L. 111-119), which provided $18.724 billion for the agency.  One of the major points of contention was the future of the U.S. human space flight program. The Obama White House directed NASA to establish a blue ribbon panel, the Augustine committee, to develop options for the human space flight program. The President did not make a decision about which option to take during the course of congressional deliberations on the FY2010 budget, so Congress included language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibiting NASA from spending any funds to terminate the existing program, Constellation, or initiate a new program until Congress approved of such action through another appropriations act. The exact language on p. 110 of the act (H.R. 3288) is:

"That notwithstanding section 505 of this Act, none of the funds provided herein and from prior years that remain available for obligation during fiscal year 2010 shall be available for the termination or elimination of any program, project or activity of the architecture for the Constellation program nor shall such funds be available to create or initiate a new program, project or activity, unless such program termination, elimination, creation, or initiation is provided in subsequent appropriations Acts."

For FY2011, NASA requested $19.0 billion, 1.5% more than the FY2010 appropriation. Congress and the President did not complete action on the FY2011 appropriations bill for NASA or other government agencies until April 2011, however, half way through the fiscal year. NASA operated on a series of "Continuing Resolutions" (CRs) at its FY2010 level while the debate continued. [Congress did pass an authorization bill for FY2011-2013 (the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, P.L. 111-267), but authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels; they do not actually provide any money.] NASA was appropriated $18.45 billion for FY2011 in the so-called "full year CR" -- P.L. 112-10 -- signed into law on April 15, 2011. More information is available in this fact sheet.

The FY2011 budget request, released on February 1, 2010, proposed dramatic changes to NASA's plans for the future of the U.S. human space flight program. Briefly, the Obama Administration decided to retain President George W. Bush's plan to end the space shuttle program as soon as construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, but to terminate development of its successor -- the Ares I rocket and Orion spacecraft.  Ares I/Orion was already in development as part of the Constellation program whose main goal was to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars as part of President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration.  The Bush Administration expected a four-year gap between the end of the space shuttle and the availability of the successor Ares I/Orion system. (A larger Ares V rocket was to be built for the Mars mission.)

Instead, the Obama Administration proposed that development and operation of crew space transportation systems to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), including the ISS, be turned over to the private sector. Under the Obama plan, NASA would focus on developing "game-changing" technologies to enable lower cost human space flight missions beyond LEO in the future while subsidizing private sector companies to develop new crew space transportation systems (launch vehicles and spacecraft) at a total of $6 billion over five years (FY2011-2015). This concept is called "commercial crew."

The proposal was very controversial and the subject of any congressional hearings during 2010. President Obama made a speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010 further explaining the plan, but it did little to ease congressional concerns.

Congress wanted NASA to develop a new crew space transportation system to service LEO as well as take astronauts to destinations beyond LEO as expected under the Bush plan. One concern was that private sector systems for LEO transportation would not materialize and the "gap" between the end of the space shuttle program and the availability of a new U.S. crew space transportation system would be even longer than four years. The Obama Administration insisted that commercially-developed systems could be ready sooner than a government-developed system, shortening that gap.

A compromise was reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267) in which NASA was directed to do both: build a new Space Launch System (SLS) and a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion was ultimately chosen as this vehicle) for use both in LEO and for yet-to-be-determined beyond LEO destinations, as well as help commercial companies build LEO crew space transportation systems. The law also supported President Obama's request to extend operations of the ISS through at least 2020; the Bush Administration had envisioned ending U.S. participation in the program in 2015.

Many view the authorization act as recommending insufficient funds to do all that NASA would be required to do, and the FY2011 appropriations level was even less than what was authorized.

For FY2012, President Obama requested $18.7 billion for NASA, the same as the amount appropriated for FY2010 and slightly more than what it received for FY2011.  Congress appropriated $17.8 billion, although an across-the-board rescission reduced that by $30 million for a final total of $17.77 billion.   This was a compromise between the $16.8 billion recommended by the House Appropriations Committee and the $17.9 billion passed by the Senate.   NASA's appropriation is in P.L. 112-55, a bill that includes appropriations for agencies in the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bills.

The debate over the FY2012 NASA budget request mirrored the debate from FY2011. The Obama Administration and Congress remained at odds over the future of the human space flight program. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Science and Space Subcommittee was particularly strong in criticizing the Obama Administration's FY2012 NASA budget request because they believe it contravenes the compromise reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267). They believe they made it clear that the priority was for NASA to develop a new Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), while also permitting NASA to financially assist commercial companies develop commercial crew space systems. The FY2012 budget request, however, asked for more money than was authorized for commercial crew and less money than was authorized for the SLS and MPCV.

The SLS was a particularly sore point between the Administration and Congress. The Senate Commerce committee went so far as to issue a subpoena to force NASA to provide documentation about its efforts regarding the SLS because they felt the Administration was dragging its feet. NASA was directed in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act to submit a report to Congress by January 2011 on the SLS and MPCV, but the agency submitted what it called an interim report and continually delayed release of the final version.  The issue came to a head in September 2011 following a story in the Wall Street Journal that asserted the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was having "sticker shock" over the price of the system.   Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) -- the architects of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act -- demanded a meeting with the OMB director, Jacob Lew, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.  The SLS design was publicly released the next day, September 14,  in a hastily-called press conference in the Senate.

In the final appropriations bill, Congress increased the level of funding for SLS and MPCV, and approximately cut in half the requested funding for commercial crew.   A significant cut was also made to NASA's technology development programs.  Congress increased funding for NASA's troubled James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program, which was severely over budget and behind schedule.   The House Appropriations Committee recommended terminating the program when it marked up the CJS appropriations bill (H. Rept. 112-169), but the Senate Appropriations Committee took the opposite approach (S. Rept. 112-78) and added money so the telescope could be launched in 2018 instead of years later (at that time it was supposed to launch in 2013).   The Senate position prevailed in conference.   Overall, NASA received $17.77 billion ($17.80 billion minus the $30 million rescission), about four percent less than its FY2011 funding level, or a five percent cut from its FY2012 request.


For FY2013, President Obama  requested $17.711 billion for NASA, slightly less than the $17.770 billion the agency received for FY2012.  See our fact sheet for more information on the composition of the NASA budget request and what the agency finally received.  The final amount and how it was allocated among NASA's programs was not finalized until August 2013, 10 months into the fiscal year, because NASA's budget (like most of the rest of the government) was subject to two rescissions and a sequester that made the final amounts much lower (about 7 percent in total) than they appeared in the report accompanying the appropriations bill.  The final figures are contained in an "operating plan."  NASA has not made the complete operating plan public, but the top level figures are available on NASA's budget website.

The most controversial aspect of the FY2013 request was the reduction in funding for NASA's planetary exploration program.  The cuts proposed for FY2013 and the following four years meant that NASA had to withdraw from a cooperative program with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch two probes to Mars in 2016 and 2018.  They were the first in a series of probes over many years -- a "campaign" -- that eventually would lead to returning a sample of Mars to Earth.  Probes can be launched to Mars every 26 months when the planets are properly aligned.  That long-term commitment apparently was a factor in the reluctance of the Obama Administration to commit to the initial missions in 2016 and 2018.    Planetary exploration is popular in Congress and some Members immediately criticized the cut.  In December 2012, NASA announced that it would launch another Mars mission in 2020 largely using spare parts from the Mars Curiosity mission that is now exploring the planet outfitted with new science experiments.  

Another controversial matter was NASA's request of $830 million for commercial crew.  In FY 2012 it requested $850 million and Congress appropriated only $406 million.   For FY2012, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a strong advocate of the Space Launch System (SLS) that NASA is building at congressional direction, complained that NASA asked for too much money for commercial crew and too little for SLS.  Senator Hutchison has retired, but other congressional advocates of SLS and its associated Orion spacecraft continue to insist that SLS/Orion has the priority over commercial crew.   For FY2013, commercial crew ultimately received $535 million instead of the $830 million requested.


The Obama Administration requested $17.7 billion for NASA.   NASA's FY2014 request included a new twist on the President's directive that NASA send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight.   NASA's new plan, the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), would bring the asteroid to the astronauts.  A robotic spacecraft would be sent to capture an asteroid and redirect it into lunar orbit where the astronauts would visit it.   That initiative and other key aspects of the budget request are explain in an April 10, 2013 article.

After a tumultuous year of debate, which included a 16-day government shutdown (October 1-16, 2013) when Congress could not reach agreement on a FY2014 budget, NASA actually came out pretty well.   The FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act (colloquially called "the omnibus") provided $17.67 billion for NASA, just $70 million less than the request.   Our fact sheet shows the request versus the final appropriation.

Congress was not enthusiastic about the ARM proposal.  It did not prohibit NASA from spending money on it ($105 million was requested, but not in a specific line item in the budget), but made it clear that NASA needs to do much more work to convince them that ARM is a good idea.  Commercial crew fared somewhat better in FY2014:  it received $696 million compared to the $821 million request.  SLS and Orion received increases; the space technology budget was cut.


For FY2015, President Obama requested $17.461 billion for NASA, a reduction of $186 million from NASA's FY2014 appropriation.  The President also requested funds for an "Opportunities, Growth and Security Initiative" (OGSI) that totaled $56 billion across the government.  It included $886 million for NASA. 

Congress never formally considered the OGSI, but the final FY2015 appropriations bill added $549 million above the President's request for the agency, a total of $18.010 billion.

The net increase represents additional funding for some programs (aeronautics, science -- especially a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa and the SOFIA airborne observatory, the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft) and decreases for others (space technology, and commercial crew, for example).

NASA's FY2015 funding was part of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 -- colloquially called the CRomnibus.  For an explanation of the term CRomnibus and more details on NASA's request and congressional action, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2015 budget request.

NASA's FY2016 and FY2017 BUDGETS

President Obama requested $18.529 billion for FY2016, a substantial increase  above the FY2015 appropriated level of $18.010 billion, which itself was a significant increase above the FY2015 request.   Congress appropriated even more than the FY2016 request:  $19.283 billion.  For details, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request.

President Obama's FY2017 budget request for NASA is very complicated because part of the money was supposed to come from sources other than appropriated funds.  NASA and Administration documentation claimed the request was $19.025 billion, but only $18.265 billion was from appropriated funds -- the only money over which appropriations committee have jurisdiction.  The other $763 million was supposed to come from the mandatory part of the federal budget ($663 million), which funds Medicare and Social Security, for example, or from a tax the Obama Administration wanted to impose on oil companies ($100 million).  Congress labeled the $763 million a gimmick and ignored that part of the request.  For all intents and purposes, the request $18.3 billion, more than $1 billion less than FY2016.  Congress basically ignored the request and added a substantial amount above FY2017 -- a total appropriation of $19.653 billion.  For details, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2017 budget request.  SLS, Orion and the robotic mission to Jupiter's moon Europa were the largest beneficiaries.


U.S. civil space policy is set both by presidential directive and in law. The most recent presidential National Space Policy was issued on June 28, 2010 by President Barack Obama.  The 2010 Obama policy supersedes the policy issued by President George W. Bush in 2006.  President Bush issued these other space policies in addition to his 2006 national space policy:

The Obama White House said that it would issue additional specific policies for other topics as earlier Presidents, including Bush, have done.  The only one that was issued, however, was on space transportation policy.  The update was released on November 21, 2013.  The Obama policy and an associated fact sheet are available at the following links:

Congress set policy most recently in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267). That and other U.S. domestic space laws, including the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Law that created NASA, are discussed under the Space Law section of this website.



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