Status Report

CRS Report: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): Overview, FY2003

By SpaceRef Editor
February 14, 2002
Filed under , ,

Order Code RS21150

February 14, 2002

Marcia S. Smith and Daniel Morgan
Resources, Science, and Industry Division


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958
to conduct U.S. government civilian space activities (military space activities are under
the purview of the Department of Defense). For FY2002, Congress appropriated $14.9
billion for NASA. The request for FY2003 is $15.1 billion. Among the issues facing
NASA are: the future of the agency under its new Administrator, Sean O’Keefe; cost
growth in the International Space Station program; efforts to privatize the space shuttle;
prioritization of space science programs; funding for aeronautics; and a new initiative to
develop nuclear power and propulsion technologies. This report will be updated.

Agency Overview

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by the
1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act (P.L. 85-568). NASA’s charter is to conduct
civilian space and aeronautics activities. Military space activities are conducted by the
Department of Defense (DOD). The two organizations cooperate in some areas of
technology development and occasionally have joint programs. NASA opened its doors
on October 1, 1958, almost exactly one year after the Soviet Union ushered in the Space
Age with the launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. In the
more than 40 years that have elapsed, NASA has conducted far reaching programs in
human and robotic spaceflight, technology development, and scientific research.

The agency is managed from NASA Headquarlor: in Washington, D.C. It has nine
major field centers around the country: Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA;
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA; Glenn Research Center, Cleveland,
Ohio; Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD; Johnson Space Center, Houston,
TX; Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL: Langley Research Center, Hampton,
VA; Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL; Stennis Space Center, near Slidell,
Mississippi. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA (often counted as a 10 th
NASA center), is a federally funded research and development center operated for NASA
by the California Institute of Technology. Goddard Space Flight Center manages the

Goddard Institute of Space Studies (New York, NY), the Independent Validation and
Verification Facility (Fairmont, WV); and the Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops, VA).
Ames Research Center manages Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View, CA. Johnson
Space Center manages the White Sands Test Facility, White Sands, NM. Web links to
each of these can be found at []. NASA employs
approximately 18,800 civil servants (full time equivalents).
NASA is headed by an Administrator. The current Administrator is Sean O’Keefe,
who was confirmed by the Senate on December 20, 2001. Immediately prior to his
appointment, he was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
The previous Administrator, Daniel Goldin, served for almost 10 years. He organized
NASA headquarters into five “strategic enterprises” encompassing NASA’s major
programs: Aero-Space Technology, Biological and Physical Research, Earth Science,
Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS), and Space Science. NASA’s
main Web site is [] A NASA headquarters’ Web site
[] has links to the various NASA program offices, and
from those sites, to individual NASA programs.

Changes in NASA’s Budget Structure

NASA’s budget structure is changing, complicating efforts to track funding for
specific programs or enterprises. First, NASA is moving to full cost accounting where
costs for personnel and construction of facilities are included in individual program costs,
instead of grouped together at a broader level. Excluding the Inspector General’s office
(identified separately), NASA previously had three appropriations accounts: Human Space
Flight (HSF), which funded the HEDS enterprise; Science, Aeronautics, and Technology
(SAT), which funded the other four enterprises; and Mission Support, for agency-wide
personnel and construction of facilities. In FY2002, the Mission Support category was
eliminated and those funds allocated to the five enterprises. NASA expects to move further
towards full cost accounting soon, allocating personnel and construction funds to specific
programs, rather than to enterprises as a whole.

Second, NASA has been shifting certain activities from one account to another. For
example, in FY2002, NASA shifted funding for “Space Operations” from SAT into HSF.
Space Operations funded activities related to tracking and communicating with spacecraft,
and included the Space Network, the Ground Network, the Deep Space Network (DSN),
and the Western Aeronautical Test Range. In FY2003, NASA retransferred all of those,
except the Space Network, back into SAT where they were then assigned to various
enterprises.1 Thus, some of the apparent decline in the HSF budget, and the increase in
the SAT budget, is attributable to these transfers rather than a reduction or increase in
programs. Separately, beginning in FY2002, NASA shifted funds for space station
research out of HSF and into SAT, specifically the Office of Biological and Physical
Research (OBPR). Total space station program funding is the sum of the funds in the
International Space Station (ISS) line plus the “ISS research” portion of OBPR.

1 DSN to the Office of Space Science; the Ground Network to the Office of Earth Science; and the
Western Aeronautical Test Range to the Office of Aero-Space Technology.

Third, beginning with the FY2003 budget, the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) decided that federal agencies should account for the costs associated with retirees.
Previously, these funds were reported under the Office of Personnel Management, not in
individual departments or agencies. When discussing NASA’s FY2003 request, some
refer to $15 billion, while others use $15.1 billion. The difference is whether the retiree
costs are included.

NASA’s FY2003 Budget Request

As noted, NASA’s FY2003 request is either $15.000 billion or $15.117 billion,
depending on whether retiree costs are included. NASA’s FY2002 budget was $14.902
billion.2 Thus, the FY2003 request is either a $98 million (0.66%) increase, or a $215
million increase (1.4%) over FY2002. Both are less than the rate of inflation (2.1%) that
OMB anticipates between FY2002 and FY2003.

Table 1: NASA’s FY2003 Budget Request

(in millions of dollars)

Funding Category FY2002 Appropriations FY2003 Request
Human Space Flight

International Space Station

Space Shuttle

Payload and ELV Support

Investments and Support

Space Operations

Safety, Mission Assur., Engineering















Science, Aeronautics, and Technology

Space Science

Biological. & Physical Research

Earth Science

Aero-Space Technology

Academic Programs













Inspector General 23.7 24.6
TOTAL (excluding retiree costs) 14,901.7 15,000.0
TOTAL (including retitraicosts) 15,012.7*** 15,117.0

Prepared by CRS using data from NASA’s FY2003 Budget Estimate (page MY-1), available at [].
FY2002 Appropriations include funding in the FY2002 VA-HUD-IA appropriations act (P.L. 107-73) and FY2002
DOD/ Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-117). NASA’s figures reflect the agency’s initial operating plan.

*Beginning in FY2002, funding for space station research was shifted from the International Space Station line item
into the Office of Biological and Physical Research (see text). The total appropriations level for the space station in
FY2002, including research, was $2,093.0 million; the total request for FY2003 is $1,839.3 million.
**NASA has shifted several subaccounts of Space Operations into the budgets of other program offices (see text).

***NASA did not receive funds in FY2002 for federal retiree costs; they are shown for comparison purposes only.

2 Comprised of $14.793 billion in the FY2002 VA-HUD-IA appropriations act (P.L. 107-73) and
$108.5 million in the FY2002 DOD and Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-117).

NASA’s FY2003 budget estimate reflects the following future projections for
NASA’s budget (excluding federal retiree costs). Figures in parentheses are the
percentage increase over the immediately previous year: FY2004, $15.573 billion (3.8%);
FY2005, $15.869 billion (1.9%); FY2006, $16.275 billion (2.6%); and FY2007, $16.789
billion (3.2%).


Agency Direction. On December 20, 2001, the Senate confirmed Mr. Sean
O’Keefe as the new Administrator of NASA. The previous Administrator, Mr. Goldin,
is credited with imbuing in NASA the “faster, better, cheaper” philosophy (with mixed
success). By contrast, Mr. O’Keefe has said that under his leadership, the fundamental
question will be “what’s the point.” (Quoted by Reuters, January 9, 2002). Significant
changes are therefore anticipated with his new leadership.

Controlling space station costs (see below) appears to be a top priority, but Mr.
O’Keefe has hinted at a broader agenda. For example, he also said he wants to focus on
NASA’s role as part of the national security community. To some, the comment is
worrisome because NASA, by statute, is a civilian space agency. President Eisenhower
and Congress deliberately separated military and civilian space activities in the 1958 NASA
Act to demonstrate to the world that the United States was interested in peaceful uses of
space. DOD and NASA have cooperated in technology development and flight programs
to a certain extent throughout the decades, but the fundamental nature of NASA as an
open, civilian agency remains unchanged. Mr. O’Keefe’s comments, therefore, have
sparked interest in whether the Bush Administration plans to change that tenet. As
reported by (January 23, 2002), Senator Mikulski raised the issue with Mr.
O’Keefe, expressing the view that the “firewalls” between NASA and DOD need to remain
in place, although joint work on unclassified projects is acceptable. Mr. O’Keefe
reportedly agreed with the Senator, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee
that funds NASA (VA-HUD-Independent Agencies).

Perhaps the most intriguing question is what the future holds for NASA. Although
many studies have been done through the decades on long-term goals for the space
program, NASA does not have a clear roadmap for the future of human spaceflight.
Other sectors of NASA activities (such as space science and earth science) have long-term
plans for what missions they want to launch, but the human spaceflight “plan” ends with
the space station. While the space station sometimes is described as a stepping stone to
human exploration of Mars, the agency has no plans for mounting such a mission. NASA’s
management missteps in building the space station have made it difficult for the agency to
win support for a new, long-term, expensive human spaceflight program. In a July 20,
1989 speech to commemorate the 20 th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon,
President George H.W. Bush committed the United States to lead the way in the human
exploration of space, saying: “Why the Moon? Why Mars? Because it is humanity’s
destiny to strive, to seek, to find. And because it is America’s destiny to lead.” Whether
that sentiment reflects the views of the current President Bush or his NASA Administrator
is a fundamental question facing the agency and its advocates today.

Some NASA supporters believe that the Bush Administration’s budget for NASA
suggests that bold goals are not envisioned. They are concerned that the “out-year”
budget projections show an agency that is either level-funded or declining (depending on the rate of inflation). Others are relieved that, in this tight fiscal environment, the NASA
budget has not fared worse. Although Mr. O’Keefe was at OMB during most of the time
the FY2003 budget was being formulated, it is unclear how much it reflects his interests
and priorities. Perhaps of more immediate concern is that the FY2003 budget does not
include sufficient funds to pay for even the new, truncated configuration of the
International Space Station (see below). How Mr. O’Keefe will tame ISS costs, or
whether he will find himself in the same quandary as his predecessorÑattempting to build
a useful space station that meets international commitments, while staying within the
congressionally mandated cap and protecting other NASA programsÑremains to be seen.

International Space Station (ISS). NASA’s space station program is discussed
in more detail in CRS Issue Brief IB93017, Space Stations. The program is on
“probation” for two years in response to significant cost growth announced last year. The
program already had experienced more than $7 billion in cost overruns above its original
cost estimate of $17.4 billion. With the newly announced cost growth, the estimate would
have reached $30 billion, well above a congressionally legislated cap of $25 billion.

Following a study by an independent task force (see CRS Report RL31216), the
Bush Administration gave the space station program office two years to demonstrate
credibility in its cost estimating and program management practices. Until then, NASA
has been instructed to truncate construction of the space station at a stage the
Administration calls “core complete.” At that point, the space station could support only
three crew members, instead of the seven planned. The crew size limitation would
significantly reduce the amount of research that could be conducted, and would affect all
the international partners in the program (the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, and
Russia). All of the partners have expressed deep concern.

The non-U.S. partners are seeking a commitment from the Administration that the
seven-person configuration ultimately will be built, even if there is no deadline for
completing it. The Administration has not been willing to make that commitment,
however. Meanwhile, the FY2003 budget request does not include sufficient funding to
build even the core complete configuration. According to NASA FY2003 budget charts,
for the period FY2003-2006, there is a shortfall of $603 million. NASA asserts that it
hopes to achieve $628 million in savings to compensate for the shortfall, but describes the
potential savings in terms that make them seem uncertain (see CRS Issue Brief 93017).
Some note that NASA’s overly optimistic approach to budgeting was largely responsible
for the program’s current woes.

Shuttle Privatization. Mr. O’Keefe has identified shuttle privatization as another
priority. The term “privatization” is used in many ways, however, and it is not yet clear
precisely what he has in mind. NASA is developing privatization scenarios, and hopes to
release a “request for information” to industry in the spring of 2002. Many questions
surround the concept of shuttle privatization, including: what goal would be served; what,
if any, role would the government retain for itself; would the private sector be expected
to repay the government any of the shuttle’s development costs; and who would be the
shuttle’s customers. Current U.S. policy, developed by the Reagan Administration
following the 1986 Challenger tragedy, prohibits commercial satellites from being
launched on the shuttle. Some want that policy revised so the shuttle can be used for
commercial launches, but many argue that the shuttle is too costly to compete successfully
with traditional “expendable” launch vehicles now used for commercial launches.

Planetary Exploration: Pluto and Europa. NASA probes have visited every
planet in the solar system except Pluto. The Galileo spacecraft continues returning data
about Jupiter and its moons, including one named Europa. Scientists are intrigued by
Europa because it appears to have a surface of frozen water, with liquid water underneath.
Water is essential to life, and the discovery of liquid water suggests the possibility that life
could exist there. Some planetary scientists believe NASA’s next solar system exploration
priority should be sending a probe to Pluto since it has not yet been observed at close
range. They argue that a probe must be sent quickly (by 2006) so it can reach Pluto before
Pluto’s atmosphere collapses when the planet moves further from the Sun (around 2020).
Others believe Europa is much more scientifically interesting, and should have higher
priority. NASA tried to cancel the Pluto probe last year, but Congress added funding for
it for FY2002. Congress also approved the Europa mission, capping funding at $1 billion.
However, in the FY2003 budget, the Administration has proposed canceling both
programs because they are too expensive (the Pluto mission would cost approximately
$500 million). Instead, the Administration wants to start two initiatives: the “New
Frontiers” program, in which planetary exploration proposals would compete against each
other (those selected would be capped at $650 million in FY2003 dollars); and
development of nuclear power and propulsion that could enable spacecraft to reach their
destinations more quickly, and operate for longer periods of time (discussed next).

Nuclear Power and Propulsion Initiatives. Since the 1960s, NASA has used
radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) to provide electrical power aboard spacecraft that
cannot rely on solar energy because they are journeying too far from the Sun or will
experience “night” on the surface of the Moon or planets. NASA and DOD have each
studied nuclear reactors for spacecraft power generation, but never used them. (NASA
launched one experimental nuclear reactor in 1965.) Both agencies also have had
programs to develop nuclear propulsion, but none reached fruition. Under the Bush
Administration, efforts to develop new RTGs and nuclear propulsion would resume.
Although nuclear devices have advantages over other types of power and propulsion in
terms of the amount of energy they produce versus their size and mass, some
environmentalists oppose launching nuclear material into space. They worry that a launch
accident, or an unintended spacecraft reentry, would spread radioactive material over
Earth’s population. Thus, the decision to reinvigorate NASA’s program (which would be
conducted with the Department of Energy) is expected to raise controversy.

Aeronautics. Aeronautics R&D at NASA was cut by about one-third in the late
1990s, with the termination of programs in high-speed research and advanced subsonic
technology. Several other programs have been terminated or started since that time, and
critics have argued that NASA lacks a clear vision of its goals and direction in this area.
The NASA Aeronautics Blueprint [],
released on February 5, 2001, seeks to answer this criticism. Aeronautics advocates also
decry a multi-year slide in funding, although this trend has been difficult to track recently,
because there was no separate line for aeronautics in the FY2001 and FY2002 budgets.
As directed by the FY2002 appropriations conference report, the new NASA budget
structure includes a consolidated request of $541.4 million for aeronautics (under the goal
“Revolutionize Aviation”). This request would be a reduction of 9.7% from FY2002 and
41.2% (47.0% after inflation) from FY1998, when aeronautics funding peaked.

SpaceRef staff editor.