Status Report

CRS: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s FY2004 Budget Request: Description, Analysis, and Issues for Congress

By SpaceRef Editor
November 18, 2003
Filed under , ,

Order Code RL31821

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s FY2004 Budget Request: Description, Analysis, and Issues for Congress

Updated September 23, 2003

Marcia S. Smith, Daniel Morgan, and Wendy H. Schacht

Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Click on image to down load 545K PDF document


NASA’s budget request for FY2004 is $15.469 billion, approximately a 1%
increase over its FY2003 appropriations level of $15.339 billion, or a 3.1% increase
over its FY2003 request of $15.0 billion. The House-passed version of the FY2004
VA-HUD-IA appropriations bill (H.R. 2861) adds $71 million to the request. The
Senate Appropriations Committee recommended a $130 million cut (S. 1584).
Debate over NASA’s FY2004 budget is taking place against the backdrop of the
space shuttle Columbia tragedy, which could have significant impacts on NASA’s
budget. There are immediate questions of how funding will change for the shuttle
program itself, the space station program (which uses the shuttle to take people and
cargo to and from the station), the Office of Biological and Physical Research (which
funds research on the shuttle and station), and plans to develop an Orbital Space
Plane. One aspect of that discussion is whether to continue permanent occupancy of
the space station if the shuttle is grounded for a long period of time. For the longer
term, Congress is expected to address more fundamentally whether human space
flight is worth its risks and costs, and what should be the balance between human and
robotic space flight activities.

The agency’s FY2004 budget was formulated prior to the Columbia tragedy,
but initial deliberations, at least, will focus on what is presented in that budget
estimate and two associated documents (a strategic plan, and a FY2002 performance
and accountability report) that herald NASA’s adoption of performance based
budgeting. Care should be taken in using the FY2004 budget materials. First, they
are presented in “full cost accounting” where all program costs, including personnel
and facilities, are included in individual program budgets instead of separately. It
may appear that programs are receiving funding increases; yet a higher figure in
FY2004 may be the result of full cost accounting, not program content, changes.
Second, NASA revised the organizational structure of its budget, making it difficult
in some cases to trace program budgets. Apart from Columbia, other major NASA
budget issues include:

  • International Space Station Program: Assuming construction and operation of ISS continues, will the Bush Administration commit to building it so that it can accommodate seven crew members, as originally planned, instead of three?
  • Project Prometheus: Can NASA afford this multi-billion dollar program to build a nuclear powered, nuclear propelled spacecraft, and what are the policy implications of expanding the use of nuclear power in space?
  • Aeronautics: Is NASA investing sufficiently in aeronautics R&D?
  • Technology Transfer: Should Congress approve NASA’s decision to terminate several of its technology transfer activities?

This report will be updated as events warrant. An abbreviated version is available as CRS Report RS21430.


Congress is debating the $15.469 billion FY2004 budget request of the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This report discusses the major
issues, particularly the potential ramifications of the February 2003 space shuttle
Columbia accident. Several other CRS reports are available on NASA-related topics,
and are referenced herein. An abbreviated version of this report is available as CRS
Report RS21430.

Throughout this report, FY2003 funding levels are based on amounts contained
in the FY2003 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-7), which included a
0.65% rescission for all NASA activities except the space shuttle. FY2004 request
figures are from NASA’s FY2004 budget estimate, available at
[]. Program descriptions are condensed from
material provided by NASA in that or previous budget estimates.

This report continues the series of annual CRS analyses of NASA budget
requests initiated by former CRS Specialist David Radzanowski, and continued by
former CRS Senior Specialist Richard Rowberg. It draws upon some of the content
of the earlier reports.

SpaceRef staff editor.