Increased funding for NASA would stimulate economy while keeping American industry strong

 For more than 50 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been the civilian agency with the most inspiring and, in many cases, the most technologically challenging missions. Space exploration pushes the boundaries of our capabilities and challenges America’s innovative spirit to develop new technologies and reach new frontiers. Sustained, robust federal investments in NASA will support a stronger high-tech industrial base, strengthening our economy and solidifying our position as the world leader in space.

Many Americans may be surprised to learn that NASA’s budget is only a fraction of 1 percent of the overall federal budget, currently hovering around 0.6 percent. Arguably, this relatively small investment provides a greater dollar-for-dollar economic and strategic return than any other civilian government program.

Strategically, on the international stage, manned spaceflight demonstrates to the world what the U.S. is capable of. Countries recognize the United States as the respected leader in peaceful international cooperation in human and robotic spaceflight capability. However, in recent years, countries like China and India have invested heavily in their respective space programs. I believe it is essential that the U.S. remain a step ahead. 

From the early days of Apollo to the newest challenges presented by Constellation, engineers, chemists and physicists have had to solve highly complex problems, commonly resulting in breakthrough technologies. From space-based capabilities like communications, weather monitoring, remote sensing and global positioning system (GPS) navigation to medical devices, treatments and computer enhancements, NASA-developed technologies have infiltrated the market. Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin recently stated that these technologies contribute an estimated $220 billion per year to the economy. Moreover, according to the Coalition for Space Exploration, NASA programs and the contractors who support them represent approximately a half-million highly skilled and highly paid American jobs.

One program that could measurably help our economy and advance NASA’s spaceflight capabilities is the successor to the Space Shuttle. As ranking member of the Science and Technology Committee, I am particularly concerned that NASA is on a path to retire the Space Shuttle without having developed, in a timely manner, the next generation of Constellation launch systems. Without additional funding, Constellation cannot be ready before 2015, at the earliest. During this five-year gap, America will make cash payments to Russia to provide transportation for our astronauts and our partners to the International Space Station. During this workforce transition, we stand to lose thousands of skilled aerospace jobs that will be difficult and costly to replace.

Accelerating development of the Constellation system would keep American tax dollars working for us here at home and have a multiplier effect throughout the economy by stimulating high-tech manufacturing and networks of suppliers around the country. This would expand our economic output and help our industries remain competitive in the global marketplace. By fostering this kind of innovation, the U.S. has earned a leadership role in human spaceflight, the economic benefits of which are far-reaching.

Space exploration has inspired generations of students, but we are now falling behind other nations in the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates we produce. Congress is working to improve those numbers in a host of ways, but I believe that keeping space exploration a top priority is one of the best motivators we could have. The extra, relatively small investment to fully fund NASA would provide incalculable economic and national security advantages. Today we have a unique opportunity to increase America’s real and perceived leadership among other space-faring nations by ensuring NASA continues to get the funding it deserves. 

Hall is the ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee.