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

Status Report From: Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2003

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

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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.

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