Relative spending for science versus defense

Here’s a striking graphic comparing 2011 U.S. spending on national defense versus scientific and medical research. As a bonus, the combined total budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration over the entirety of its existence — from its creation a few months after the first U.S. satellite launch through the Moon landings up until the end of September 2011 — is also shown as a single bar.

Science vs defense spending

If for some reason you can’t see the graph, it has three bars corresponding to three areas of U.S. federal spending:

  • About $80 billion in 2011 on the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy (except nuclear weapons), NASA, and the National Institutes of Health, combined. (The graphic misspells “Institutes” as singular.)
  • About $950 billion in 2011 on the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, veterans benefits, and nuclear weapons. (In fairness, this budget includes some spending on scientific and medical research as well, including on things you might not expect, such as breast cancer.)
  • About $870 billion total (on constant dollars, adjusted for inflation) spent on NASA since its creation in 1958.

(The numbers given are my estimates eyeballed off the chart; I wish it included the actual figures. I suspect the figures for 2011 are for fiscal 2011, that is, October 2010 – September 2011. For the detail-obsessed, NASA came into existence in October 1958, which was three months into fiscal 1959. Fiscal years prior to fiscal 1977 began July 1.)

Correction: Per Steve Horoz’s comment below, the NASA figure is adjusted for inflation, as I have clarified above. My apologies for suggesting otherwise in the initial version of this post. This is quadruply embarrassing because that’s a mistake I routinely gripe about when other people do it.

The graphic was created by Steve Haroz and posted on the Sagan Series Facebook page.

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