Casey DreierApr 08, 2020

Dive deep into the history of planetary exploration funding

This rich dataset tells you when and where NASA spent its money exploring the solar system

I'm happy to announce the version 1 release of the planetary exploration budget dataset—the most complete public reference of NASA's investments in robotic planetary exploration to date.

This rich dataset enables improved adjustments for inflation on major planetary missions, allows for direct comparisons of White House and congressional funding priorities, and—by tracking the flow and recipients of spending—demonstrates the shifting scientific and political priorities of planetary science over time.

The Planetary Society is making this unique dataset available to the public for free.

Planetary Science Budget Dataset - All Missions

Take me to the Data | Download the Data (XLSX)

For a discussion of sources and methodology,
please see the Planetary Exploration Budget Dataset page.

The dataset includes the following unique features:

  • complete spending profiles for every planetary science mission and every major program (Mariner, Discovery, New Frontiers, etc), including breakdowns for development, operations, and launch costs, where possible;

  • congressionally enacted amounts for major planetary projects for all fiscal years after 2000;

  • total amounts requested and spent by NASA on its planetary exploration program, normalized to include launch costs and other major programs to enable direct annual comparisons;

  • raw planetary program budget request and spending for nearly every fiscal year since 1959;

With all of this data, it's now possible to do fun things like plotting out NASA's historical spending on planetary missions by their primary destination.

NASA planetary science spending, by prime destination. Inflation-adjusted using NASA's New Start Index. Source: Planetary Science Budget Dataset, compiled by Casey Dreier for The Planetary Society (accessible on Google Sheets or downloadable as an Excel file).

You can also compare spending between the two, 10-year periods covering the two planetary science decadal surveys. You can see the difference of congressional actions in response to White House cuts in the 2nd decadal period, and the 1st decadal period when they didn't do much of anything in response to the White House proposals.

 White House RequestCongressional appropriations (relative to the request)*ActualDifference between actual and requested
2003 - 2012 Decadal Period$20,765+$55$19,787-5%
2013 - 2022 Decadal Period**$19,792+$1,928$21,6059%

All values in millions of dollars, adjusted for inflation to 2020 levels using NASA's New Start Index. *Congressional activity relative to the request, included here only if it contained specific directives for planetary science. Until recently, Congress would frequently specify funding for the top-level science directorate and not provide direction for particular programs. **Includes projected funding through FYs 2021 and 2022.

And, of course, the classic: a chart comparing the White House's proposed budget for planetary science to NASA's actual spending over its entire history. For anyone who considers the White House's budget proposal for NASA spending to be unimportant just because it's a "proposal," check out how closely the two lines track each other:

NASA's planetary science budget, adjusted for inflation. Data normalized to maintain consistent accounting of launch costs and to remove Deep Space Network infrastructure costs between 2002 and 2007. Inflation-adjustment made using NASA's New Start Index. Source: Planetary Science Budget Dataset, compiled by Casey Dreier for The Planetary Society (accessible on Google Sheets or downloadable as an Excel file).

There's a lot more that can be done with this dataset, and I encourage anyone to explore and experiment with trends, analysis, and visualizations of the data.

As I mentioned, I consider this a "version 1.0" of the dataset. There are gaps and estimates (noted within), particularly around annual operational costs and early planetary programs such as Ranger and Surveyor. I ask anyone with corrections, additions, or questions to reach out to me at to help me make this a better resource for everyone.

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