NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America, was founded in 1958, replacing the former NACA, National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics. With an annual federal budget of $22 Billion, it's no doubt that NASA is involved in so many space exploration missions.
The ongoing exploration of Mars, as well as a successful New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015, have been some of the major missions conducted in recent years. As the exploration of the Universe continues, our understanding of energy, gravity, space and time deepens.
10 New Horizons: $720 Million
One of the most extraordinary recent accomplishments in NASA history is awarded to the space probe, New Horizons. Launched in 2006, it flew by dwarf planet Pluto in 2015, after over 9 years in transit.
On January 1, 2019, it flew by the Kuiper Belt, where object Ultima Thule was photographed. This was the first time that anything had been photographed this far into space. A truly remarkable mission that has cost NASA roughly $720 Million, to date. That cost is set to increase, as the probe will remain in transit until at least the mid to late 2030s.
9 Gaia: $1 Billion
Gaia is a special observatory that is operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). Originally launched in 2013, the spacecraft has an expected lifespan of just under 10 years, with an anticipated operation date ending in 2022. In fact, it was originally planned as a 5-year mission but was extended several times.
Launched by Arianespace, Gaia's biggest objective was to explore stars, asteroids, and extrasolar planets. The data and photographs collected have been used to create a space directory. The cost, to date, of the mission, is about $1 Billion, but could definitely increase, especially if the mission is extended again.
8 Curiosity Rover On Mars: $2.5 Billion
The exploration of Mars is one of the most incredible human feats of the 21st Century. In 2011, NASA launched the Curiosity Rover, a probe that is about the size of your average Jeep. The probe's main mission was to study the climate and geological makeup of the planet.
In one Martian year (equivalent to about 687 Earth days), Curiosity concluded that the environment on Mars previously supported microbial life. This provided a huge insight for scientists and astronauts, who have been considering the implications of colonizing human beings on Mars.
7 Cassini-Huygens Probe: $3.6 Billion
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was the fourth to visit Saturn; more importantly, in 2004, the ship became the first to enter orbit successfully. The two-part explorer was active for almost 20 years, and the Huygens lander was the first to reach Titan, Saturn's moon.
This was the first successful landing on a moon other than Earth's. The phenomenal cost of the mission, estimated at about $3.6 Billion, was shared by NASA, The Italian Space Agency, and The European Space Agency. With data still being returned to Earth, the conclusions and findings of the mission continue to be analyzed.
6 Hubble Space Telescope: $1o Billion
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and remains in Low Earth orbit to this day. Though it wasn't the first space telescope, it was the largest of its time and remains one of the most renowned of its kind.
The Hubble is responsible for many significant observations, leading to advances in astrophysics, cosmology, astronomy, and science. Since it has been orbiting for almost 30 years, several repairs have been needed to maintain its operational status. The total cost of the program is approximately $1o Billion, to date.
5 James Webb Space Telescope: $10 Billion
Named after NASA's second administrator, the James Webb Space Telescope is one of the most advanced telescopes of our time. It had an original launch date projected for 2007, but due to design and budget issues, it has been delayed several times. A 2018 botched practice deployment, in which a Sunshield ripped off, was the most recent attempt to launch.
It is now scheduled to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket during March 2021. The costs associated with this telescope mission are flirting above the $9 Billion marks, but could easily exceed $10 Billion by 2021.
4 GPS: $12 Billion
GPS is a satellite navigation tool that allows the user to determine their location at almost any given point on Earth. Distance to destinations can be measured in real-time, based on the method of transportation, and chosen route. The system itself is overseen by the US Department of Defense, though NASA had an integral role in its implementation.
The satellite's positioning and intelligence allow for aircrafts traversing Low Earth to access the system. GPS can be activated on airplanes and aboard certain space crafts. NASA is currently working on a lunar GPS system, that will help astronauts when navigating the moon in future missions.
3 Apollo Space Program: $25.4 Billion
The Apollo Space Program was inaugurated in 1961 by NASA under the presidency of John F. Kennedy, with the sole objective of landing a man on the moon. In 1969, Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon; astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made steps on the lunar territory and brought back moon rocks for dissection.
The Apollo Program continued until 1975 when Apollo-Soyuz became the final mission of the plan. The total cost of approximately $25.4 Billion was a very worthwhile investment for NASA, given the amount of progress that the program afforded.
2 International Space Station: $160 Billion
The International Space Station (ISS)is a spatial research station that hovers at approximately 400km above the Earth. Inaugurated in 1998, the station has had long-term research occupants on board since 2000.
Experiments in various fields - namely, astronomy, physics, biology, and astronomy - are conducted by both American and Russian experts. Other than research, the Low Earth location allows for monitoring and testing of crafts destined for longer journeys; to the Moon, or to Mars, for example. Crew members can spend up to 6 months at the station per expedition.
1 NASA Space Shuttle Program: $209 Billion
NASA's Space Shuttle Program was by far the most expensive space-related program funded by the United States. With an average cost of $1.6 Billion for each shuttle launch, the program ran from 1977 to 2011, with a total of 135 launches. Sadly, two ended in tragedy, resulting in the death of 14 astronauts.
Despite the Space Shuttles not having as long of a reach as some of the more modern rockets, these crafts were responsible for aiding in many research projects. Not to mention, the establishment of the International Space Station would not have been possible without the efforts of the Space Shuttle Program.