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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

economy

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) :A Texas Institution with a Large Economic Impact

Located in Clear Lake, Texas, just outside Houston, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) is the seat of human spaceflight operations for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It’s the site of Mission Control (which manages crewed space missions including continuous International Space Station [ISS] operations), and home of astronaut training and NASA’s Orion spacecraft and lunar-orbiting Gateway outpost programs. Both Orion and Gateway help make up NASA’s Artemis program, an agency-wide effort that will put astronauts on the Moon’s surface by 2024, enable sustainable operations on and around the Moon and prepare future explorers for landings on Mars.

In 1961, NASA established its Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Clear Lake, on a 1,000-acre site donated by Rice University. The MSC later was renamed to honor former President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Houston area provided NASA with the economic, logistical and intellectual support needed for its manned flight program. Today, NASA makes significant contributions to the local and state economies as well as university and commercial research.

NASA’s Effect on the Texas Economy

In 2018, NASA’s Texas operations employed about 11,000, either directly or through contractors working at NASA facilities.1 The Comptroller’s office estimates that NASA operations in the state contributed more than $4.7 billion to the Texas economy and supported more than 52,000 total jobs in 2018, including direct and contractor employees as well as those employed indirectly through NASA-related activities (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1

Estimated Contributions of Texas NASA Facilities to the State Economy, 2018
ContributionValue
Direct Employment 11,000
Total employment affected2 52,352
Output3 $7,937,000,000
Gross domestic product4 $4,721,000,000
Disposable personal income5 $3,665,000,000

Notes: Comptroller staff applied data obtained from NASA and other sources as inputs and used the Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI) model of Texas to generate estimates of contributions to state-level employment, gross domestic product, output and disposable personal income.6

Source: REMI Model for Texas and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts


NASA’s Texas operations are concentrated in and around Harris County, part of the Comptroller’s Gulf Coast Economic Region. Of NASA’s estimated total economic impact in Texas, the Gulf Coast Region accounts for 92.1 percent of its contribution to Texas’ gross state product and 91.3 percent of its contribution to state employment (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2

Estimated Contributions of NASA Facilities in Texas to the Gulf Coast Region’s Economy, 2018
ContributionValuePercent
Total employment affected 47,795 91.3%
Output $7,304,000,000 92.0%
Gross domestic product $4,350,000,000 92.1%
Disposable personal income $3,418,000,000 93.3%

Source: REMI Model for Texas and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts


Johnson Space Center and Texas

JSC reported its total 2018 budget as $4.6 billion, with $2.3 billion (51 percent) of that spent in Texas. JSC’s Texas workforce is highly educated. Of its 11,000 employees in the state, 96 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree and 43 percent hold a master’s degree or higher. Seventy-five percent of NASA’s Texas workforce is employed in science, technical or aerospace work.7 JSC has 24 physician/medical officers, 497 certified flight controllers, 23 astromaterials curators and research scientists (who study lunar and extraterrestrial samples) and even its own SWAT team.
JSC operates three sites in Texas covering nearly 1,700 acres, all within the Gulf Coast Region. JSC’s Main Campus is by far the largest at more than 1,600 acres.8 Additional operations are located at nearby Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base (JRB) and the Sonny Carter Training Facility/Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) (Exhibit 3).

Exhibit 3

JSC Facilities in Texas
JSC Sites Acreage Number of Facilities Total Facility Space (sq. ft.)
JSC Main Campus (Clear Lake) 1,620 163 3,986,403
Sonny Carter/NBL 13.7 2 278,401
Ellington Field 37.0 26 302,568
Total 1,671 191 4,567,372

Source: Johnson Space Center


JSC also has limited activity in the El Paso area focusing on aircraft fleet maintenance and utility services directly supporting the White Sands Testing Facility in New Mexico.

NASA’s economic initiatives in Texas include partnerships with research universities in the state, cooperation with local governments and the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation that manages JSC’s official visitor center and museum, Space Center Houston.

Johnson Space Center

JSC is NASA’s training base for its astronaut corps, currently numbering 38 active astronauts and 11 astronaut candidates. It’s the site of Mission Control, which managed the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs. JSC is also the lead NASA center for the International Space Station. As the only official U.S. National Laboratory in microgravity, the station offers competitive commercial access to crew resources and cargo capacity; at present, more than 50 companies are conducting research and development at ISS. NASA recently set aside a 5-percent crew time allocation for commercial and marketing activities, allowing for more private-sector involvement.

Businesses in the aerospace, biomedical and petrochemical sector, in industries such as energy, maritime services and agriculture, have benefited from technology developed at JSC. Some businesses use the center’s facilities for their own research and training. For instance, some offshore oil workers use JSC labs to learn survival and safety skills related to their high-risk working environments.9

Ellington Field

Ellington Field JRB is a joint installation shared by the five U.S. military branches and NASA. It’s the center of JSC’s flight operations, with many types of aircraft in its hangars. NASA has 13 pilots on staff. NASA’s primary function at Ellington is astronaut flight training; the field also serves as a base for aircraft logistics, cargo transport and high-altitude aircraft.10

Sonny Carter Training Facility/Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL)

The NBL’s main purpose is to prepare astronauts for spaceflight and spacewalks. NBL, which opened in 1995, provides controlled neutral-buoyancy operations in a 6.2 million-gallon pool to simulate the weightless condition experienced by crews during space flight. It also houses an avionics lab supporting the ISS. NBL has a full-time resident scuba dive team of about 40 as well as a team of medical, administrative and maintenance personnel.

Space Center Houston

The nonprofit Space Center Houston is JSC’s official visitor center and a Smithsonian Affiliate museum. Space Center Houston’s initial funding came through $68.4 million in tax-exempt bonds. Experts from Walt Disney Imagineering helped to create “a world-class facility where the public could come to touch the space program — and be touched by it.”11

Space Center Houston is a major stop on the Houston CityPASS sightseeing program and one of Houston’s top attractions. It attracted an estimated 1.1 million visitors in 2018, with about 66 percent of them (726,000) coming from outside Texas (Exhibit 4). These out-of-state visitors account for in-state purchases such as museum tickets, hotel stays, food and beverage items as well as gifts at the Space Center Houston gift shop. Out-of-state visitors spend an estimated $150 million annually in Texas as a result of visits to JSC, an amount that in turn generates about $10 million in sales and use, hotel and other state taxes.12

Exhibit 4 Visitors to JSC in 2018

Visitors to JSC in 2018
Where FromPercent of total"
Other States33%
International33%
Houston Area Residents8%
Other Texans26%

Source: Johnson Space Center


In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA, the National Park Service and Space Center Houston recently completed a three-year, $5.2 million project to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center to its appearance during the historic Apollo missions. The city of Webster near JSC provided $3.5 million from its hotel tax fund to help with the project. Tours of the restored facility began on July 1, 2019.13

NASA and Texas Higher Education

In 2018, Texas public and private universities as well as affiliated research organizations received funding of about $31.1 million from grants awarded by NASA (Exhibit 5). Between 2010 and 2018, more than $375 million in funding was provided by NASA for grants awarded to Texas universities and affiliated research organizations.14

Exhibit 5

NASA Grants to Texas Public and Private Universities and Nonprofit Research Institutions, Funding Provided in 2018 (Cumulative)
Awardee Funding Provided in 2018 Comptroller’s Economic Region
Center for the Advancement of Science $11,808,000 Multiple Regions
Baylor College of Medicine 7,924,000 Gulf Coast
Universities Space Research Association 6,838,000 Gulf Coast
Texas A&M University 922,000 Central Texas
University of Texas Medical Branch 907,000 Gulf Coast
University of Houston System 624,000 Gulf Coast
Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance 502,000 Gulf Coast
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center 444,000 Metroplex
Rice University 362,000 Gulf Coast
University of Texas at Austin 318,000 Capital
Texas Tech University System 166,000 High Plains
University of Texas at El Paso 95,000 Upper Rio Grande
Prairie View A&M University 78,000 Gulf Coast
Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station 52,000 Central Texas
Methodist Hospital 29,000 Gulf Coast
Texas A&M Agrilife Research 20,000 Central Texas
Grand Total $31,088,000

Source: Johnson Space Center


Other examples of NASA involvement with Texas university programs include:

  • in 2018, the city of Houston approved $18.8 million toward the development of the “Houston Spaceport” project at Ellington Field, a proposed hub for aerospace companies. Groundbreaking for the facility took place in June 2019.15
  • the McDonald Geodetic Observatory, a new scientific facility under construction on the grounds of McDonald Observatory in West Texas, was created through a $4.25 million contract between NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Space Research. Operations should begin in 2022.16
  • Texas State University’s LBJ Institute for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education and Research recently participated in a $3 million NASA grant program to support its STEM Teacher Excellence Project.17

NASA and Rice University

On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation from the Rice University stadium, urging Americans to embrace space exploration by sending man to the moon. Rice took President Kennedy’s words to heart and in 1963 created the nation’s first ever Space Science Department.18 It grew rapidly, from just nine graduate students in 1963 to 50 by 1966.

The department would go through many transitions over the years, becoming the Space Physics Department in 1975 and, in 2000, merging with the Physics Department to become the Department of Physics and Astronomy.19 In the same year, the university created its Rice Space Institute (RSI), headed by Patricia Reiff, an accomplished space physicist.20

Space studies at Rice University have evolved since JSC’s creation, but the university’s connection with NASA has remained constant. According to Dr. David Alexander, current RSI director, NASA remains a crucial partner in both education and research. NASA personnel serve as instructors, mentors and board members. Rice currently employs two astronauts as adjunct professors.21

NASA also provides important research grants to Rice. As of summer 2019, Rice was the beneficiary of 33 active NASA grants worth $14.7 million.22 In return, Rice University helps supply NASA with a well-trained workforce; its students often find jobs with the agency. Many NASA managers choose Rice University’s business school to pursue Master of Business Administration degrees.23

Support for the Gulf Coast Region

JSC operations supports women-owned and small businesses in Texas. In 2018, JSC spent $112 million with 42 Texas women-owned businesses and more than $189 million with 163 small Texas businesses.24

Houston-based Intuitive Machines recently awarded a $77 million JSC contract to develop a lunar lander scheduled for launch in 2021.

NASA employees also support the greater Houston community through volunteer efforts. In 2018, 307 JSC employees shared information about NASA programs, activities and technology at Texas schools, universities and professional organizations. Its Volunteer for Community OutReach Programs (V-CORP) encourages every member of the JSC workforce to participate in volunteer opportunities in their communities. In 2018, 261 V-CORP-registered employees volunteered about 650 hours.25

NASA also plays a role in the Texas film industry. In 2018, NASA worked with more than 174 documentaries, 58 notable features and 15 feature films. JSC facilities have provided a backdrop for film projects such as Apollo 13, Space Cowboys, First Man and The Martian, as well as educational and informational series.

Conclusion

NASA makes a $4.7 billion annual impact on the Texas economy and directly and indirectly supports more than 52,000 jobs. Its influence plays a critical role in the education, research, tourism and business activities in Texas’ Gulf Coast Region and the state as a whole. The relationship continues to prosper and evolve.

Note: Links are accurate when published, but links to external websites may change.

  1. Response to Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts by Johnson Space Center, July 13, 2019.
  2. “Total employment” refers to both direct and indirect employment.
  3. “Output” refers to the total value of all goods and services (both final and intermediate) produced in Texas.
  4. “Gross domestic product” refers to the total value of all final goods and services produced in Texas.
  5. “Disposable personal income” refers to post-income-tax income.
  6. Estimate inputs and assumptions include the following: (1) all data estimated for 2015; (2) only full-time employees at the port including those affiliated with JBSA; (3) estimated annual capital improvement spending; and (4) all economic impact is in Texas.
  7. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “NASA Johnson Space Center,” (PDF) February 2, 2019.
  8. The White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico is attached to JSC. For the purposes of this report, only expenditures in Texas are reviewed.
  9. Erin Douglas, “Down to Earth: NASA Gave Houston’s Economy Liftoff,” Houston Chronicle (May 14, 2019).
  10. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “Ellington Field Aircraft,” (PDF)
  11. Space Center Houston, “About Space Center Houston.”
  12. Calculations assume that out-of-state visitors to Space Center Houston spend a full day in Texas due exclusively to their visit to JSC. Spending patterns derived from Comptroller analysis.
  13. NASA, and David W. Brown, “NASA Reopens Apollo Mission Control Room That Once Landed Men on Moon,” New York Times (June 29, 2019) and and NBCDFW.com, “Webster, Texas, Donates $3.5 Million to Restore NASA Mission Control Room,”
  14. Johnson Space Center response to Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, August 16, 2019.
  15. Chris Matthews, “Houston Airport System to Break Ground on Spaceport Project,” Houston Business Journal (June 27, 2019).
  16. McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin, “New Geodetic Observatory Coming to UT Austin’s McDonald Observatory,” August 20, 2018.
  17. Texas State University College of Education, “Texas State University Receives $3 million NASA Grant: Advances Training for STEM Educators across the U.S.,”
  18. Rice University, “Rice and Nasa,” .
  19. Rice University, “About Space Science at Rice University.”
  20. Rice University, “Professor Patricia Reiff, Rice University.”
  21. Interview with David Alexander, director of Rice Space Institute, Rice University, Houston, Texas, July 12, 2019.
  22. Interview with David Ruth, director of National Media Relations, Rice University, Houston, Texas, July 11, 2019.
  23. Interview with David Alexander.
  24. NASA, “Johnson Space Center.”
  25. Johnson Space Center

Questions?

Contact the Comptroller's Data Analysis and Transparency Division at 512-463-3793 or via email.

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