Influence Explored: Aim for the stars, and you may just land… huge government contracts


When the final mission of the space shuttle Atlantis completed last Thursday, a new era of U.S. spaceflight began. The Constellation program, intended to be the next generation of manned spaceflight, was cancelled by President Obama in 2010 in favor of putting more resources into developing the commercial space industry, a choice that was controversial among some at NASA.

The U.S. government is now depending on private space companies to refuel and maintain the International Space Station, and eventually to carry astronauts there as well. A story from NPR on Thursday highlights two of the biggest competitors – Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX*, and United Space Alliance.

United Space Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, was founded in 1995. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk, an entrepreneur and the founder of PayPal, in 2002. Both companies now hold lucrative government contracts for operations in space. For these companies, the cost of launching a NASA mission doesn’t just include rocket fuel – they also pour money into the political process. Here’s where some of their money went in 2009-10:

  • SpaceX made $213,784 in campaign contributions, 82% of which went to Democrats, and spent $1.14 million on lobbying.
  • United Space Alliance spent $96,351 on campaign contributions, 54% of which went to Democrats, and spent $96,351 on lobbying.
  • Boeing spent $34.75 million on lobbying in 2009-10, and Lockheed Martin spent $26 million. They spent $3.08 million and $2.67 million on campaign contributions, respectively.
  • Both SpaceX and United Space Alliance hired lobbyists for the 2010 NASA Authorization bill, which defunded the Constellation program and provided money for private space companies.
  • SpaceX also lobbied on the Defense and Intelligence appropriations bills, which often account for large portions of the total space-related budget. United Space Alliance’s parent companies lobbied on those bills.

*Due to data quality issues, SpaceX has two separate entries in the Influence Explored database.

‘Influence Explored’ takes an article from the day’s headlines and exposes the influential ways of entities mentioned in the article. Names and corporations are run through Sunlight’s influence tracking tools such as Influence Explorer and Transparency Data to remind readers of the money that powers Washington.