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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, ) is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nation's public space program. NASA was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958, replacing its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The agency became operational on October 1, 1958. NASA has led U.S. efforts for space exploration ever since, resulting in the Apollo missions to the Moon, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently NASA is supporting the International Space Station and developing new Ares I and V launch vehicles.

In addition to the space program, it is also responsible for long-term civilian and military aerospace research. NASA Science is focused on better understanding Earth itself through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs. Since February 2006 NASA's self-described mission statement is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research."

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


Space race

After the Soviet space program's launch of the world's first human-made satellite (Sputnik 1) on October 4, 1957, the attention of the United States turned toward its own fledgling space efforts. The U.S. Congress, alarmed by the perceived threat to U.S. security and technological leadership (known as the "Sputnik crisis"), urged immediate and swift action; President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his advisers counseled more deliberate measures. Several months of debate produced an agreement that a new federal agency was needed to conduct all non-military activity in space. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was also created at this time.


Official seal for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

From late 1957 to early 1958, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) began studying what a new non-military space agency would entail, as well as what its role might be, and assigned several committees to review the concept. On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a "Special Committee on Space Technology", headed by Guyford Stever. Stever's committee included consultation from the ABMA's large booster program, referred to as the "Working Group on Vehicular Program," headed by Wernher von Braun, who became a naturalized citizen of the United States after World War II.

On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published "A National Research Program for Space Technology" stating:

Launched at 10:48 pm EST on January 31, 1958, Explorer 1, officially Satellite 1958 Alpha, became the U.S.'s first artificial satellite of Earth. On March 5, PSAC Chairman James Killian wrote a memorandum to President Eisenhower, entitled "Organization for Civil Space Programs", encouraging the creation of a civil space program based upon a "strengthened and redesignated" NACA which could expand its research program "with a minimum of delay." In late March, a NACA report entitled "Suggestions for a Space Program" included recommendations for subsequently developing a hydrogen fluorine fueled rocket of thrust designed with second and third stages.

In April 1958, President Eisenhower delivered to the U.S. Congress a formal executive address favoring the notion of a national civilian space agency and submitted an Administrative bill to create a "National Aeronautical and Space Agency." NACA's former role of research alone would change to include large-scale development, management, and operations. The U.S. Congress passed the bill, somewhat reworded, as the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, on July 16. Only two days later von Braun's Working Group submitted a preliminary report severely criticizing the duplication of efforts and lack of coordination among various organizations assigned to the United States' space programs. Stever's Committee on Space Technology concurred with the criticisms of the von Braun Group (a final draft was published several months later, in October).


On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. When it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA absorbed the 46-year-old NACA intact; its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of US$100 million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratorymarker, Ames Aeronautical Laboratorymarker, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratorymarker) and two small test facilities.

Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, of which von Braun's team was a part, and the Naval Research Laboratory were incorporated into NASA. A significant contributor to NASA's entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was the technology from the German rocket program (led by von Braun) which in turn incorporated the technology of Robert Goddard's earlier works. Earlier research efforts within the U.S. Air Force and many of ARPA's early space programs were also transferred to NASA. In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratorymarker, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technologymarker.

Project Mercury

NASA's earliest programs involved research into human spaceflight and were conducted under the pressure of the competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that existed during the Cold War. Project Mercury, initiated in 1958, started NASA down the path of human space exploration with missions designed to discover simply if man could survive in space. Representatives from the U.S. Army (M.L. Raines, LTC, USA), Navy (P.L. Havenstein, CDR, USN), and Air Force (K.G. Lindell, COL, USAF) were selected to provide assistance to NASA. Selections were facilitated through coordination with existing U.S. defense research, contracting, and military test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard—one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts selected as pilot for this mission—became the first American in space when he piloted Freedom 7 on a 15-minute suborbital flight. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 during the five and a quarter-hour flight of Friendship 7.

Project Gemini

Launch of Gemini 1

After the Mercury project, Project Gemini was launched to conduct experiments and work out issues relating to a moon mission. The first Gemini flight with astronauts on board, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965. Nine other missions followed, showing that long-duration human space flight was possible, proving that rendezvous and docking with another vehicle in space was possible, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on human beings. During this time NASA also began to explore the solar system with unmanned probes. As with the manned program, the Soviets had the first successes, such as the first photographs of the lunar far side, but NASA's Mariner 2 was the first space probe to visit another planet, Venus, in 1962.

The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off.

Apollo program

The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and to bring them safely back to Earth. Apollo 1 ended tragically when all the astronauts inside died due to fire in the command module during an experimental simulation. Because of this incident, there were a few unmanned tests before men boarded the spacecraft. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photographs. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but did return photographs. The six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments.


Skylab was the first space station the United States launched into orbit. The station was in Earth orbit from 1973 to 1979, and was visited by crews three times, in 1973 and 1974. It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory. A Space Shuttle was planned to dock with and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but Skylab reentered the atmosphere and was destroyed in 1979, before the first shuttle could be launched. Skylab was abandoned after SL-4 in February 1974 and increased solar activity caused excessive drag which led to an early reentry. Skylab's reentry occurred at approximately 16:37 UTC July 11, 1979, landing over parts of Western Australia and the Indian Ocean, with some fragments being recovered.


The National Air and Space Museum display of Apollo-Soyuz.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (or ASTP) was the first joint flight of the U.S. and Sovietmarker space programs. The mission took place in July 1975. For the United States of America, it was the last Apollo flight, as well as the last manned space launch until the flight of the first Space Shuttle in April 1981.

Shuttle era

The NASA "worm" logo used from 1975 to 1992.
The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned to be a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttles were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981.

The shuttle was not all good news for NASA: flights were much more expensive than initially projected, and the public again lost interest as missions appeared to become mundane until the 1986 Challenger disaster again highlighted the risks of space flight. Work began on Space Station Freedom as a focus for the manned space program, but within NASA there was argument that these projects came at the expense of more inspiring unmanned missions such as the Voyager probes.

Nonetheless, the shuttle launched milestone projects like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The HST is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agencymarker (ESA), and its success has paved the way for greater collaboration between the agencies. The HST was created with a relatively small budget of $2 billion and has continued operation since 1990, delighting both scientists and the public. Some of its images, such as the groundbreaking Hubble Deep Field, have become famous.

In 1995 Russian-American interaction resumed with the Shuttle-Mir missions. Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation continues to today, with Russia and America the two biggest partners in the largest space station ever built: the International Space Station (ISS). The strength of their cooperation on this project was even more evident when NASA began relying on Russian launch vehicles to service the ISS during the two year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The International Space Station (ISS) relies on the Shuttle fleet for all major construction shipments. The Shuttle fleet lost two spacecraft and fourteen astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003. While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA has no plans to build another shuttle to replace the second loss, and instead will be transitioning to a new spacecraft called Orion.

Other nations that have invested in the space station's construction, such as the members of the European Space Agencymarker (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have expressed concern over the completion of the ISS. The schedule NASA planned does have flexibility in it, and Associate Administrator for Space Operations William H. Gerstenmaier explained that the shuttle had completed three missions within six months in 2007, showing that NASA can still meet the deadlines necessary for the critical flights remaining.

During much of the 1990s, NASA was faced with shrinking annual budgets due to Congressional belt-tightening. In response, NASA's ninth administrator, Daniel Goldin, pioneered the "faster, better, cheaper" approach that enabled NASA to cut costs while still delivering a wide variety of aerospace programs (Discovery Program). That method was criticized and re-evaluated following the twin losses of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999. Yet, NASA's shuttle program had made 120 successful launches as of September 2009.

NASA's future

It is the current space policy of the United States that NASA, "execute a sustained and affordable human and robotic program of space exploration and develop, acquire, and use civil space systems to advance fundamental scientific knowledge of our Earth system, solar system, and universe." NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other NASA spacecraft are presently en route to Mercury and Pluto. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system.

An improved and larger planetary rover, Mars Science Laboratory, is under construction and slated to launch in 2011, after a slight delay caused by hardware challenges, which has bumped it back from the October 2009 scheduled launch. The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and will fly by Pluto in 2015. The probe received a gravity assist from Jupiter in February 2007, examining some of Jupiter's inner moons and testing on-board instruments during the fly-by. On the horizon of NASA's plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.

Orion contractor selected August 31, 2006, at NASA Headquarters.

Vision for space exploration

On January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, US President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration. According to this plan, mankind will return to the Moon by 2018, and set up outposts as a testbed and potential resource for future missions. The Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and Orion will replace it by 2015, capable of both docking with the International Space Station (ISS) and leaving the Earth's orbit. The future of the ISS is somewhat uncertain—construction will be completed, but beyond that is less clear. Although the plan initially met with skepticism from Congress, in late 2004 Congress agreed to provide start-up funds for the first year's worth of the new space vision.

Hoping to spur innovation from the private sector, NASA established a series of Centennial Challenges, technology prizes for non-government teams, in 2004. The Challenges include tasks that will be useful for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration, such as building more efficient astronaut gloves.

Mission statement

NASA's 50th Anniversary Logo.

From 2002, NASA’s mission statement, used in budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.” In early February 2006, the statement was altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. Some outside observers believe the change was intended to preserve the civilian nature of the agency, while others suspected it was related to criticism of government policy on global warming by NASA scientists like James Hansen. NASA officials have denied any connection to the latter, pointing to new priorities for space exploration. NASA's motto is "For the benefit of all".

The chair and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs wrote NASA Administrator Griffin on July 31, 2006 expressing concerns about the change. NASA also canceled or delayed a number of earth science missions in 2006.

Moon base

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning to build a permanent moon base. NASA Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz said the goal was to start building the moonbase by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. Additionally, NASA plans to collaborate and partner with other nations for this project.

Human exploration of Mars

On September 28, 2007 Michael D. Griffin, who was at the time Administrator of NASA, stated that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037.

Alan Stern, NASA's "hard-charging" and "reform-minded" Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, resigned on March 25, 2008, effective April 11, 2008, after he allegedly ordered funding cuts to the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and Mars Odyssey that were overturned by NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin. The cuts were intended to offset cost overruns for the Mars Science Laboratory. Stern has stated that he "did not quit over MER" and that he "wasn’t the person who tried to cut MER". Stern, who served for nearly a year and has been credited with making "significant changes that have helped restore the importance of science in NASA’s mission", says he left to avoid cutting healthy programs and basic research in favor of politically sensitive projects. Griffin favors cutting "less popular parts" of the budget, including basic research, and Stern's refusal to do so led to his resignation.

Spaceflight missions

NASA has conducted many successful space missions and programs, including over 150 manned missions. Many of the notable manned missions were from the Apollo program, a sequence of missions to the Moon which included the achievement of the first man to walk on the Moon, during Apollo 11. The Space Shuttle program had setbacks with the loss of two of the Space Shuttles, Challenger and Columbia which resulted in the deaths of their entire crews. The Space Shuttles were able to dock with the space station Mir while it was operational, and are now able to dock with the International Space Station—a joint project of many space agencies. NASA's future plans for space exploration are with the Project Constellation, which plans to develop spacecraft and booster vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle and send astronauts to the Moon and possibly to Mars as well.

There have been many unmanned NASA space missions as well, including at least one that visited each of the other seven planets in the Solar System, and four missions (Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, and Voyager 2) that have left the Solar System. There has been much recent success with the missions to Mars, including the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Phoenix Mars Lander. NASA remains the only space agency to have launched space missions to the outer solar system beyond the asteroid belt.

The Cassini probe, launched in 1997 and in orbit around Saturn since mid-2004, is investigating Saturn and its inner satellites. With over twenty years in the making, Cassini-Huygens is an example of international cooperation between JPL-NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Built entirely by the Jet Propulsion Laboratorymarker (JPL) in Pasadena, California, NASA probes have been continually performing science at Mars since 1997, with at least two orbiters since 2001 and several Mars rovers. The orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will continue monitoring the geology and climate of the Red Planet, as well as searching for evidence of past or present water and life, as they have since 2001 and 2006, respectively. If the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft's nine-year lifetime is typical, these probes will continue to advance knowledge of Mars for years to come. The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been traversing the surface of Mars at Gusev cratermarker and Meridiani Planum since early 2004, and will continue to image and investigate those environments. They have both already operated over seventeen times longer than expected, and remain a promising part of NASA's future. Adding to this flotilla is the Phoenix Mars Lander, which executed a powered touchdown in the northern latitudes of Mars on May 25, 2008 after a ten-month journey of more than 420 million miles (676 million km).


The Administrator of NASA is the highest-ranking official of that organization and serves as the senior space science adviser to the President of the United States. On May 24, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Charles Bolden as NASA Administrator, and Lori Garver as Deputy NASA Administrator. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 15, 2009 as the twelfth administrator of NASA. Lori Beth Garver was confirmed as NASA's deputy administrator.


NASA headquarters, located in Washington, D.C.marker, provides overall guidance and direction to the agency. NASA's Shared Services center is located on the grounds of the John C.marker Stennis Space Centermarker, near Bay St. Louismarker, Mississippimarker. Construction of the Shared Services facility began in August 2006 and it was completed in June 2008. NASA operates a short-line railroad at Kennedy Space Center. Various field and research installations are listed below by application. Some facilities serve more than one application for historic or administrative reasons.

Research centers

Test facilities

Construction and launch facilities

Deep Space Network

Tourism and museum facilities

Awards and decorations

NASA presently bestows a number of medals and decorations to astronauts and other NASA personnel. Some awards are authorized for wear on active duty military uniforms. The highest award is the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, which has been awarded to 28 individuals (17 posthumously), and is said to recognize "any astronaut who in the performance of his duties has distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and mankind."

The second highest NASA award is the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, which may be presented to any member of the federal government, including both military astronauts and civilian employees. It is an annual award, given out at the National Aeronautics Space Foundation plant, located in Orlando, Florida.

NASA Science

Ozone depletion

In the middle of the 20th century NASA augmented its mission of Earth’s observation and redirected it toward environmental quality. The result was the launch of Earth Observing System (EOS) in 1980s, which was able to monitor one of the global environmental problems—ozone depletion. The first comprehensive worldwide measurements were obtained in 1978 with the Nimbus-7 satellite and NASA scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studiesmarker.

Salt evaporation and energy management

In one of the nation's largest restoration projects NASA technology helps state and federal government reclaim of salt evaporation ponds in South San Francisco Bay. Satellite sensors are used by scientists to study the effect of salt evaporation on local ecology.

NASA has started Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation Program as an agency-wide program directed to prevent pollution and reduce energy and water utilization. It helps to ensure that NASA meets its federal stewardship responsibilities for the environment.

Medicine in Space

A variety of large scale medical studies are being conducted in space via the National Space and Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI). Prominent among these is the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity Study in which Astronauts (including former ISS Commanders Leroy Chiao and Gennady Padalka) perform ultrasound scans under the guidance of remote experts to diagnose and potentially treat hundreds of medical conditions in space. Usually, there is no physician onboard the International Space Station and diagnosis of medical conditions is challenging. In addition, Astronauts are susceptible to a variety of health risks including decompression sickness, barotrauma, immunodeficiencies, loss of bone and muscle, orthostatic intolerance due to volume loss, sleep disturbances, and radiation injury. Ultrasound offers a unique opportunity to monitor these conditions in space. This study's techniques are now being applied to cover professional and Olympic sports injuries as well as ultrasound performed by non-expert operators in populations such as medical and high school students. It is anticipated that remote guided ultrasound will have application on Earth in emergency and rural care situations, where access to a trained physician is often rare. For more information on the health hazards faced by astronauts, go to the article entitled Space medicine.

Earth Science Enterprise

Understanding of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment is the main objective of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. For years it has been cooperating with major environment related agencies and creating united projects to achieve their goal. Past Enterprise’s programs include:

NASA is working in cooperation with National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The goal is to obtain~to produce worldwide solar resource maps with great local detail. NASA was also one of the main participants in the evaluation innovative technologies for the clean up of the sources for dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs). On April 6, 1999, the agency signed The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) along with the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎, DOE, and USAF authorizing all the above organizations to conduct necessary tests at the John F. Kennedy Space center. The main purpose was to evaluate two innovative in-situ remediation technologies, thermal removal and oxidation destruction of DNAPLs. National Space Agency made a partnership with Military Services and Defense Contract Management Agency named the “Joint Group on Pollution Prevention”. The group is working on reduction or elimination of hazardous materials or processes.

On May 8, 2003, Environmental Protection Agency recognized NASA as the first federal agency to directly use landfill gas to produce energy at one of its facilities—the Goddard Space Flight Centermarker, Greenbelt, Maryland.

See also


External links


Further reading

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