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National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is a United States agency that was established on established::October 1, 1958 to conduct research and space exploration. Today it is the foremost among government agencies that manage space programs, and is credited with some of the most exciting and surprising astronomical discoveries ever made.



The precursor to NASA was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. This began on March 3, 1915 as an advisory committee to the President of the United States.[1] NACA was responsible for guiding aviation research and development. It provided invaluable assistance for the development of American military and commercial aircraft. NACA is most notable for the first flight faster than sound and, unfortunately, for a failed rocket program.[2]


In 1958, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. The United States Congress, unwilling to allow a Soviet presence in space to remain unchallenged, authorized the creation of NASA in 1958. NASA inherited NACA's original assets and gained a new mission: to create a successful rocket program aimed at placing not merely orbiting satellites, but men into space.

Manned space projects

Project Mercury

Project Mercury involved sending a single man into space. The chief objective of the program was to demonstrate that America could, at need, develop a low-earth-orbit strategic bomber as well as the Soviets could. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty obviated this objective.

Projects Gemini and Apollo

Project Gemini, in which two-man crews entered space, emphasized the development of techniques and technologies to support exploration. After twelve successful missions, NASA began Project Apollo with the explicit goal of exploring the Moon. The first crew to land on the moon was that of Apollo 11, on July 20, 1969. NASA sent six more three-man crews to the Moon, of which five succeeded in landing, taking photographs and samples, and returning.

Further projects

International Space Station (September 20, 2006).
Project Apollo was the last of the primarily exploratory missions. From December of 1972 to the present, all of NASA's efforts involving humans in space have concentrated on two classes of missions:
  • Endurance and laboratory experimentation in a microgravity environment.
  • The transportation of loads requiring delicate handling. This includes the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, several Space Transport System ("Shuttle") crews have made rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope in order to repair it after launch. Other heavy and delicate loads include various modules for the International Space Station.

Currently NASA intends to resume exploration by human beings in 2015.

Robotic rocket probes

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Artist rendition of Mars rovers Spirit or Opportunity.
Ironically, NASA's success in developing systems to support and steer a vessel carrying a human crew in space has led to the development of rocket probes that have conducted highly sophisticated explorations of far-off bodies in the solar system without human crews. This has led some scientists to question the need for human crews to fly any class of space mission.

The most productive rocket-probe missions, in approximate chronological order, include:

National Space Science Data Center

The National Space Science Data Center is NASA's central space mission data archive. The Center furnishes raw data and images upon request to scientists and non-scientists.

International Designator

The NSSDC also assigns unique identifiers, called International Designators, to every artificial satellite in orbit and every successful launch of a rocket probe, except for secret (usually military) payloads. A standard designator contains the launch year (AD), a three-digit launch number, and a one- to three-letter code identifying a separate payload, launch vehicle, or part of such vehicle.

NASA graphics

NASA is a rich source of high-quality images of space and especially of various solar system bodies. Because NASA is an agency of the United States government, all images specifically credited to NASA are in the public domain, as per the Copyright Act of 1977.

However, the logo of NASA may not be used to promote any agency or project other than NASA or one of its subsidiary or partner agencies. The use of the NASA logo in an article to describe the history, function, and achievements of NASA is allowed under the principle of fair use. But no other use of this logo is permitted without the express approval of NASA.


  1. Rumerman, Judy. "The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)." US Centennial of Flight Commission, n.d. Accessed June 25, 2008.
  2. Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 1, 1979. 448 pages, cloth. ISBN 9780374250324.

External links

See Also