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  Wikipedia: NASA

Wikipedia: NASA
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the government agency responsible for the United States of America's space program and long-term general aerospace research. A civilian organization, it conducts (or oversees) research into both civilian and military aerospace systems.

Vision and Mission

NASA has distilled its official vision and mission into simple lists. Its vision is:
  • To improve life here,
  • To extend life to there, and
  • To find life beyond.

Its mission is:
... as only NASA can


NASA's early priorities were geared towards human space flight, and the pace and pressure continually escalated because of the competitive nature (the Space Race) that existed during the Cold War. The Mercury program, initiated in 1958, began NASA down the path of human exploration in earnest with missions designed to discover how man could be supported and functional off the surface of the Earth. The Gemini program continued this aim, but it was the Apollo program, begun in 1961, that captured the hearts of many Americans and citizens worldwide. The project begun after President Kennedy announced in 1961 on May 25 that the USA should commit itself to "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely" by 1970.

After eight years of missions designed to provide the framework for the ultimate mission, including NASA's first loss of astronauts with the Apollo 1 launch pad fire, the Apollo program achieved its goals with Apollo 11 which landed men on the moon's surface on July 20, 1969 and returned them to Earth safely on July 24.

NASA had won the space race, and in some senses this left it without direction, or at the very least without the public attention and interest that was necessary to guarantee large budgets from congress. The near-disaster of Apollo 13, where a fuel tank explosion nearly doomed all three astronauts helped to recapture interest and concern, but although missions up to Apollo 20 were planned, Apollo 17 was the last mission to fly under the Apollo banner. Budget cuts (in part due to the Vietnam War brought about the end of the program, as did a desire to develop a reusable space vehicle.

Although the vast majority of NASA budgets were spent on human spaceflight there were many unmanned scientific missions instigated by the space agency. In 1962 the Mariner 2 mission was launched and became the first spacecraft to make a flyby of another planet in this case Venus. Later the Viking program landed on the surface of Mars and sent colour images back to Earth, but perhaps more impressive were the Pioneer and particularly Voyager missions that visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and sent back science and color images from all.

Having lost the space race the Soviet Union had, along with the USA, a change in approach. On July 17, 1975 an Apollo craft (finding a new use after the cancellation of Apollo 18) was docked to the Soviet Soyuz 19 space craft. Although the cold war would last many more years this was a critical point in NASA's history and much of the international co-operation in space exploration that exists today has its genesis here.

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 (the largest fuel tank is not re-used) vehicle and four were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia did so on April 12, 1981, capturing the public's imagination with its futuristic design and reusable aspects.

The shuttle was not all good news for NASA flights are several magnitudes more expensive than initially projected, and even after the 1986 Challenger disaster highlighted the risks of space flight, the public again lost interest as missions appeared to become mundane.

Nonetheless, the shuttle achieved many notable moments, and has been used to launch milestone projects like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The HST was created with a relatively small budget of $2 billion but has continued operation since 1990 and has delighted both scientists and the public. Some of the images it has returned have become near-legendary, such as the groundbreaking Hubble Deep Field images. The HST is a joint project between ESA and NASA and its success has paved the way for greater collaboration between the agencies.

In 1995 Russian-American interaction would again be a sign of things to come as the Shuttle-Mir missions began, and once more a Russian craft (this time a full-fledged space station) docked with an American vehicle. This cooperation continues to the present day, with Russian 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 following the 2003 Columbia disaster, which grounded the shuttle fleet for well over a year.

Costing over one hundred billion dollars, it has been difficult at times for NASA to justify the ISS. The population at large have historically been hard to impress with details of scientific experiments in space, preferring news of grand projects to exotic locations. No one will argue the status of the ISS as the premier human facility for science off the Earth's surface that has ever been built, but even now it cannot accommodate as many scientists as planned, especially with the space shuttle out of use until September 2004 at the earliest, bringing expansion to a halt and limiting it to a two man crew.

Probably the most publicly-inspiring mission of recent years has been the Mars Pathfinder mission of 1997. Newspapers around the world carried images of the lander dispatching its own rover, Sojourner, to explore the surface of Mars in a way never done before at any extra-terrestrial location. Less publicly acclaimed but performing stellar science from 1997 to date (2004) has been the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. However, the success of these two missions was somewhat overshadowed by the failures of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999.

On January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, President George W. Bush outlined NASA's new goals of returning humankind to the moon by 2020, setting up outposts and eventually landing humans on Mars. The space shuttle will be retired in 2010 and the Crew Exploration Vehicle will replace it by 2014, capable of both docking with the 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.

Florida, USA, taken from NASA Shuttle Mission STS-95 on 31st October 1998.
Larger version.

NASA space missions

Mars Missions
Viking program
Mars Observer
Mars Pathfinder
Mars Climate Orbiter
Mars Polar Lander
Mars Global Surveyor
2001 Mars Odyssey
Mars Exploration Rovers

Jupiter Missions
Galileo probe

Saturn Missions
Multi-planet missions
Voyager 1 - Jupiter and Saturn
Voyager 2 - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
New Horizons - Jupiter, Pluto and Kuiper Belt

Sun observing missions
Ulysses - ESA partership

Other observatories
Chandra X-ray Observatory
Infrared Astronomical Satellite
Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, SIRTF)
Hubble Space Telescope - ESA partnership
James Webb Space Telescope

Field installations

In addition to headquarters in Washington, D.C., NASA has field installations at:

Related legislation

  • 1958 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration PL 85-568 (passed on July 29)
  • 1961 - Apollo mission funding PL 87-98 A
  • 1970 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Research and Development Act PL 91-119
  • 1984 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act PL 98-361
  • 1988 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act PL 100-685

See also

External links


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona