The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (established 1958) 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.
Following the Soviet space program's launch of the world's first man-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 American security and technological leadership, urged immediate and strong action; President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his advisers counseled more deliberate measures. Several months of debate produced agreement that a new federal agency was needed to conduct all nonmilitary activity in space.
On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA consisted mainly of the four laboratories and some 8,000 employees of the government's 46-year-old research agency for aeronautics, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).
NASA's early programs were research into manned spaceflight, and were conducted under the pressure of the competition between the USA and the USSR (the Space Race) that existed during the Cold War. The Mercury program, initiated in 1958, started NASA down the path of human space exploration with missions designed to discover simply if man could survive in space. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space when he piloted Mercury 3 on a 15-minute suborbital flight. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 during the 5-hour Mercury 6 flight.
After eight years of preliminary missions, 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 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon's surface on July 20, 1969 and returned them to Earth safely on July 24. Armstrong's first words upon stepping out of the Eagle lander captured the momentousness of the occasion: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Ten more men would set foot on the Moon by the end of the Apollo program in December 1972.
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 an oxygen explosion nearly doomed all three astronauts, helped to recapture attention 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.
Having lost the space race, the Soviet Union had, along with the USA, changed its 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. America's first space station, Skylab, occupied NASA from the end of Apollo until the late 1970s.
The space shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned to be 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 even after the 1986Challenger disaster highlighted the risks of space flight, the public again lost interest as missions appeared to become mundane.
Nonetheless, the shuttle 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 achieved 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 2003Columbia 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 March 2005 at the earliest, bringing expansion to a halt and limiting it to a two person crew.
During much of the 1990s, NASA was faced with shrinking annual budgets due to Congressional belt-tightening in Washington, DC. In response, NASA's ninth administrator, Daniel S. Goldin, pioneered the "faster, better, cheaper" approach that enabled NASA to cut costs while still delivering a wide variety of aerospace programs. That method was criticized and re-evaluated following the twin losses of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999.
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe - Cosmology WMAP is a NASA Explorer Mission that will measure the temperature of the cosmic background radiation over the full sky with unprecedented accuracy. This map of the remnant heat of the Big Bang will provide answers to fundamental questions about the origin and fate of our universe. http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/
NASA and Space Grant University Web Sites Image map to locate web sites of NASA centers and NASA Space Grant Universities. Many University links, contacts and full addresses. http://calspace.ucsd.edu/spacegrant/webmap/sg_homepages.html
Office of Headquarters Operations (Code C) This Headquarters functional office serves as the single focus on matters pertaining to the planning, execution, and evaluation of Headquarters institutional management activities. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codec/
Spitzer Space Telescope The largest infrared telescope ever launched into space and the final mission in NASA's Great Observatories Program. http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/
Beyond Einstein NASA's Structure & Evolution of the Universe Theme Web Site, supporting Beyond Einstein: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. http://universe.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.html
HubbleSite Located at the Space Telescope Science Institute, goal is to work on studying and explaining the unique, celestial phenomena, which is now made visible using Hubble's advanced technology. http://hubblesite.org/
Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer FUSE is a NASA-supported astronomy mission, developed by The Johns Hopkins University, to explore the Universe using the technique of high-resolution spectroscopy in the far-ultraviolet spectral region. http://fuse.pha.jhu.edu/
ORPHEUS World Wide Web server This server is for distributing information about the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and about the Coronal Diagnostics Spectrometer (CDS) instrument aboard that spacecraft. It is also the server for the NASA/GSFC Solar Extreme-ultraviolet Research Telescope and Spectrograph (SERTS) sounding rocket program. http://orpheus.nascom.nasa.gov/
NAIS Home Page Procurement office of NASA provides industry with immediate access to current acquisition information over the Internet. http://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/nais/index.cgi
NASA Search Allows you to easily search through hundreds of thousands of documents published on NASA web sites. http://search.nasa.gov/nasasearch/search/search.jsp
Space Telescope Science Institute Responsibility for conducting and coordinating the science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope rests with the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus in Baltimore, Maryland. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA). http://www.stsci.edu/hst/
Spaceline A free internet based bibliographic database referencing citations to publications on space life sciences research. A joint project of NASA and the US National Library of Medicine. http://spaceline.usuhs.mil/
NASA Space Science The central site for all of NASA's astronomy, planetary, and solar science missions and programs. http://spacescience.nasa.gov/
NASA Web Directory and links to many NASA sites. http://www.nasa.gov/hqpao/welcome.html
NASA Astrophysic Data System Free online abstracts and full-text papers in astronomy, astrophysics, planetary sciences, and solar physics. http://adswww.harvard.edu/
Solar Data Analysis Center Solar images, solar news, eclipse information, solar data, NASA solar physics programs. http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/sdac.html
Global Tropospheric Experiment (GTE) Part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth project, examining, through airborne field campaigns, the natural and human factors affecting global tropospheric chemistry. http://www-gte.larc.nasa.gov/
NASA's Office of Policy & Plans Serves as the focal point for representation and advocacy with executive branch officesand other federal agencies and departments for Agency-level policy issues. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codez/new/
NASA Commercial Space Center Links Texas A&M provides these links to NASA Centers, commercial space centers, and space-related companies. http://engineer.tamu.edu/tees/csce/links.htm
Human Exploration and Development of Space A division of NASA's Office of Space Flight established to open the space frontier by exploring, using, and enabling the development of space and to expand the human experience into the far reaches of space. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/osf/heds/
NASA Jobs NASA's human resources recruitment page, with information about opportunities and on how to apply. http://www.nasajobs.nasa.gov/jobs/jobs.htm
NASA Space Telerobotics Program Archived page for project that was shut down in 1997. The research and technology development task supported by the program were transferred to other efforts. Reflects the state of robotics technology as it was in 1997, and not the current efforts in this field. http://ranier.hq.nasa.gov/telerobotics_page/telerobotics.shtm
Discovery Program An ongoing project, which offers the scientific community the opportunity to assemble a team and design investigations that complement NASA's larger planetary science explorations. The goal is to launch many smaller missions with fast development times. http://discovery.nasa.gov/
National Space Biomedical Research Institute Established in 1997 through a NASA competition, the consortium of 12 institutions working to prevent or solve health problems related to long-duration space travel and prolonged exposure to microgravity. The group's primary mission objective is to ensure safe and productive human space flight. http://www.nsbri.org/
NASA Earth Observatory Explore the causes and effects of climatic and environmental change through the use of real satellite data. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
Technical Standards Program Features overview and repository of space standards. Access to the standards requires registration. http://standards.nasa.gov/
Aeronautics Cyberpostcards NASA center providing a feature to e-mail electronic postcards with pictures about aeronautics. http://www-psao.grc.nasa.gov/asaopost.html
NASA Headquarters Located in Washington, D.C., exercises management over the space flight centers, research centers, and other installations that are run by the space program. Includes organizational charts and addresses. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/
NASA Human Spaceflight Coverage of current Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions. Also includes links to past space flights, Mars exploration, and image galleries. http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/
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