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NASA is America's national space program.
NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA is an agency of the United States Government. NASA is responsible for that nation's public space program. NASA was established on July 29, 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act. NASA's annual funding amounts to slightly more than $16 billion. In addition to the space program, NASA is also responsible for long-term civilian and military aerospace research. NASA is widely regarded as being in the forefront of space agencies worldwide.
History of NASA: Space Race.
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 U.S. security and technological leadership (known as the "Sputnik crisis"), urged immediate and swift action; President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his advisors counseled more deliberate measures. Several months of debate produced agreement that a new federal agency was needed to conduct all non-military activity in space.
On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act or NASA, 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 80 employees of the government's 46-year-old research agency for aeronautics, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). A significant contibutor to NASA's entry into the Space race was the technology from the German rocket program, led by Wernher von Braun, who became a naturalized citizen of the United States near the end of World War II. He is today regarded as the father of the United States space program. 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.
NASA's earliest programs involved research into human 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. 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/requested to provide assistance to the NASA Space Task Group through coordination with the existing U.S. military research and defense contracting infrastructure, and technical assistance resulting from experimental aircraft (and the associated military test pilot pool) development in the 1950s. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. 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 5-hour flight of Friendship 7.
Once the Mercury project proved that human spaceflight was possible, 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 III, was flown by Virgil "Gus" Grissom and John W. 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.
NASA Apollo program.
The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Six of the missions (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) did achieve this goal. Apollo 7 and Apollo 9 were Earth orbiting missions and were designed to test the operating systems of the Command and Lunar Modules including rendezvous radar and essential life support systems. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography of the lunar surface. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but also returned photographs. The six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments.
NASA: Other early missions.
Although the vast majority of NASA's budget has been spent on human spaceflight, there have been many robotic 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. The Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter missions were essential to assessing lunar conditions before attempting Apollo landings with humans on board. Later, the two Viking probes landed on the surface of Mars and sent color images back to Earth, but perhaps more impressive were the Pioneer and particularly Voyager missions that visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune sending back scientific information and color images.
Having lost the moon race, the Soviet Union had, along with the USA, changed its approach. On July 17, 1975 Apollo 18 (finding a new use after the cancelling of planned lunar flights) was docked to the Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft, in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. 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 with this mission. America's first space station, Skylab, occupied NASA from the end of Apollo until the late 1970s.
NASA during the Shuttle era.
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 even after the 1986 Challenger disaster highlighted the risks of space flight, the public again lost interest as missions appeared to become mundane. 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. The Challenger disaster, aside from the late 1980s, marked a low point for NASA.
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 the European Space Agency (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 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 following the 2003 Columbia disaster, which grounded the shuttle fleet for well over two years.
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. Even now, the ISS cannot accommodate as many scientists as planned.
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 (Discovery program). That method was criticized and re-evaluated following the twin losses of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999.
NASA's shuttle program has made 114 successful launches yet. NASA's future.
Utilizing the 30 years of robotic, interplanetary exploration experience from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), NASA's current investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars. The Mars Global Surveyor probe has been performing science in Mars orbit from 1997 to date. Since 2001, the orbiting Mars Odyssey has been searching for evidence of past or present water and volcanic activity on the red planet. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars in 2006, will continue investigations of Martian climate and geology. Both built and managed by JPL, the most spectacular missions, however, have been the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been traversing the surface of Mars at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum since early 2004, returning thousands of images and other scientific data. With NASA funding, JPL expects to continue to explore the Red Planet with more spacecraft such as Phoenix and the Mars Science Laboratory later this decade.
Scheduled to launch in 2007, Phoenix shall search for possible underground water courses in the northern Martian pole. The name "Phoenix" is appropriately given. During the dark days (accidents) of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, the prime contractor to JPL -- Lockheed Martin, Denver -- mothballed an identical Mars Polar Lander. With the success of the Mars Exploration Rovers, JPL and Lockheed Martin have "revived" the Mars mission to search for underground water in the northern poles. Hence, the name "Phoenix" was given to the "un-mothballed" identical, Mars Polar Lander probe.
Other notable JPL-NASA missions include the Cassini probe, launched in 1997 and in orbit around Saturn since mid-2004, investigating Saturn and its inner satellites; and the New Horizons mission, launched 2006 and due to reach Pluto in 2015. With over twenty years in the making, Cassini-Huygens demonstrates the importance of international cooperation between JPL-NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, which killed the crew of six Americans and one Israeli, caused a 29-month hiatus in space shuttle flights and triggered a serious re-examination of NASA's priorities. The U.S. government, various scientists, and the public all considered the future of the space program.
On January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of Spirit, President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration. According to this plan, humankind 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 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. 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.
Criticisms of NASA.
Some commentators, such as Mark Wade, note that NASA has suffered from a 'stop-start' approach to its human spaceflight programs. The Apollo spacecraft and Saturn family of launch vehicles were abandoned in the 1970s after billions of dollars had been spent on their development. In 2004 the U.S. Government proposed eventually replacing the Shuttle with a Crew Exploration Vehicle that would allow the agency to again send astronauts to the Moon. Despite the reduction of its budget following project Apollo, NASA has maintained a top-heavy bureaucracy resulting in inflated costs and compromised hardware.
Currently, the ISS relies on the Shuttle fleet for all major construction shipments. The Shuttle fleet has lost two spacecraft and fourteen astronauts in two disasters in 1986 and 2003. While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA does not plan to build another shuttle to replace the second loss. The ISS, which was intended to have a crew of seven As of 2005, just now has been restored to a crew of three for the first time since it was cut to a skeleton crew of two in May 2003, causing many intended research projects to be delayed. However, Anatoli Perminov, director of Roskosmos, told Russian news agency Itar-Tass that from 2009 there would be six permanent crew members on board the station. Since the Columbia Shuttle accident, the permanent space station crew has comprised one Russian and one American, on board for six months at a time, meaning European and Japanese astronauts could not stay for longer missions. An increase in the number of crew members has been in the pipeline for some time but was delayed following the Columbia disaster in February 2003. Other nations that have invested heavily in the space station's construction, such as the members of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have expressed concern over the completion of the ISS. However, with the July 4th, 2006 launch of STS-121 "Discovery," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has proclaimed the ISS schedule as "on-track."
NASA spaceflight missions.
NASA has had many successful space missions and programs, including over 100 manned missions. The many notable manned missions have been from the Apollo program, which were a sequence of missions to the Moon, and included the achievement of the first man to walk on the moon, during Apollo 11. The Space Shuttle program has also been a huge success with, despite 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.
There have been many unmanned NASA space missions as well, including at least one that visited each of the other 7 planets in our Solar System, and four missions (Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, and Voyager 2) that have left our solar system. There has been much recent success with the missions to Mars, including the Mars Exploration Rovers, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
List of NASA administrators:
NASA Field installations.
NASA's headquarters are located in Washington, DC.
NASA's Shared Services center is located on the grounds of the John C. Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Construction of their facility began in August 2006 and the scheduled completion date is October 2007.
NASA has field and research installations listed below by application. Some facilities serve more than one application due to historical or administrative reasons.
NASA research centers.
NASA test facilities.
NASA construction and launch facilities.
NASA Deep Space Network.
NASA tourism and museum facilities.
Throughout its history, NASA has used several different types of aircraft on a permanent, semi-permanent, or short-term basis. These aircraft are usually surplus (or in a few cases new-built) military aircraft. Included among these are:
NASA 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 award 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.
NASA related legislation.
More About NASA.
Nov 15, 2005 - NASA has announced that its Ames Research Center will manage the agency's new Robotic Lunar Exploration Program. Before humans set foot on the Moon again, a fleet of robots will map the lunar surface in tremendous detail. NASA Ames has already sent robots to the Moon; most recently the Lunar Prospector, which was launched on January 6, 1998. The spacecraft orbited the Moon, and found evidence of water ice at its poles.
Oct 26, 2005 - Eleven teams competed in two competitions over the weekend to test technologies for space elevators: beam-powered climbers and new ribbon materials. The climbers needed to scale a 61-metre (200 foot) ribbon within a time limit. Although one climber reached 12 metres (40 feet), it wasn't enough to win the $50,000 prize. In the ribbon competition, competitors needed to create a material that was 50% stronger than the house tether. One team came close, but it wasn't enough. Tougher challenges will be back next year with bigger prizes.
Oct 6, 2005 - NASA engineers tested out a prototype unmanned sailplane this week at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. This robotic aircraft is capable of detecting and using rising air thermals, similar to a glider or bird, to gain altitude. It launched from the ground, and navigated to a likely location for updrafts. Once it found a thermal, it turned off its engine and circled to stay within the updraft. NASA hopes to develop techniques for using thermals that could extend the range of unmanned aerial vehicles that often have very limited fuel.
Sep 19, 2005 - NASA has unveiled more details about its upcoming series of missions to return humans to the Moon as early as 2018. The new crew vehicle will look very similar to the old Apollo module but it will be three times larger, allowing four astronauts to travel to the Moon at a time. Each ship can be reused 10 times, and NASA hopes to get as many as 2 launches a year, with astronauts spending 4-7 days on the surface. Eventually, once a lunar outpost is built at the southern pole, astronauts will be able to live on the Moon for 6 months at a time.
Jul 26, 2005 - NASA and Volanz Aerospace have announced the next Centennial Challenge prize: to build a better set of gloves for astronauts. Teams will compete for a $250,000 prize to build a pair of gloves which are strong, easy on astronaut hands, and provide better dexterity than the gloves NASA currently uses. The competition is scheduled for November 2006, where various teams will submit their glove designs to a series of tests.
Apr 15, 2005 - Michael Griffin addressed NASA employees on Thursday, when he became the 11th Administrator for the space agency. In his address, Griffin said he would focus on getting the shuttles ready to return to flight, and continue to fulfill the Vision for Space Exploration, which sees astronauts returning to the Moon and eventually continuing on to Mars in the coming decades. Griffin was nominated by President Bush on March 14, and was confirmed by the Senate on April 13.
Dr. Mike Griffin Chosen to Lead NASA
Mar 14, 2005 - The US White House has announced the Dr. Mike Griffin will pick up the reins at NASA, filling the vacancy left by Sean O'Keefe. Griffin is currently the director of space at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and is a supporter of the new Vision for Space Exploration. Once confirmed by the senate, Griffin will become the 11th Administrator for NASA.
NASA 2006 Budget Released
Feb 7, 2005 - The US White House released its 2006 budget today, which included $16.45 billion US for NASA. This is a 2.5% increase over the previous year, but it doesn't include any funds to save the Hubble Space Telescope. Only $75 million have been set aside for Hubble, which would only be enough to have a robot steer the aging observatory into a safe trajectory when it needs to be destroyed. The budget sets aside $9.6 billion for science, aeronautics and exploration, and $6.7 billion for the space shuttle and International Space Station.
NASA Administrator Set to Resign
Dec 13, 2004 - NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe is set to resign this week from the agency, after heading it up for three years. President Bush is considering five men to take over, with the former leader of the Pentagon Missile Defense Agency, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, widely considered to be the top candidate. Other people being considered for the position are former Congressman Robert Walker and former shuttle astronauts Ron Sega, Charles Bolden and Robert Crippen. O'Keefe is said to be considering a new position as the chancellor of Louisiana State University.
Nov 16, 2004 - NASA has pushed back the launch of its X-43A because of instrument trouble used up most of their launch window on Monday. Although they were go for launch at the end of the window, launch controllers decided to push the launch back until Tuesday. If all goes well, the innovative "scramjet" prototype will detach from a flying B-52 aircraft, and then accelerate to Mach 10 - 10 times the speed of sound, or 11,300 kph (7,000 mph).
Oct 27, 2004 - NASA unveiled its new supercomputer on Tuesday, which took the lead as the fasted computer in the world. Named "Columbia", to commemorate the space shuttle, the supercomputer is built up from 10,240 Itanium 2 processors, and is capable of 42.7 teraflops (trillion calculations per second). Columbia is so powerful that scientists used it to accurately predict the path of hurricanes five days in advance. Complex aircraft analysis that used to take years can now be performed in a single day. Amazingly, the computer was built and installed in only 120 days at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Oct 12, 2004 - Dr. Maxime Faget, one of the most prolific of NASA's spacecraft designers, passed away on Saturday at the age of 83. Faget contributed to designs to every single NASA spacecraft, from the Mercury capsule to the space shuttle. He started working with for the US space effort in 1946, when he joined the staff of the Langley Research Center as a research scientist. He was later selected as one of the original 35 designers for the Mercury project. Faget retired from NASA in 1981, and went on to work for a private space firm called Space Industries Inc.
Oct 5, 2004 - Astronaut Gordon Cooper, who piloted missions in both the Mercury and Gemini programs, died on Monday at his home in Ventura, California; he was 77. Cooper was the youngest of the original 7 Mercury astronauts, and his mission on May 15, 1963 - the final one in the Mercury program - lasted more than 34 hours and 22 orbits. Cooper and Pete Conrad flew the third flight of the Gemini program in 1965, and stayed in space for 191 hours, establishing a new space endurance record.
Sep 29, 2004 - NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts has selected 12 proposals for further study as part of its goal of finding revolutionary ideas that could help the agency's plans for human space exploration. Proposals selected as part of Phase 1 will receive $75,000 for a six-month study. Those selected for Phase 2 will have two years and $400,000 to further develop their concept. Some of the Phase 1 winners include an infrared observatory on the Moon, lunar space elevators, electrostatic radiation shields and a plasma propulsion system.
Sep 21, 2004 - SpaceDev, the company that designed and built the hybrid rocket engine for Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne, announced that they've entered discussions with NASA to design a low-cost suborbital spaceship. The SpaceDev Dream Chaser would take off vertically, and carry up to three people to an altitude of 160 km (100 miles). If everything goes well, the spacecraft would be built by 2008, and would demonstrate a set of launch and flight technologies. Further versions of the spacecraft would eventually be able to go into orbit and transfer crew to and from the International Space Station.
Sep 16, 2004 - Although Hurricane Ivan spared NASA's Kennedy Space Center, several of the agencies other facilities weren't so lucky. The Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans were much closer to the point where the enormous storm came ashore on the US Gulf Coast. Stennis is where the space shuttle's engines are tested, so they were secured for the storm; one was returned to its container, another was wrapped in plastic, and two development engines were secured on their test stands. Michoud is where the shuttle's external fuel tanks are manufactured and assembled; these were secured, and assembly equipment was moved inside. NASA will get an idea of the damage later today or tomorrow, when its employees begin returning to work.
Sep 8, 2004 - NASA workers are continuing to assess the damage that Hurricane Frances wreaked on the Kennedy Space Center when it tore through Cape Canaveral over the weekend. Many buildings suffered wind and rain damage, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the space shuttles are attached to the external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters - it had 820 panels blown off. The Thermal Protection System Facility, where heat tiles and blankets are manufactured suffered significant damage. It's still unknown if the effects of the hurricane will push back the shuttle's return to flight.
Sep 7, 2004 - It's bad, but it could have been much worse. Hurricane Frances devastated Florida over the weekend, with the eye sweeping close to NASA's Kennedy Space Center - the region sustained winds as high as 110 kph (70 mph). There were no injuries, and the worst damage was to the Vehicle Assembly Building, which lost more than 1,000 panels, leaving huge holes in its sides. None of the space shuttles or the Swift mission were damaged. The center is closed Tuesday for most employees, and a more detailed damage assessment should be released later today.
Sep 4, 2004 - The board inquiring into the loss of the remotely-operated Helios aircraft released its final report on Friday. Helios was a solar-powered aircraft, capable of flying higher than any conventional plane. During a test flight in June, 2003, the aircraft took off from the island of Kauai and flew out over the Pacific Ocean. About 30 minutes into its flight, turbulence caused Helios to become unstable, with its wings bending more than it was designed for. Shortly after that, the upper surface of the wing ripped off, and it plunged into the ocean. The board determined that NASA lacked the analysis tools to predict how turbulence could affect the plane in all conditions.
Sep 2, 2004 - NASA has awarded the first contracts for aerospace firms to begin preliminary concept studies for returning humans to the Moon, and then onto Mars. A total of $27 million USD was awarded to eleven companies to work on concepts for human lunar exploration and the crew exploration vehicle; there is also an option for an additional $27 million. The contracts will give the companies six months to work on their ideas, and then the additional six-month options may be exercised depending on the quality of the work.
Links For NASA.Cooperative Satellite Learning Project
NASA-JSC Area Nanotechnology Study Group - an International group of Scientist and Researchers interested in the latest breakthroughs in Nanotechnology.
NASA's Space Settlement Page - Orbital space settlements, includes technical information and a student design contest.
Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium - The NASA sponsored Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in Oregon.
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