After the Soviet space program's launch of the world's first artificial 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 national 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 to develop space technology for military application.
On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published "A National Research Program for Space Technology" stating:
It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space... It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency... NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology.
Explorer 1, first US satellite
Launched on January 31, 1958, Explorer 1, officially Satellite 1958 Alpha, became the U.S.'s first earth satellite. The Explorer 1 payload consisted of the Iowa Cosmic Ray Instrument without a tape data recorder which was not modified in time to make it onto the satellite.
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 4,450,000 newtons (1,000,000 lbf) thrust designed with second and third stages.
In April 1958, Eisenhower delivered to the U.S. Congress an executive address favoring a national civilian space agency and submitted a 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).
Conducted under the pressure of the competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that existed during the Cold War, Project Mercury was initiated in 1958 and started NASA down the path of human space exploration with missions designed to discover if man could survive in space. Representatives from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force were selected to provide assistance to NASA. Pilot selections were facilitated through coordination with U.S. defense research, contracting, and military test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard 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 flight of Friendship 7. Three more orbital flights followed.
Project Gemini focused on conducting experiments and developing and practicing techniques required for lunar missions. The first Gemini flight with astronauts on board, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965. Nine missions followed, showing that long-duration human space flight and rendezvous and docking with another vehicle in space were possible, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans. Gemini missions included the first American spacewalks, and new orbital maneuvers including rendezvous and docking.
Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body.Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museums.
Skylab was the only space station launched into orbit solely by the United States. The 100 short tons (91 t) 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.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was the first joint flight of the U.S. and Sovietspace programs. The mission took place in July 1975. For the United States, 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. Manned Skylab and ASTP missions used the smaller Saturn IB with Apollo CSM, not the Saturn V.
The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981.
NASA "worm" logo used 1975–1992
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 has continued to 2011, with Russia and the United States 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 shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 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 did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss. NASA's shuttle program has made 133 successful launches as of March 2011.
The International Space Station (ISS) is an internationally developed research facility currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled to be completed by 2011, with operations continuing until at least 2015. The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye, and, as of 2009, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit, with a mass larger than that of any previous space station.
The cost of the station project has been estimated by ESA as €100 billion over a course of 30 years, although cost estimates vary between 35 billion dollars and 160 billion dollars, making the ISS the most expensive object ever constructed.
The Pioneer program is a series of NASA unmanned space missions that was designed for planetary exploration. There were a number of such missions in the program, but the most notable were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, which explored the outer planets and left the solar system. Both carry a golden plaque, depicting a man and a woman and information about the origin and the creators of the probes, should any extraterrestrials find them someday.
Additionally, the Pioneer mission to Venus consisted of two components, launched separately. Pioneer Venus 1 or Pioneer Venus Orbiter was launched in 1978 and studied the planet for more than a decade after orbital insertion in 1978. Pioneer Venus 2 or Pioneer Venus Multiprobe sent four small probes into the Venusian atmosphere.
The Voyager program is a series of NASA unmanned space missions that consists of a pair of unmanned scientific probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable planetary alignment of the late 1970s. Although they were officially designated to study just Jupiter and Saturn, the two probes were able to continue their mission into the outer solar system. Both probes have achieved escape velocity from the solar system and will never return. Both missions have gathered large amounts of data about the gas giants of the solar system, of which little was previously known.
As of November 12, 2010, Voyager 1 was at a distance of 115.251 AU (17.242 billion km, or 10.712 billion miles), traveling away from both the Earth and the Sun at a speed of 17 kilometres (11 mi)/s, which corresponds to a greater specific orbital energy than any other probe.
Dr. Carl Sagan With the full-scale model of the Viking Lander
The Viking program consisted of a pair of space probes sent to Mars—Viking 1 and Viking 2. Each vehicle was composed of two main parts, an orbiter designed to photograph the surface of Mars from orbit, and a lander designed to study the planet from the surface. The orbiters also served as communication relays for the landers once they touched down. Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975, and the second craft, Viking 2, was launched on September 9, 1975, both riding atop Titan III-E rockets with Centaur upper stages. By discovering many geological forms that are typically formed from large amounts of water, the Viking program caused a revolution in scientific ideas about water on Mars.
The primary objectives of the Viking orbiters were to transport the landers to Mars, perform reconnaissance to locate and certify landing sites, act as a communications relays for the landers, and to perform their own scientific investigations. The orbiter, based on the earlier Mariner 9 spacecraft, was an octagon approximately 2.5 m across. The total launch mass was 2,328 kilograms (5,130 lb), of which 1,445 kilograms (3,190 lb) were propellant and attitude control gas.
The Helios I and Helios II space probes, also known as Helios-A and Helios-B, were a pair of probes launched into heliocentricorbit for the purpose of studying solar processes. A joint venture of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and NASA, the probes were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Dec. 10, 1974, and Jan. 15, 1976, respectively. The probes are notable for setting a maximum speed record among spacecraft at 252,792 kilometres (157,078 mi)/h (157,078 mi/h or 43.63 mi/s or 70.22 kilometres (43.63 mi)/s or 0.000234c). The Helios space probes completed their primary missions by the early 1980s, but they continued to send data up to 1985. The probes are no longer functional but still remain in their elliptical orbit around the Sun.
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.
The Magellan spacecraft was a space probe sent to the planet Venus, the first unmanned interplanetary spacecraft to be launched by NASA since its successful Pioneer Orbiter, also to Venus, in 1978. It was also the first of three deep-space probes to be launched on the Space Shuttle, and the first spacecraft to employ aerobraking techniques to lower its orbit.
Magellan created the first (and currently the best) high resolution mapping of the planet's surface features. Prior Venus missions had created low resolution radar globes of general, continent-sized formations. Magellan, performed detailed imaging and analysis of craters, hills, ridges, and other geologic formations, to a degree comparable to the visible-light photographic mapping of other planets.
Despite antenna problems, Galileo conducted the first asteroid flyby, discovered the first asteroid moon, was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, and launched the first probe into Jupiter's atmosphere. Galileo's prime mission was a two-year study of the Jovian system. The spacecraft traveled around Jupiter in elongated ellipses, each orbit lasting about two months. The differing distances from Jupiter afforded by these orbits allowed Galileo to sample different parts of the planet's extensive magnetosphere. The orbits were designed for close up flybys of Jupiter's largest moons. Once Galileo's prime mission was concluded, an extended mission followed starting on December 7, 1997; the spacecraft made a number of daring close flybys of Jupiter's moons Europa and Io. The closest approach was 180 kilometres (110 mi) (112 mi) on October 15, 2001.
On September 21, 2003, after 14 years in space and eight years of service in the Jovian system, Galileo′s mission was terminated by sending the orbiter into Jupiter's atmosphere at a speed of nearly 50 kilometers per second to avoid any chance of it contaminating local moons with bacteria from Earth. Of particular interest was the ice-crusted moon Europa, which, thanks to Galileo, scientists now suspect harbors a salt water ocean beneath its surface.
The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched November 1996. It began the United States' return to Mars after a 10-year absence. It completed its primary mission in January 2001 and was in its third extended mission phase when, on November 2, 2006, the spacecraft failed to respond to commands. In January 2007 NASA officially ended the mission.
The Surveyor spacecraft used a series of high-resolution cameras to explore the surface of Mars during its mission, returning more than 240,000 images spanning portions of 4.8 Martian years, from September 1997 to November 2006. The surveyor's cameras utilized 3 instruments: a narrow angle camera that took (black-and-white) high resolution images (usually 1.5 to 12 m per pixel) red and blue wide angle pictures for context (240 m per pixel) and daily global imaging (7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) per pixel).
The Mars Pathfinder (MESUR Pathfinder,) later renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, was launched on December 4, 1996, just a month after the Mars Global Surveyor was launched. Onboard the lander was a small rover called Sojourner that would execute many experiments on the Martian surface. It was the second project from NASA's Discovery Program, which promotes the use of low-cost spacecraft and frequent launches under the motto "cheaper, faster and better" promoted by the then administrator, Daniel Goldin. The mission was directed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, responsible for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
This mission, besides being the first of a series of missions to Mars that included rovers (robotic exploration vehicles), was the most important since the Vikings landed on the red planet in 1976, and also was the first successful mission to send a rover to a planet. In addition to scientific objectives, the Mars Pathfinder mission was also a "proof-of-concept" for various technologies, such as airbag-mediated touchdown and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rovers. The Mars Pathfinder was also remarkable for its extremely low price relative to other unmanned space missions to Mars.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers exploring the planet Mars. The mission is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which designed, built and is operating the rovers.
The mission began in 2003 with the sending of the two rovers — MER-A Spirit and MER-B Opportunity — to explore the Martian surface and geology. The mission's scientific objective is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program which includes three previous successful landers: the two Viking program landers in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder probe in 1997.
The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers on the surface for the initial 90-Martian-day (sol) primary mission was US$820 million. Since the rovers have continued to function far beyond their initial 90 sol primary mission (to date both rovers have been functioning on Mars's surface for nearly seven years), they have each received multiple mission extensions.
New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planetPluto. It is expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, and Hydra. Once New Horizons leaves the Solar System, NASA may also approve flybys of one or more other Kuiper Belt Objects.
New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 directly into an Earth-and-solar-escape trajectory. It had an Earth-relative velocity of about 16.26 kilometres (10.10 mi)/s or 58,536 kilometres (36,373 mi)/h (10.10 mi/s or 36,373 mi/h) after its last engine shut down. Thus, it left Earth at the fastest launch speed ever recorded for a man-made object (although its specific orbital energy is less than that of Voyager 1, and the Helios probes retain the maximum speed record for a spacecraft). New Horizons flew by Jupiter on February 28, 2007 and Saturn's orbit on June 8, 2008. It will arrive at Pluto on July 14, 2015 and then continue into the Kuiper belt.
NASA's Launch Services
Launch Services Program (LSP) is responsible for NASA oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Primary launch sites are Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California. Other launch locations are NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, the North Pacific’s Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Kodiak Island in Alaska.
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.
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, Pluto and the asteroid belt. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system.
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 would 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 may 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.
On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning 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. As of February 1, 2010, however, President Obama has scrapped the possibility of a moon base through his budget as he believes that NASA should be more focused on deep space missions.
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 favored cutting "less popular parts" of the budget, including basic research, and Stern's refusal to do so led to his resignation.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) established the Augustine Commission to ensure the nation is on "a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space" on May 7, 2009. In its October 22, 2009 report, the Commission proposed three basic options for exploration beyond low Earth orbit:
Mars First, with a Mars landing, perhaps after a brief test of equipment and procedures on the Moon.
Moon First, with lunar surface exploration focused on developing the capability to explore Mars.
A Flexible Path to inner solar system locations, such as lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth objects and the moons of Mars, followed by exploration of the lunar surface and/or Martian surface.
President Barack Obama announced changes to NASA space policy, in his April 15, 2010 space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center, from the Moon-first approach adopted previously under the Vision for Space Exploration and Constellation program to a variety of destinations resembling the flexible path approach.
The new plan calls for NASA to extend the life of the ISS by five years and use launch vehicles designed, manufactured, and operated by private aerospace companies with NASA paying for flights for government astronauts to the ISS and LEO, much like the way private space tourism company Space Adventures bought Soyuz flights from the Russian government for space tourists. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have expressed doubts about the new plan, while other aerospace companies, including SpaceX, have strongly endorsed it.
To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond. — Mission Statement
NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. — Mission
To understand and protect our home planet, to explore the Universe and search for life, and to inspire the next generation of explorers... as only NASA can. — NASA Vision
In 2009, NASA announced that the agency plans to provide $1.75 million in funding to Jack Bergman of Harvard’s McLean Hospital to conduct an experiment on monkeys to determine the health effects of radiation exposure during travel in deep space. The plan has faced opposition from animal rights groups such as PETA and HSUS, a physicians’ group PCRM, and several federal legislators led by Representative Jim Moran of Virginia who claim that the grant should be cancelled because during the course of the experiment, the primates will likely contract malignant tumors as well as blindness, skin damage, cognitive decline, premature aging and death. PCRM also claims that the proposed use and isolation of primates would violate NASA's stated principles regarding animal ethics. The group has filed a federal complaint alleging that the experiments would also violate the Animal Welfare Act.
Public perception of the NASA budget is very different from reality and has been the subject of controversy since the agency's creation. A 1997 poll reported that Americans had an average estimate of 20% for NASA's share of the federal budget. In reality, NASA's budget has been between 0.5% and 1% from the late 1960s on. NASA budget briefly peaked at over 4% of the federal budget in the mid-1960s during the build up to the Apollo program.
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 Obama announced the nomination of Charles Bolden as NASA administrator, and Lori Garver as deputy administrator. Bolden was confirmed by the US Senate on July 15, 2009 as the twelfth administrator of NASA. Lori Garver was confirmed as NASA's deputy administrator.
Other leadership positions within NASA include:
In one of the nation's largest restoration projects, NASA technology helps state and federal government reclaim 15,100 acres (61 km2) 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.
A variety of large scale medical studies are being conducted in space via the National Space 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.
Earth Science Enterprise
Understanding of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment is the main objective of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. NASA currently has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cyrosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.
For years it has been cooperating with major environment related agencies and creating united projects to achieve their goal. Past Enterprise’s programs include:
Carbon sequestration assessment for Carbon Management (USDA, DOE)
Early warning systems for air and water quality for Homeland Security (OHS, NIMA, USGS)
Water cycle science for Water Management and Conservation (EPA, USDA)
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.
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.