Happy Birthday, NASA! On October 1, 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration opened for business. Earlier that year President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, creating the agency. NASA accelerated the work that was started on human and robotic spaceflight by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Over the last 60 years, NASA has explored space and made discoveries about our planet, solar system, and universe; advanced aviation; helped to develop a commercial space industry; and strengthened national security.
Here are some of the highlights of NASA’s 60-year history.
American Astronauts in Space
NASA’s first high-profile program was Project Mercury, which had the objective of putting humans in space. There were 25 flights between 1961 and 1963. Alan Shepard was the first American in space. He made a 15-minute sub-orbital flight in May 1961. John Glenn would go on to orbit the Earth in February 1962.
These missions were followed by Project Gemini, which perfected the capabilities needed to put a man in space and on the Moon. Astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in space during the Gemini IV mission in the summer of 1965. Swift advances were made through the end of the 1960s with President Kennedy’s challenge for Americans to reach the Moon. Project Apollo landed the first humans on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. There were 16 Apollo missions through 1972, some were more successful than others.
Modern Human Spaceflight
Skylab expeditions in the 1970s paved the way for the International Space Station. NASA’s space shuttle era began in the 1980s. Reusable spacecraft made a total of 135 missions carrying 355 different people into orbit. Satellites were launched, recovered, and repaired. The largest structure in space, the International Space Station, was build during these missions. The first woman, Sally Ride, and first African-American, Guy Bluford, in space flew on these missions.
The International Space Station is a place of global cooperation and scientific advancements. Built between 1998 and 2011, the space station has continuously housed astronauts from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Space Agency since November 2000.
Understanding our Solar System
NASA’s sole objective hasn’t been getting to the Moon. The agency has also made discoveries about our planet and other bodies in our solar system and universe. The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed in 1990. This instrument has increased our understanding of cosmos, black holes, dark energy/matter, and other planets. NASA has also launched rovers and satellites to inspect other planets, like Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto.
What does the future hold for NASA? The agency plans to go back to the Moon in hopes of learning more about what it will take to support human exploration, and possibly live, on Mars and other planets. NASA also studies aeronautics. Improvements to air transportation and quiet supersonic technology will continue. Researchers also plan to better understand our own planet and the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope will study the history of our universe and the atmospheres of planets. Earlier this year, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was launched and will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. Unmanned missions are also planned to Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa. For NASA the sky is no limit.