NASA n : an independent agency of the United States government responsible for aviation and spaceflight [syn: National Aeronautics and Space Administration]
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, ) is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nation's public space program. NASA was established on July 29, 1958, by the National Aeronautics and Space Act.
In addition to the space program, it is also responsible for long-term civilian and military aerospace research. Since February 2006 NASA's self-described mission statement is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research."
NASA's motto is: "For the benefit of all". The motto of NASA's Office of Education is: Shaping the Future: Launching New Endeavors to Inspire the Next Generation of Explorers.
Following the Soviet space program's launch of the world's first human-made satellite (Sputnik 1) on 4 October, 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 an agreement that a new federal agency was needed to conduct all non-military activity in space. DARPA was also created at this time and many of DARPA's early space programs were soon transferred to NASA.
Explorer 1, officially Satellite 1958 Alpha, was the first Earth artificial satellite of the United States, having been launched at 10:48pm EST on 31 January 1958. On 29 July 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When it began operations on 1 October, 1958, NASA consisted mainly of the four laboratories and some 80 employees of the government's 46-year-old research agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). A significant contributor 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 after 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 U.S. and the USSR (the Space Race) that existed during the Cold War. Project Mercury, 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. defense 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 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 20 February 1962 during the 5 and a quarter-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 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on 23 March 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.
The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Apollo 1 ended tragically when all the astronauts inside died due to fire in command module during an experimental simulation. Because of this incident, there were a few unmanned tests before men boarded the spacecraft. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11, landed the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but did return 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.
Skylab was the first space station the United States launched into orbit. The 75 tonne station was in Earth orbit from 1973 to 1979, and was visited by crews three times, in 1973 and 1974. Skylab was originally intended to study gravitational anomalies in other solar systems, but the assignment was curtailed due to lack of funding and interest. 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.
Apollo-SoyuzThe Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (or ASTP) was the first joint flight of the U.S. and Soviet space programs. The mission took place in July 1975. For the United States of America, 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.
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 NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), 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 an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft (this time a full-fledged space station). 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 has 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, D.C. 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. Yet, NASA's shuttle program had made 116 successful launches as of December 2006.
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 reconsidered the future of the space program.
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 and Pluto. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system.
Managed by the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the Phoenix mission was launched on August 4, 2007. It will search for possible underground water courses in the northern Martian pole. This lander revives much of its experiments and instrumentation from the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander, hence its name. An improved and larger rover, Mars Science Laboratory, is under construction and slated to launch in 2009. On the horizon of NASA's plans are two possibilities under consideration for the Mars Scout 2013 mission.
The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and will fly by Pluto in 2015. The probe received a gravity assist from Jupiter in February 2007, examining some of Jupiter's inner moons and testing on-board instruments during the fly-by.
Vision for space explorationOn January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration. According to this plan, mankind 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.
Mission statementFrom 2002, NASA’s mission statement, used in budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.” In early February 2006, the statement was altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. Some outside observers believe the change is related to criticism of government policy on global warming by NASA scientists like James Hansen, but NASA officials have denied any such connection, pointing to new priorities for space exploration. The chair and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs wrote NASA Administrator Griffin on July 31, 2006 expressing concerns about the change. NASA also canceled or delayed a number of earth science missions in 2006.
Moon baseOn December 4 2006, NASA announced it was planning to build 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 like the International Space Station. Additionally, NASA plans to collaborate and partner with other nations for this project.
Man on MarsOn September 28, 2007, NASA administrator Michael D. Griffin stated that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037, and in 2057, "We should be celebrating 20 years of man on Mars."
The Cassini probe, launched in 1997 and in orbit around Saturn since mid-2004, is investigating Saturn and its inner satellites. With over twenty years in the making, Cassini-Huygens is an example of international cooperation between JPL-NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Built entirely by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, NASA probes have been continually performing science at Mars since 1997, with at least two orbiters since 2001 and several Mars rovers. The orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will continue monitoring the geology and climate of the Red Planet, as well as searching for evidence of past or present water and life, as they have since 2001 and 2006, respectively. If the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft's nine-year lifetime is typical, these probes will continue to advance our knowledge for years to come. The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been traversing the surface of Mars at Gusev crater and Meridiani Planum since early 2004, and will continue to image and investigate those environments. They have both already operated over ten times longer than expected, and remain a promising part of NASA's future. Adding to this flotilla is the Phoenix Mars Lander, which executed a nearly perfect powered touchdown in the northern latitudes of Mars on May 25, 2008 after a 10-month journey of more than 420 million miles.
NASA Advisory CouncilWith the creation of NASA in 1958, the NACA was abolished, and its research centers-- Ames Research Center, Lewis Research Center, and Langley Aeronautical Laboratory--were incorporated within the new space and aeronautics agency along with some elements of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. In 1967, Congress directed NASA to form an Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) to advise the NASA Administrator on safety issues and hazards in NASA's aerospace programs. In addition, there were the Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council.
In 1977, these were all combined to form the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) which is the successor to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
LeadershipThe Administrator of NASA is the highest-ranking official of that organization and serves as the senior space science advisor to the President of the United States. The role of the Administrator is to lead the NASA team and manage its resources to advance the U.S. Vision for Space Exploration. The current Administrator is Michael D. Griffin, who has served in that position since 2005.
The Deputy Administrator of NASA serves as the agency's second in command and is responsible to the administrator for providing overall leadership, planning, and policy direction for the agency. The deputy administrator represents NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of federal and other appropriate government agencies, international organizations, and external organizations and communities. The deputy administrator also oversees the day to day work of NASA’s functional offices, such as the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Office of General Counsel and Strategic Communications. The current Deputy Administrator is Shana Dale, who has served in that position since 2005.
Field installationsNASA's headquarters is located in Washington, D.C.
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.
- Ames Research Center, Moffett Federal Airfield, California
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
- Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
- John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland, Ohio
- Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York City
- Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
Construction and launch facilities
Deep Space Network
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:
- B-57 Canberra. Two Martin WB-57Fs are currently operating from Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center as high altitude research platforms for atmospheric research and Space Shuttle monitoring.
- Boeing 747. Two 747s, one registered N905NA (which is a 747-100 model that was acquired from American Airlines in 1974) and a second registered N911NA (a 747-100SR model purchased from Japan Airlines in 1988) are currently used by NASA as Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Another Boeing 747 (a 747SP model purchased from United Airlines in 1996) is in use since 2007 as SOFIA.
- C-141 Starlifter. In the early 1960s a single C-141A was procured by NASA for use as a heavy transport aircraft. The C-141A Kuiper Airborne Observatory, was operated from 1974 to 1995.
- C-5 Galaxy. Two specially designed C-5Cs were procured by NASA for use as a heavy transport aircraft and flown by USAF crews.
- C-9 Skytrain II. One ex-USN C-9B was taken in hand in 2005 to replace the famous KC-135s used in NASA's Reduced Gravity Research Program.
- Convair 990. Nicknamed Galileo, it was used as an airborne laboratory for research in aeronautics, astronautics, astronomy, and earth observations. The Galileo I aircraft perished in a mid-air collision in 1973. The Galileo II continued service into the 1980s.
- F-104 Starfighter. Three F-104Gs delivered to NASA in 1963 for use as high speed chase aircraft and redesignated F-104N. One of these aircraft, piloted by Joe Walker, collided with the XB-70 Valkyrie experimental bomber on June 8, 1966, killing Walker. NASA retired its last F-104 in 1995.
- F-106 Delta Dart. From 1986 a handful of F-106As, redesignated QF-106A, were retained by NASA for test purposes, the last being retired in 1998.
- F-15 Eagle. One modified ex-USAF F-15, the F-15S/MTD, has been in use as a technology demonstrator and technology research aircraft since 1993, being used in the ACTIVE (1993-1999) and IFCS (2002-) programs.
- F-16 Fighting Falcon. From 1988 until 1999, 2 prototypes of the F-16XL, designed as a competitor to the F-15E Strike Eagle in the USAF's Enhanced Tactical Fighter program, were taken in hand by NASA for aeronautical research.
- F-8 Crusader. Several F-8Cs were used by NASA in the early 1970s to test such features as Digital Fly-By-Wire Control System and supercritical wings, which have become standard on modern high performance military aircraft.
- KC-135 Stratotanker. Two ex-USAF KC-135As (designated N930NA and N931NA) were used by NASA from 1973 to 2004 for the Reduced Gravity Research Program, where potential astronauts are exposed to simulated near-weightlessness. It were these aircraft that collectively gained the name Vomit Comet.
- Paresev. The Paresev program included the Paresev 1B designed by Charles Richard and flown by eight pilots was a hanging-pilot glider; the ornamental lines of the wing of the Paresev 1B along with influence from the Fleep and other related actions and patents by Francis M. Rogallo gave foundation to the large hang gliders, ultralight trikes, and ultralight aircraft developments from 1960 forward; in count, this development has been outnumbering all other manned aircraft in the world.
- P-3 Orion. NASA currently uses the P-3 as an earth-science suborbital research platform and is located at Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
- SR-71 Blackbird. Two SR-71Bs were used as trainers by NASA between 1991 and 1999.
- T-38 Talon. A number of T-38As have been used by NASA as jet trainers for its astronauts since the 1960s. NASA's T-38 fleet is housed primarily at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas.
- U-2 "Dragon Lady". Two U-2s have been modified to the ER-2 (Earth Resources -2) standard and are currently in use at Dryden Flight Research Center for use in various high altitude research projects.
- North American X-15. Rocket plane which flew from 1959 to 1968. Conceived by NACA, three were built and explored the regime of hypersonic flight. It is often regarded as a direct predecessor to the Space Shuttle.
- 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
- 2005 – National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005
- NASA Budget 1958– 2005 in 1996 Constant Year Dollars
Awards and decorationsNASA 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. It is an annual award, given out at the National Aeronautics Space Foundation plant, located in Orlando, Florida.
Ozone DepletionIn the middle of the 20th century NASA augmented its mission of Earth’s observation and redirected it toward environmental quality. The result was the launch of Earth Observing System (EOS) in 1980s, which was able to monitor one of the global environmental problems – ozone depletion. The first comprehensive worldwide measurements were obtained in 1978 with the Nimbus-7 satellite and NASA scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Salt evaporationIn one of the nation's largest restoration projects NASA technology helps state and federal government reclaim of salt evaporation ponds in South San Francisco Bay. Satellite sensors are used by a group of scientist to study the effect of salt evaporation on local ecology.
Energy ManagementNASA 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.
Earth Science EnterpriseUnderstanding of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment is the main objective of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. For years it has been cooperating with major environment related agencies and creating united projects to achieve their goal. Past Enterprise’s programs include:
- Enhanced weather predication for Energy Forecasting (DOE, EPA)
- Carbon sequestration assessment for Carbon Management (USDA, DOE)
- Early warning systems for air and water quality for Homeland Security (OHS, NIMA, USGS)
- Environmental indicators for Community Growth Management (EPA, USGS, NSGIC)
- Environmental indicators for Coastal Management (NOAA)
- Environmental models for Biological Invasive Species (USGS, USDA)
- Water cycle science for Water Management and Conservation (EPA, USDA)
- Regional to national to international atmospheric measurements and predictions for Air Quality Management (EPA, NOAA)
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 EPA, 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.
On May 8, 2003, Environmental Protection Agency recognized NASA as the first federal agency to directly use landfill gas to produce energy at one of its facilities - the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
Delays to completing the International Space StationCurrently, the ISS relies on the Shuttle fleet for all major construction shipments. The Shuttle fleet lost two spacecraft and fourteen 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 has no plans to build another shuttle to replace the second loss, and instead will be transitioning to a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). The schedule NASA planned does have flexibility in it, and Associate Administrator for Space Operations William H. Gerstenmaier explained that the shuttle had completed three missions within six months in 2007, showing that NASA can still meet the deadlines necessary for the critical flights remaining.
Alleged alcohol useFollowing the arrest of Lisa Nowak in February of 2007, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin commissioned an independent panel, the NASA Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee, to examine how well NASA attended to the mental health of its astronauts. The initial report released by the panel raised questions in regards to possible alcohol use prior to flight. However, the report offered no specifics, no facts to substantiate the claims, and stated that no attempt to confirm or investigate the allegations had been performed.
Shuttle commander Scott J. Kelly was vocal in his criticism of the report during interviews prior to STS-118, stating that it was beyond his comprehension that astronauts would ever consider what was suggested. Additionally, investigation into all incident reports dating from 1984 to 2007, found no incident involving alcohol or drug use.}}
In response to the internal review, policies at NASA would be changed in a variety of ways: Flight surgeons would be present during the pre-mission suit-up activities, flight surgeons would receive additional training in psychiatric evaluation, and although there was an unofficial code of conduct in place, an official "Code of Conduct" would be written up for employees. and "reform-minded" Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, resigned on 25 March 2008, to be effective 11 April, after he ordered funding cuts to the Mars rovers 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, 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 favors cutting "less popular parts" of the budget, including basic research, and Stern's refusal to do so led to his resignation.
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