About NASA

NASA: NASA is the agency responsible for the United States of America’s civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

What does NASA stand for?

NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It heads the United States of America’s space program, and aeronautics and aerospace research.

What is NASA?

NASA is a United States Government Agency. It is the country’s national civilian space program. It also conducts aeronautics and aerospace research. The agency was set up in 1958. Its operations are civilian and it encourages peaceful applications in space science, as opposed to developing military applications from its research.

Since it began operations, NASA has been credited with most of U.S. space exploration efforts. These include missions such as the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and the Space Shuttle. NASA is also currently supporting the International Space Station, as well as overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles.

How and when was NASA formed?

On March 3, 1915, a U.S. federal agency called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was formed. Its main objective was to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. From 1946 onward, the NACA was mainly involved with developing and experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.

However on October 4, 1957, Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1. Due to the bitter rivalry between Soviet Union and the US at the time, US could not just let the Soviets get away with this. So, on July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA.

NASA began operations on October 1, 1958, by essentially absorbing NACA whole. Due to this absorption, NASA gained NACA’s 8,000 employees, its annual budget of US$100 million, as well as NACA’s three existing major research laboratories: Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, and two small test facilities. Furthermore, in December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology.

What are the functions of NASA?

Essentially, the main function of NASA is to conduct aeronautics and aerospace research, as well as to develop and maintain the U.S. Space Program. Since February 2006, NASA’s mission statement is to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”  Its vision is “to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”
According to NASA, its work is currently divided into four mission directorates:

  • Aeronautics: to solve the challenges that still exist in US's air transportation system: air traffic congestion, safety and environmental impacts.
  • Human Exploration and Operations: focus on International Space Station operations, development of commercial spaceflight opportunities and human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
  • Science: exploring the Earth, solar system and universe beyond; charting the best route of discovery; and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society.
  • Space Technology: rapidly developing, demonstrating, and infusing revolutionary, high-payoff technologies, expanding the boundaries of the aerospace enterprise.

What is the budget of NASA?

In 1966, the budget of NASA was approximately 3.3% of the federal budget. This was allotted, as NASA was currently in the middle of the Apollo Project; a project which had garnered a lot of national and international hype. The Apollo Project turned out to be a pinnacle moment in human history.

However, since the 1970’s, the budget of NASA has been approximately 1% of the federal budget. Since the mid-1990’s, the percentage allocated has steadily dropped. By the year 2000, the budget was approximately 0.75% of the federal budget. In 2012, the budget of NASA was 0.48% of the federal budget, which comes out to approximately US$17.77 billion.

However, many people actually believe that NASA’s budget is much higher, some even believing up to 20%. There has actually been talk and support for increasing and even doubling the budget of NASA. However, there is no official talk or report supporting this viewpoint.

Where are some of the NASA facilities?

NASA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The NASA Headquarters provides overall guidance and political leadership to the agency. In addition, there are 10 NASA field centers, which provide leadership for and execution of NASA's work. The other facilities essentially fall under the leadership of one of the field centers.

The 10 NASA field centers:

  1. Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) – located in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA. It is dedicated to increasing knowledge of the Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe via observations from space. It is a laboratory for developing and operating unmanned scientific spacecraft.
  2. John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – located on Merritt Island, Florida, adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968.
  3. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California. It is involved in the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft. Furthermore, it conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network.
  4. Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) – located inside Edwards Air Force Base, northeast of Lancaster, California. It primarily conducts NASA’s aeronautical research and operates some of the most advanced aircraft in the world.
  5. John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field (GRC) – located in Cleveland, Ohio. The center excels in researching and developing innovative technologies for both aeronautics and space flight. It supports NASA’s missions and major programs.
  6. George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) – located on the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. It is NASA’s lead center for Space Shuttle propulsion and its external tank, as well as payloads, related crew training, International Space Station (ISS) design and assembly, in addition to computers, networks, and information management.
  7. Ames Research Center (ARC) – located in California's Silicon Valley. It mainly conducts wind-tunnel research on the aerodynamics of propeller-driven aircraft. It also does research and technology in aeronautics, spaceflight, and information technology, such as in astrobiology, small satellites, robotic lunar exploration, intelligent/adaptive systems and thermal protection.
  8. Langley Research Center (LaRC) – located in Hampton, Virginia. It focuses mainly on aeronautical research. It also conducts some space programs. It has and uses 40 wind tunnels to study improved aircraft and spacecraft safety, performance, and efficiency.
  9. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) – located in Houston, Texas. It is NASA’s center for human spaceflight training, research and flight control. It is responsible for training astronauts from both the U.S. and its international partners. It also acts "Mission Control" for various programs of NASA.
  10. NASA Shared Services Center – located at John C. Stennis Space Center, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Another facility is the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) – located at Tidbinbilla, Australia. It is part of the Deep Space Network run by JPL. It manages most of NASA's activities in Australia. It is one of three facilities; other two are the Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex located in Spain and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the United States.

What are some of the projects and missions of NASA?

Some historic and famous projects of NASA:

  • Project Mercury, which aimed to make the first single-astronaut flights into Earth orbit.
  • Project Gemini was a two-man program in 1962 to overcome the Soviets' lead and to support the Apollo program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and docking to its objectives.
  • The Apollo program (one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever) essentially put men on the Moon. On July 20, 1969, as part of Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first of 12 men to walk on the moon.
  • Space Shuttle program which was a reusable ship to provide regular access to space.
  • NASA developed the first weather and communications satellites.
  • Terra and Aqua satellites, which orbit the Earth and collect data on how the planet is changing.
  • NASA also established permanent human presence in space aboard the International Space Station, which is a multinational project representing the work of 16 nations.
  • In 1997, NASA launched Mars Pathfinder, which was the first spacecraft to explore the surface of Mars.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope which explores the universe.

Active and ongoing projects:

  • The Curiosity Rover is currently traveling on and studying Mars’ terrain.
  • MESSENGER for Mercury
  • New Horizons for Jupiter, Pluto, and beyond
  • Dawn for the asteroid belt
  • Pioneer and Voyager explore
  • Cassini is in orbit around Saturn
  • Juno is making its way to Jupiter
  • NASA is developing the James Webb Space Telescope
  • NASA is currently helping to foster the development of private-sector aerospace.
  • NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore beyond Earth orbit, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars.
  • NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible
  • NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025.


Image Courtesy: lonelyconservative.com, intern-nasa.blogspot.com, mrjanewayushistory.wordpress.com

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