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NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower established NASA in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.
Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches.
NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics (physics of the Sun) through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.
Creation of NASA
As a result of the space race between USA and the Soviet Union in the 1950s, NASA was created in 1958 from NACA and other related organizations.
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. This led to an agreement that a new federal agency mainly based on NACA was needed to conduct all non-military activity in space. The Advanced Research Projects Agency was also created at this time to develop space technology for military application.
Space Flight Programs
Project Mercury (1959 - 1963) was the first human spaceflight program of the United States led by its newly created space agency NASA. It ran from 1959 through 1963 with the goal of putting a human in orbit around the Earth, and doing it before the Soviet Union, as part of the early space race. It involved 7 astronauts flying a total of 6 solo trips. On 5 May 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space in a suborbital flight after the Soviet Union had put Yuri Gagarin into space and orbit one month earlier. John Glenn became the first American to reach orbit on 20 February 1962. He was the third person to do so, after Soviet Gherman Titov made a day-long flight in August 1961. When the project ended in May 1963, the Americans' NASA program was still behind the Soviet Space Program, but the gap was seen as closing. The race to the Moon began.
Project Gemini (1965 - 1966) was the second human spaceflight program of NASA. Project Gemini was conducted between projects Mercury and Apollo, with ten manned flights occurring in 1965 and 1966. Its objective was to develop space travel techniques in support of Apollo, which had the goal of landing men on the Moon. Gemini achieved missions long enough for a trip to the Moon and back, perfected extra-vehicular activity (working outside a spacecraft), and orbital maneuvers necessary to achieve rendezvous and docking. All Gemini flights were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida using the Titan II Gemini launch vehicle ("GLV").
The Apollo program (1968 - 1972) was the third human spaceflight program carried out by NASA. The program was responsible for the landing of the first humans on Earth's Moon in 1969. The first manned flight of Apollo was in 1968. Kennedy's goal was accomplished on the Apollo 11 mission when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and walked on its surface while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command spacecraft, and all three landed safely on Earth on July 24. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. In these six spaceflights, 12 men walked on the Moon.
Skylab (1973 - 1979) was a space station launched and operated by NASA and was the United States' first space station. Skylab orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979, and included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems. It was launched unmanned by a modified Saturn V rocket. Three manned missions to the station, conducted between 1973 and 1974 using the Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) atop the smaller Saturn IB, each delivered a three-astronaut crew. On the last two manned missions, an additional Apollo / Saturn IB stood by ready to rescue the crew in orbit if it was needed.
The Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) (1975), was the first joint U.S.–Soviet space flight, and the last flight of an Apollo spacecraft. Its primary purpose was as a symbol of the policy of détente that the two superpowers were pursuing at the time, and marked the end of the Space Race between them that began in 1957. The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments (including an engineered eclipse of the Sun by Apollo to allow Soyuz to take photographs of the solar corona), and provided useful engineering experience for future joint US–Russian space flights, such as the Shuttle–Mir Program and the International Space Station.
The Space Shuttle Program (1981 - 2011), was NASA's manned launch vehicle program officially beginning in 1972. The winged Space Shuttle orbiter, planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, was launched vertically like a conventional rocket with the two SRBs (solid rocket boosters) operating in parallel with the Orbiter Vehicle's three main engines, usually carrying four to seven astronauts and up to 22,700 kg of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). When its mission was complete, the Shuttle could independently move itself out of orbit using its Orbital Maneuvering System and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. During descent and landing the orbiter acted as a re-entry vehicle and a glider, using its system and flight control surfaces to maintain altitude until it made an unpowered landing at either Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base.
The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first space flight by Yuri Gagarin. NASA's Space Shuttle program had 135 missions when the program ended with the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011. The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.
The International Space Station (ISS) (1993 - present) is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. It is a modular structure whose first component was launched in 1998. Now the largest artificial body in orbit, it can often be seen at the appropriate time with the naked eye from Earth. The ISS consists of pressurised modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components. ISS components have been launched by American Space Shuttles as well as Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets.
Commercial Resupply Services (2006 - present) began with the purpose of creating American commercially operated uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the International Space Station (ISS).
Unmanned programs: More than 1,000 unmanned missions have been designed by NASA over the time to explore the Earth and the solar system. Besides exploration, communication satellites have also been launched by NASA. The missions have been launched directly from Earth or from orbiting space shuttles, which could either deploy the satellite itself, or with a rocket stage to take it farther.
Recent and planned activities: NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are MESSENGER for Mercury, New Horizons (for Jupiter, Pluto, and beyond), and Dawn for the asteroid belt. NASA continued to support in situ exploration beyond the asteroid belt, including Pioneer and Voyager traverses into the unexplored trans-Pluto region, and Gas Giant orbiters Galileo (1989–2003), Cassini (1997–), and Juno (2011–).
Spin-off technologies: space medicine, ozone depletion, energy management, Earth science
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