Topics: Space Exploration - 1. NASA


National Aeronautics and Space Administration


United States space agency

Independent U.S. governmental agency established in 1958 for the research and development of vehicles and activities for the exploration of space within and outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The organization is composed of five program offices: Aeronautics and Space Technology, for the development of equipment; Space Science and Applications, dealing with programs for understanding the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe, the solar system, and the Earth; Space Flight, concerning manned and unmanned space transportation and all matters to do with the space shuttle; Space Tracking and Data, involving tracking and data acquisition; and Space Station, which has a long-term goal of establishing a manned space station. A number of additional research centres are affiliated, including the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; and the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Headquarters of NASA are in Washington, D.C.

NASA was created largely in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957. It was organized around the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which had been created by Congress in 1915. NASA’s organization was well underway by the early years of President John F. Kennedy’s administration, when Kennedy proposed that the United States put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. To that end the Apollo program was designed, and in 1969 the U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon. Later unmanned programs—such as Viking, Mariner, Voyager, and Galileo—explored other bodies of the solar system.

NASA was also responsible for the development and launching of a number of satellites with Earth applications, such as Landsat, a series of satellites designed to collect information on natural resources and other Earth features; communications satellites; and weather satellites. It also planned and developed the space shuttle, a reusable vehicle capable of carrying out missions that cannot be conducted with conventional spacecraft.