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NASA – Wikipedia

space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA ) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.[note 1]

NASA was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science.[7][8][9] Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. 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 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;[10] advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program;[11] exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft missions such as New Horizons;[12] and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs.[13]

From 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had been experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.[14] In the early 1950s, there was challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year (195758). An effort for this was the American Project Vanguard. After the Soviet 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 US 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. On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a “Special Committee on Space Technology”, headed by Guyford Stever.[9] On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published “A National Research Program for Space Technology” stating:[15]

It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space … It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency … NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology.[15]

While this new federal agency would conduct all non-military space activity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created in February 1958 to develop space technology for military application.[16]

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA. When it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA absorbed the 43-year-old NACA intact; its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of US$100million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.[17] A NASA seal was approved by President Eisenhower in 1959.[18] Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were incorporated into NASA. A significant contributor to NASA’s entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was the technology from the German rocket program led by Wernher von Braun, who was now working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), which in turn incorporated the technology of American scientist Robert Goddard’s earlier works.[19] Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force[17] and many of ARPA’s early space programs were also transferred to NASA.[20] In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology.[17]

The agency’s leader, NASA’s administrator, is nominated by the President of the United States subject to approval of the US Senate, and reports to him or her and serves as senior space science advisor. Though space exploration is ostensibly non-partisan, the appointee usually is associated with the President’s political party (Democratic or Republican), and a new administrator is usually chosen when the Presidency changes parties. The only exceptions to this have been:

The first administrator was Dr. T. Keith Glennan appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his term he brought together the disparate projects in American space development research.[24]

The second administrator, James E. Webb (19611968), appointed by President John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat who first publicly served under President Harry S. Truman. In order to implement the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy’s Moon landing goal by the end of the 1960s, Webb directed major management restructuring and facility expansion, establishing the Houston Manned Spacecraft (Johnson) Center and the Florida Launch Operations (Kennedy) Center. Capitalizing on Kennedy’s legacy, President Lyndon Johnson kept continuity with the Apollo program by keeping Webb on when he succeeded Kennedy in November 1963. But Webb resigned in October 1968 before Apollo achieved its goal, and Republican President Richard M. Nixon replaced Webb with Republican Thomas O. Paine.

James Fletcher was responsible for early planning of the Space Shuttle program during his first term as administrator under President Nixon. He was appointed for a second term as administrator from May 1986 through April 1989 by President Ronald Reagan to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Former astronaut Charles Bolden served as NASA’s twelfth administrator from July 2009 to January 20, 2017.[25] Bolden is one of three former astronauts who became NASA administrators, along with Richard H. Truly (served 19891992) and Frederick D. Gregory (acting, 2005).

The agency’s administration is located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC and provides overall guidance and direction.[26] Except under exceptional circumstances, NASA civil service employees are required to be citizens of the United States.[27]

NASA has conducted many manned and unmanned spaceflight programs throughout its history. Unmanned programs launched the first American artificial satellites into Earth orbit for scientific and communications purposes, and sent scientific probes to explore the planets of the solar system, starting with Venus and Mars, and including “grand tours” of the outer planets. Manned programs sent the first Americans into low Earth orbit (LEO), won the Space Race with the Soviet Union by landing twelve men on the Moon from 1969 to 1972 in the Apollo program, developed a semi-reusable LEO Space Shuttle, and developed LEO space station capability by itself and with the cooperation of several other nations including post-Soviet Russia. Some missions include both manned and unmanned aspects, such as the Galileo probe, which was deployed by astronauts in Earth orbit before being sent unmanned to Jupiter.

The experimental rocket-powered aircraft programs started by NACA were extended by NASA as support for manned spaceflight. This was followed by a one-man space capsule program, and in turn by a two-man capsule program. Reacting to loss of national prestige and security fears caused by early leads in space exploration by the Soviet Union, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960s], and returning him safely to the Earth.” This goal was met in 1969 by the Apollo program, and NASA planned even more ambitious activities leading to a manned mission to Mars. However, reduction of the perceived threat and changing political priorities almost immediately caused the termination of most of these plans. NASA turned its attention to an Apollo-derived temporary space laboratory, and a semi-reusable Earth orbital shuttle. In the 1990s, funding was approved for NASA to develop a permanent Earth orbital space station in cooperation with the international community, which now included the former rival, post-Soviet Russia. To date, NASA has launched a total of 166 manned space missions on rockets, and thirteen X-15 rocket flights above the USAF definition of spaceflight altitude, 260,000 feet (80km).[28]

The X-15 was an NACA experimental rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft, developed in conjunction with the US Air Force and Navy. The design featured a slender fuselage with fairings along the side containing fuel and early computerized control systems.[29] Requests for proposal were issued on December 30, 1954, for the airframe, and February 4, 1955, for the rocket engine. The airframe contract was awarded to North American Aviation in November 1955, and the XLR30 engine contract was awarded to Reaction Motors in 1956, and three planes were built. The X-15 was drop-launched from the wing of one of two NASA Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, NB52A tail number 52-003, and NB52B, tail number 52-008 (known as the Balls 8). Release took place at an altitude of about 45,000 feet (14km) and a speed of about 500 miles per hour (805km/h).

Twelve pilots were selected for the program from the Air Force, Navy, and NACA (later NASA). A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a manned powered aircraft (current as of 2014[update]), and a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, 4,519 miles per hour (7,273km/h).[30] The altitude record for X-15 was 354,200 feet (107.96km).[31] Eight of the pilots were awarded Air Force astronaut wings for flying above 260,000 feet (80km), and two flights by Joseph A. Walker exceeded 100 kilometers (330,000ft), qualifying as spaceflight according to the International Aeronautical Federation. The X-15 program employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets for controlling the orientation of a spacecraft, space suits, and horizon definition for navigation.[31] The reentry and landing data collected were valuable to NASA for designing the Space Shuttle.[29]

Shortly after the Space Race began, an early objective was to get a person into Earth orbit as soon as possible, therefore the simplest spacecraft that could be launched by existing rockets was favored. The US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program considered many manned spacecraft designs, ranging from rocket planes like the X-15, to small ballistic space capsules.[32] By 1958, the space plane concepts were eliminated in favor of the ballistic capsule.[33]

When NASA was created that same year, the Air Force program was transferred to it and renamed Project Mercury. The first seven astronauts were selected among candidates from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Freedom7, launched by a Redstone booster on a 15-minute ballistic (suborbital) flight.[34] John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit, by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20, 1962, aboard Friendship7.[35] Glenn completed three orbits, after which three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight Faith 7, May 1516, 1963.[36]

The Soviet Union (USSR) competed with its own single-pilot spacecraft, Vostok. They sent the first man in space, by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into a single Earth orbit aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961, one month before Shepard’s flight.[37] In August 1962, they achieved an almost four-day record flight with Andriyan Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3, and also conducted a concurrent Vostok 4 mission carrying Pavel Popovich.

Based on studies to grow the Mercury spacecraft capabilities to long-duration flights, developing space rendezvous techniques, and precision Earth landing, Project Gemini was started as a two-man program in 1962 to overcome the Soviets’ lead and to support the Apollo manned lunar landing program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous and docking to its objectives. The first manned Gemini flight, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965.[38] Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, demonstrating an endurance mission of nearly fourteen days, rendezvous, docking, and practical EVA, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.[39][40]

Under the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the USSR competed with Gemini by converting their Vostok spacecraft into a two- or three-man Voskhod. They succeeded in launching two manned flights before Gemini’s first flight, achieving a three-cosmonaut flight in 1963 and the first EVA in 1964. After this, the program was canceled, and Gemini caught up while spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev developed the Soyuz spacecraft, their answer to Apollo.

The U.S public’s perception of the Soviet lead in the space race (by putting the first man into space) motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the Congress on May 25, 1961, to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which effectively launched the Apollo program.[41]

Apollo was one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever. It cost more than $20 billion in 1960s dollars[42] or an estimated $218billion in present-day US dollars.[43] (In comparison, the Manhattan Project cost roughly $27.8billion, accounting for inflation.)[43][44] It used the Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, which were far bigger than the rockets built for previous projects.[45] The spacecraft was also bigger; it had two main parts, the combined command and service module (CSM) and the lunar landing module (LM). The LM was to be left on the Moon and only the command module (CM) containing the three astronauts would eventually return to Earth.[note 2]

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December 1968.[46] Shortly before, the Soviets had sent an unmanned spacecraft around the Moon.[47] On the next two missions docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced[48][49] and then finally the Moon landing was made on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.[50]

The first person to stand on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, who was followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions returned a wealth of scientific data and 381.7 kilograms (842lb) of lunar samples. Topics covered by experiments performed included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismology, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind.[51] The Moon landing marked the end of the space race; and as a gesture, Armstrong mentioned mankind when he stepped down on the Moon.[52]

Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body.[53] Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit to date. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museums.

Skylab was the United States’ first and only independently built space station.[54] Conceived in 1965 as a workshop to be constructed in space from a spent Saturn IB upper stage, the 169,950lb (77,088kg) station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14, 1973, atop the first two stages of a Saturn V, into a 235-nautical-mile (435km) orbit inclined at 50 to the equator. Damaged during launch by the loss of its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panel, it was repaired to functionality by its first crew. It was occupied for a total of 171 days by 3 successive crews in 1973 and 1974.[54] It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory.[54] NASA planned to have a Space Shuttle dock with it, and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but the Shuttle was not ready for flight before Skylab’s re-entry on July 11, 1979.[55]

To save cost, NASA used one of the Saturn V rockets originally earmarked for a canceled Apollo mission to launch the Skylab. Apollo spacecraft were used for transporting astronauts to and from the station. Three three-man crews stayed aboard the station for periods of 28, 59, and 84 days. Skylab’s habitable volume was 11,290 cubic feet (320m3), which was 30.7 times bigger than that of the Apollo Command Module.[55]

On May 24, 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement calling for a joint manned space mission, and declaring intent for all future international manned spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other.[56] This authorized the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), involving the rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit of a surplus Apollo Command/Service Module with a Soyuz spacecraft. The mission took place in July 1975. This was the last US manned space flight until the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981.[57]

The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments, and provided useful engineering experience for future joint USRussian space flights, such as the ShuttleMir Program[58] and the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981,[59] the 20th anniversary of the first known human space flight.[60]

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. The shuttle could orbit in altitudes of 185643km (115400 miles)[61] and carry a maximum payload (to low orbit) of 24,400kg (54,000lb).[62] Missions could last from 5 to 17 days and crews could be from 2 to 8 astronauts.[61]

On 20 missions (198398) the Space Shuttle carried Spacelab, designed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Spacelab was not designed for independent orbital flight, but remained in the Shuttle’s cargo bay as the astronauts entered and left it through an airlock.[63] Another famous series of missions were the launch and later successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and 1993, respectively.[64]

In 1995, Russian-American interaction resumed with the ShuttleMir missions (19951998). Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation has continued with Russia and the United States as two of the biggest partners in the largest space station 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 during the two-year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.[65] While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss.[65] 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 program spanned 30 years with over 300 astronauts sent into space.[66]

The International Space Station (ISS) combines NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kib laboratory module.[67] NASA originally planned in the 1980s to develop Freedom alone, but US budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national program in 1993, managed by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).[68][69] The station consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components, which have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and the US Space Shuttles.[67] It is currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. The on-orbit assembly began in 1998, the completion of the US Orbital Segment occurred in 2011 and the completion of the Russian Orbital Segment is expected by 2016.[70][71][needs update] The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements[72] which divide the station into two areas and allow Russia to retain full ownership of the Russian Orbital Segment (with the exception of Zarya),[73][74] with the US Orbital Segment allocated between the other international partners.[72]

Long duration missions to the ISS are referred to as ISS Expeditions. Expedition crew members typically spend approximately six months on the ISS.[75] The initial expedition crew size was three, temporarily decreased to two following the Columbia disaster. Since May 2009, expedition crew size has been six crew members.[76] Crew size is expected to be increased to seven, the number the ISS was designed for, once the Commercial Crew Program becomes operational.[77] The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 18years and 73days, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations.[78][79]

The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye and, as of 2019, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit with a mass and volume greater than that of any previous space station.[80] The Soyuz spacecraft delivers crew members, stays docked for their half-year-long missions and then returns them home. Several uncrewed cargo spacecraft service the ISS, they are the Russian Progress spacecraft which has done so since 2000, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, the American Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013. The Space Shuttle, before its retirement, was also used for cargo transfer and would often switch out expedition crew members, although it did not have the capability to remain docked for the duration of their stay. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready, crew members will travel to and from the International Space Station exclusively aboard the Soyuz.[81] The highest number of people occupying the ISS has been thirteen; this occurred three times during the late Shuttle ISS assembly missions.[82]

The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, and may be extended beyond 2028.[83]

Dragon being berthed to the ISS in May 2012

Cygnus berthed to the ISS in September 2013

The development of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicles began in 2006 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the ISS.[84] The development of these vehicles was under a fixed price milestone-based program, meaning that each company that received a funded award had a list of milestones with a dollar value attached to them that they didn’t receive until after they had successfully completed the milestone.[85] Companies were also required to raise an unspecified amount of private investment for their proposal.[86]

On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Commercial Resupply Services contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation.[87] SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.[88] Orbital Sciences uses its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dragon resupply mission occurred in May 2012.[89] The first Cygnus resupply mission occurred in September 2013.[90] The CRS program now provides for all America’s ISS cargo needs; with the exception of a few vehicle-specific payloads that are delivered on the European ATV and the Japanese HTV.[91]

Rendering of CST-100 in orbit

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program was started in 2010 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated crewed spacecraft capable of delivering at least four crew members to the ISS, staying docked for 180 days and then returning them back to Earth.[92] It is hoped that these vehicles could also transport non-NASA customers to private space stations such those planned by Bigelow Aerospace.[93] Like COTS, CCDev is also a fixed price milestone-based developmental program that requires some private investment.[85]

In 2010, NASA announced the winners of the first phase of the program, a total of $50million was divided among five American companies to foster research and development into human spaceflight concepts and technologies in the private sector. In 2011, the winners of the second phase of the program were announced, $270million was divided among four companies.[94] In 2012, the winners of the third phase of the program were announced, NASA provided $1.1 billion divided among three companies to further develop their crew transportation systems.[95] In 2014, the winners of the final round were announced.[96] SpaceX’s Dragon V2 (planned to be launched on a Falcon 9 v1.1) received a contract valued up to $2.6 billion and Boeing’s CST-100 (to be launched on an Atlas V) received a contract valued up to $4.2 billion.[97] NASA expects these vehicles to begin transporting humans to the ISS in 2019.[98]

For missions beyond low Earth orbit (BLEO), NASA has been directed to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), a Saturn-V class rocket, and the two to six person, beyond low Earth orbit spacecraft, Orion. In February 2010, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed eliminating public funds for the Constellation program and shifting greater responsibility of servicing the ISS to private companies.[99] During a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, Obama proposed a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) to replace the formerly planned Ares V.[100] In his speech, Obama called for a manned mission to an asteroid as soon as 2025, and a manned mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[100] The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 11, 2010.[101] The act officially canceled the Constellation program.[101]

The Authorization Act required a newly designed HLV be chosen within 90 days of its passing; the launch vehicle was given the name “Space Launch System”. The new law also required the construction of a beyond low earth orbit spacecraft.[102] The Orion spacecraft, which was being developed as part of the Constellation program, was chosen to fulfill this role.[103] The Space Launch System is planned to launch both Orion and other necessary hardware for missions beyond low Earth orbit.[104] The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions. The initial capability of SLS is required to be able to lift 70 mt into LEO. It is then planned to be upgraded to 105 mt and then eventually to 130 mt.[103][105] Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), an unmanned test flight of Orion’s crew module, was launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket.[105] Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is the unmanned initial launch of SLS that would also send Orion on a circumlunar trajectory, which is planned for 2019.[105]

NASA’s next major space initiative is to be the construction of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G, formerly known as the “Deep Space Gateway”). This initiative is to involve the construction of a new “Space-Station” type of habitation, which will have many features in common with the current International Space Station, except that it will be in orbit about the Moon, instead of the Earth.[106] This space station will be designed primarily for non-continuous human habitation. The first tentative steps of returning to manned lunar missions will be Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which is to include the Orion crew module, propelled by the SLS, and is to launch in 2022. This mission is to be a 10- to 14-day mission planned to briefly place a crew of four into Lunar orbit.[105] The construction of the “Lunar Orbital Platform” is to begin with the following Exploration Mission-3 (EM-3), which is planned to deliver a crew of 4 to Lunar orbit along with the first module(s) of the new space-station. This mission will last for up to 26 days.

On June 5, 2016, NASA and DARPA announced plans to also build a series of new X-planes over the next 10 years.[107] One of the planes will be the Quiet Supersonic Technology project, burning low-carbon biofuels and generating quiet sonic booms.[107]

NASA plans to build full scale deep space habitats such as the Lunar Orbital Platform and the Nautilus-X as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.[108]

In 2017, NASA was directed by the congressional NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 to get humans to Mars-orbit (or to the Martian surface) by 2033.[109][110]

More than 1,000 unmanned missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the solar system.[111] Besides exploration, communication satellites have also been launched by NASA.[112] 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.

The first US unmanned satellite was Explorer 1, which started as an ABMA/JPL project during the early part of the Space Race. It was launched in January 1958, two months after Sputnik. At the creation of NASA, the Explorer project was transferred to the agency and still continues to this day. Its missions have been focusing on the Earth and the Sun, measuring magnetic fields and the solar wind, among other aspects.[113] A more recent Earth mission, not related to the Explorer program, was the Hubble Space Telescope, which as mentioned above was brought into orbit in 1990.[114]

The inner Solar System has been made the goal of at least four unmanned programs. The first was Mariner in the 1960s and ’70s, which made multiple visits to Venus and Mars and one to Mercury. Probes launched under the Mariner program were also the first to make a planetary flyby (Mariner 2), to take the first pictures from another planet (Mariner 4), the first planetary orbiter (Mariner 9), and the first to make a gravity assist maneuver (Mariner 10). This is a technique where the satellite takes advantage of the gravity and velocity of planets to reach its destination.[115]

The first successful landing on Mars was made by Viking 1 in 1976. Twenty years later a rover was landed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder.[116]

Outside Mars, Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973. More than 20 years later Galileo sent a probe into the planet’s atmosphere, and became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet.[117] Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn in 1979, with Voyager 2 making the first (and so far only) visits to Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989, respectively. The first spacecraft to leave the solar system was Pioneer 10 in 1983. For a time it was the most distant spacecraft, but it has since been surpassed by both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.[118]

Pioneers 10 and 11 and both Voyager probes carry messages from the Earth to extraterrestrial life.[119][120] Communication can be difficult with deep space travel. For instance, it took about three hours for a radio signal to reach the New Horizons spacecraft when it was more than halfway to Pluto.[121] Contact with Pioneer 10 was lost in 2003. Both Voyager probes continue to operate as they explore the outer boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.[122]

On November 26, 2011, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission was successfully launched for Mars. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and subsequently began its search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.[123][124][125]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini(19972017), and Juno (2011). In the early 2000s, NASA was put on course for the Moon, however in 2010 this program was cancelled (see Constellation program). As part of that plan the Shuttle was going to be replaced, however, although it was retired its replacement was also cancelled, leaving the US with no human spaceflight launcher for the first time in over three decades.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[126]

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base.[127] The goal was to start building the Moon base by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. However, in 2009, the Augustine Committee found the program to be on an “unsustainable trajectory.”[128] In 2010, President Barack Obama halted existing plans, including the Moon base, and directed a generic focus on manned missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.[129]

Since 2011, NASA’s strategic goals have been[130]

In August 2011, NASA accepted the donation of two space telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office. Despite being stored unused, the instruments are superior to the Hubble Space Telescope.[131]

In September 2011, NASA announced the start of the Space Launch System program to develop a human-rated heavy lift vehicle. The Space Launch System is intended to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and other elements towards the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and one day Mars.[132] The Orion MPCV conducted an unmanned test launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.[133]

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is currently scheduled to launch in May 2020.[134]

On August 6, 2012, NASA landed the rover Curiosity on Mars. On August 27, 2012, Curiosity transmitted the first pre-recorded message from the surface of Mars back to Earth, made by Administrator Charlie Bolden:

Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life … new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond to Mars.

This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy others have tried only America has fully succeeded. The investment we are making … the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future. Thank you.[135]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini (19972017), and Juno (2011).

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[126]

There was a new executive administration in the United States, which directed NASA to send Humans to Mars by the year 2033.[109][136] Foci in general for NASA were noted as human space exploration, space science, and technology.[136] The Europa Clipper and Mars 2020 continue to be supported for their planned schedules.[137]

In 2018, NASA alongside with other companies including Sensor Coating Systems, Pratt & Whitney, Monitor Coating and UTRC have launched the project CAUTION (CoAtings for Ultra High Temperature detectION). This project aims to enhance the temperature range of the Thermal History Coating up to 1,500C and beyond. The final goal of this project is improving the safety of jet engines as well as increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.[138]

Recent and planned activities include:

In response to the Apollo 1 accident which killed three astronauts 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 the aftermath of the Shuttle Columbia accident, Congress required that the ASAP submit an annual report to the NASA Administrator and to Congress.[143] By 1971, NASA had also established the Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council to provide the administrator with advisory committee support. In 1977, the latter two were combined to form the NASA Advisory Council (NAC).[144]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 reaffirmed the importance of ASAP.

Some of the major NASA directives were to land people on the Moon, build the space shuttle, and build a large space station. Typically, the major directives had the intervention of the science advisory, political, funding, and public interest that synergized into various waves of effort often heavily swayed by technical, funding, and worldwide events. For example, there was a major push to build Space Station Freedom in the 1980s, but when the Cold War ended, the Russians, the Americans and other international partners came together to build the International Space Station.

In the 2010s, the major shift was the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the development of a new manned heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Missions for the new System have varied but overall, they were similar as it primarily involved the desire to send a human into the space. The Space Exploration Initiative of the 1980s opened newer avenues of galaxy exploration.

In the coming decades, the focus is gradually shifting towards exploration of planet Mars; however, some differences exist over the technologies to develop and focus on for the exploration.[145] One of the options considered was the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).[145] ARM had largely been defunded in 2017, but the key technologies developed for ARM would be utilized for future exploration, especially on a solar electric propulsion system.[146][145]

Longer project execution timelines means its up to the future officials to execute on a directive, which often leads to directional mismanagement. For example, a Shuttle replacement has numerous components involved, each making some headway before being called off for various reasons including the National Aerospace Plane, Venture Star, Orbital Space Plane, Ares I, and others. The asteroid mission was not a major directive in the 2010s. Instead, the general support rested with the long-term goal of getting humans to Mars. The space shuttle was retired and much of the existing road map was shelved including the then planned Lunar Return and Ares I human launch vehicle.

Previously, in the early 2000s, there was a plan called the Constellation Program but this was defunded in the early 2010s.[147][148][149][150] In the 1990s, there was a plan called “Faster, Better, Cheaper”[151] In the 1980s, there was a directive to build a manned space station.[152]

The NASA Authorization Act of 2017, which included $19.5 billion in funding for that fiscal year, directed NASA to get humans near or on the surface of Mars by the early 2030s.[153]

In December 2017, on the 45th anniversary of the last manned mission to the Lunar surface, President Donald Trump approved a directive that includes a lunar mission on the pathway to Mars and beyond.[145]

We’ll learn. The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars. And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.

New NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed this directive in an August 2018 speech where he focused on the sustainability aspectsgoing to the Moon to staythat are explicit in the directive, including taking advantage of US commercial space capability that did not exist even five years ago, which have driven down costs and increased access to space.[155]

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate conducts aeronautics research.

NASA has made use of technologies such as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which is a type of Radioisotope thermoelectric generator used on space missions.[156] Shortages of this material have curtailed deep space missions since the turn of the millennia.[157] An example of a spacecraft that was not developed because of a shortage of this material was New Horizons 2.[157]

The earth science research program was created and first funded in the 1980s under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.[158][159]

NASA started an annual competition in 2014 named Cubes in Space.[160] It is jointly organized by NASA and the global education company I Doodle Learning, with the objective of teaching school students aged 1118 to design and build scientific experiments to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. On June 21, 2017 the world’s smallest satellite, Kalam SAT, built by an Indian team, was launched.[citation needed]

NASA also researches and publishes on climate change.[161] Its statements concur with the global scientific consensus that the global climate is warming.[162] Bob Walker, who has advised the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump on space issues, has advocated that NASA should focus on space exploration and that its climate study operations should be transferred to other agencies such as NOAA. Former NASA atmospheric scientist J. Marshall Shepherd countered that Earth science study was built into NASA’s mission at its creation in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act.[163]

NASA’s facilities are research, construction and communication centers to help its missions. Some facilities serve more than one application for historic or administrative reasons. NASA also operates a short-line railroad at the Kennedy Space Center and uses special aircraft.

John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is one of the best-known NASA facilities. It has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on pause, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America’s civilian space program from three pads at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston is home to the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center, where all flight control is managed for manned space missions. JSC is the lead NASA center for activities regarding the International Space Station and also houses the NASA Astronaut Corps that selects, trains, and provides astronauts as crew members for US and international space missions.

Another major facility is Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama at which the Saturn 5 rocket and Skylab were developed.[164] The JPL worked together with ABMA, one of the agencies behind Explorer 1, the first American space mission.

The ten NASA field centers are:

Numerous other facilities are operated by NASA, including the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia; the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana; the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Deep Space Network stations in Barstow, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

NASA’s share of the total federal budget peaked at approximately 4.41% in 1966 during the Apollo program, then rapidly declined to approximately 1% in 1975, and stayed around that level through 1998.[23][165] The percentage then gradually dropped, until leveling off again at around half a percent in 2006 (estimated in 2012 at 0.48% of the federal budget).[166] In a March 2012 hearing of the United States Senate Science Committee, science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson testified that “Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice thata penny on a dollarwe can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”[167][168]

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NASA – Wikipedia

NASA – YouTube

Weve taken giant leaps and left our mark in the heavens. Now were building the next chapter, returning to the Moon to stay, and preparing to go beyond. We are NASA and after 60 years, were just getting started. Special thanks to Mike Rowe for the voiceover work.

This video is available for download from NASA’s Image and Video Library: https://go.nasa.gov/2DIyYtq Show less

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NASA – YouTube

NASAs Mars Exploration Program

Astrobiology is a relatively new field of study, where scientists from a variety of disciplines (astronomy, biology, geology, physics, etc.) work together to understand the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. However, the exploration of Mars has been intertwined with NASAs search for life from the beginning. The twin Viking landers of 1976 were NASAs first life detection mission, and although the results from the experiments failed to detect life in the Martian regolith, and resulted in a long period with fewer Mars missions, it was not the end of the fascination that the Astrobiology science community had for the red planet.

The field of Astrobiology saw a resurgence due to the controversy surrounding the possible fossil life in the ALH84001 meteorite, and from the outsized public response to this announcement, and subsequent interest from Congress and the White House, NASAs Astrobiology Program (https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ )and one of its major programs, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (https://nai.nasa.gov/ ) were formed.

Also at this time, NASAs Mars Exploration Program began to investigate Mars with an increasing focus on missions to the Red Planet. The Pathfinder mission and Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) were sent to Mars to Follow the Water, recognizing that liquid water is necessary for life to exist on Earth. After establishing that Mars once had significant amount of water on its surface, the Mars Science Laboratory (which includes the Curiosity rover) was sent to Mars to determine whether Mars had the right ingredients in the rocks to host life, signaling a shift to the next theme of Explore Habitability. MEP is now developing the Mars 2020 rover mission (https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ ) to determine whether life may have left telltale signatures in the rocks on Marss surface, a further shift to the current science theme Seek the Signs of Life.

Finding fossils preserved from early Mars might tell us that life once flourished on this planet. We can search for evidence of cells preserved in rocks, or at a much smaller scale: compounds called biosignatures are molecular fossils, specific compounds that give some indication of the organisms that created them. However, over hundreds of millions of years these molecular fossils on Mars are subject to being destroyed or transformed to the point where they may no longer be recognized as biosignatures. Future missions must either find surface regions where erosion from wind-blown sand has recently exposed very ancient material, or alternately samples must be obtained from a shielded region beneath the surface. This latter approach is being taken by the ExoMars rover (http://exploration.esa.int/mars/48088-mission-overview/ ) under development where drilled samples taken from a depth of up to 2 meters will be analyzed.

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NASAs Mars Exploration Program

NASA – Science Mission Directorate | Science

What is SMDs Science Activation program? Science is best understood by doing, and NASA Science has a new team to help learners of all ages do science! 25 competitively-selected teams from across the Nation connect NASA science experts, real content, and experiences with community leaders to do science in ways that activate minds and promote understanding.

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NASA – Science Mission Directorate | Science

Spot The Station | NASA

Watch the International Space Station pass overhead from several thousand worldwide locations. It is the third brightest object in the sky and easy to spot if you know when to look up. Read More

Visible to the naked eye, it looks like a fast-moving plane only much higher and traveling thousands of miles an hour faster!

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Spot The Station | NASA

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Space Mission and …

The largest international array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions.

What is the Deep Space Network?

The DSN consists of three facilities spaced equidistant from each other approximately 120 degrees apart in longitude around the world. These sites are at Goldstone, near Barstow, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. Click to learn more.

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NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Space Mission and …

NASA: Climate Change and Global Warming

NASAs Climate Kids website brings the exciting science of climate change and sustainability to life, providing clear explanations for the big questions in climate science. Targeting upper-elementary-aged children, the site includes interactive games, hands-on activities, and engaging articles that make climate science accessible and fun. With a special section for educators, Climate Kids is great for parents and teachers as well.

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NASA: Climate Change and Global Warming

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

New day, new data! Brand-new findings from our New Horizons spacecrafts flyby of the most distant object ever explored #UltimaThule: No evidence of rings or satellites No evidence of an atmosphere The two lobes are nearly identical in color More! Get the details: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190103

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Mission Status – voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

Cosmic Ray Subsystem (CRS)ONONLow-Energy Charged Particles (LECP)ONONMagnetometer (MAG)ONONPlasma Wave Subsystem (PWS)ONONPlasma Science (PLS)Off because of degraded performance (Feb. 1, 2007)ONImaging Science Subsystem (ISS)Wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras off to save power (Feb. 14, 1990)Wide-angle and narrow angle cameras off to save power (Oct. 10 and Dec. 5, 1989)Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer and Radiometer (IRIS)Off to save power (June 3, 1998)Off to save power (Feb. 1, 2007)Photopolarimeter Subsystem (PPS)Off because of degraded performance (Jan. 29, 1980)Off because of degraded performance (April 3, 1991)Planetary Radio Astronomy (PRA)Off to save power (Jan. 15, 2008)Off to save power (Feb. 21, 2008)Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS)Off to save power (April 19, 2016)Off to save power (Nov. 12, 1998)

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NASA – Wikipedia

space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA ) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.[note 1]

NASA was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science.[7][8][9] Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. 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 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;[10] advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program;[11] exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft missions such as New Horizons;[12] and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs.[13]

From 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had been experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.[14] In the early 1950s, there was challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year (195758). An effort for this was the American Project Vanguard. After the Soviet 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 US 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. On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a “Special Committee on Space Technology”, headed by Guyford Stever.[9] On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published “A National Research Program for Space Technology” stating:[15]

It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space … It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency … NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology.[15]

While this new federal agency would conduct all non-military space activity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created in February 1958 to develop space technology for military application.[16]

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA. When it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA absorbed the 43-year-old NACA intact; its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of US$100million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.[17] A NASA seal was approved by President Eisenhower in 1959.[18] Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were incorporated into NASA. A significant contributor to NASA’s entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was the technology from the German rocket program led by Wernher von Braun, who was now working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), which in turn incorporated the technology of American scientist Robert Goddard’s earlier works.[19] Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force[17] and many of ARPA’s early space programs were also transferred to NASA.[20] In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology.[17]

The agency’s leader, NASA’s administrator, is nominated by the President of the United States subject to approval of the US Senate, and reports to him or her and serves as senior space science advisor. Though space exploration is ostensibly non-partisan, the appointee usually is associated with the President’s political party (Democratic or Republican), and a new administrator is usually chosen when the Presidency changes parties. The only exceptions to this have been:

The first administrator was Dr. T. Keith Glennan appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his term he brought together the disparate projects in American space development research.[24]

The second administrator, James E. Webb (19611968), appointed by President John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat who first publicly served under President Harry S. Truman. In order to implement the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy’s Moon landing goal by the end of the 1960s, Webb directed major management restructuring and facility expansion, establishing the Houston Manned Spacecraft (Johnson) Center and the Florida Launch Operations (Kennedy) Center. Capitalizing on Kennedy’s legacy, President Lyndon Johnson kept continuity with the Apollo program by keeping Webb on when he succeeded Kennedy in November 1963. But Webb resigned in October 1968 before Apollo achieved its goal, and Republican President Richard M. Nixon replaced Webb with Republican Thomas O. Paine.

James Fletcher was responsible for early planning of the Space Shuttle program during his first term as administrator under President Nixon. He was appointed for a second term as administrator from May 1986 through April 1989 by President Ronald Reagan to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Former astronaut Charles Bolden served as NASA’s twelfth administrator from July 2009 to January 20, 2017.[25] Bolden is one of three former astronauts who became NASA administrators, along with Richard H. Truly (served 19891992) and Frederick D. Gregory (acting, 2005).

The agency’s administration is located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC and provides overall guidance and direction.[26] Except under exceptional circumstances, NASA civil service employees are required to be citizens of the United States.[27]

NASA has conducted many manned and unmanned spaceflight programs throughout its history. Unmanned programs launched the first American artificial satellites into Earth orbit for scientific and communications purposes, and sent scientific probes to explore the planets of the solar system, starting with Venus and Mars, and including “grand tours” of the outer planets. Manned programs sent the first Americans into low Earth orbit (LEO), won the Space Race with the Soviet Union by landing twelve men on the Moon from 1969 to 1972 in the Apollo program, developed a semi-reusable LEO Space Shuttle, and developed LEO space station capability by itself and with the cooperation of several other nations including post-Soviet Russia. Some missions include both manned and unmanned aspects, such as the Galileo probe, which was deployed by astronauts in Earth orbit before being sent unmanned to Jupiter.

The experimental rocket-powered aircraft programs started by NACA were extended by NASA as support for manned spaceflight. This was followed by a one-man space capsule program, and in turn by a two-man capsule program. Reacting to loss of national prestige and security fears caused by early leads in space exploration by the Soviet Union, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960s], and returning him safely to the Earth.” This goal was met in 1969 by the Apollo program, and NASA planned even more ambitious activities leading to a manned mission to Mars. However, reduction of the perceived threat and changing political priorities almost immediately caused the termination of most of these plans. NASA turned its attention to an Apollo-derived temporary space laboratory, and a semi-reusable Earth orbital shuttle. In the 1990s, funding was approved for NASA to develop a permanent Earth orbital space station in cooperation with the international community, which now included the former rival, post-Soviet Russia. To date, NASA has launched a total of 166 manned space missions on rockets, and thirteen X-15 rocket flights above the USAF definition of spaceflight altitude, 260,000 feet (80km).[28]

The X-15 was an NACA experimental rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft, developed in conjunction with the US Air Force and Navy. The design featured a slender fuselage with fairings along the side containing fuel and early computerized control systems.[29] Requests for proposal were issued on December 30, 1954, for the airframe, and February 4, 1955, for the rocket engine. The airframe contract was awarded to North American Aviation in November 1955, and the XLR30 engine contract was awarded to Reaction Motors in 1956, and three planes were built. The X-15 was drop-launched from the wing of one of two NASA Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, NB52A tail number 52-003, and NB52B, tail number 52-008 (known as the Balls 8). Release took place at an altitude of about 45,000 feet (14km) and a speed of about 500 miles per hour (805km/h).

Twelve pilots were selected for the program from the Air Force, Navy, and NACA (later NASA). A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a manned powered aircraft (current as of 2014[update]), and a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, 4,519 miles per hour (7,273km/h).[30] The altitude record for X-15 was 354,200 feet (107.96km).[31] Eight of the pilots were awarded Air Force astronaut wings for flying above 260,000 feet (80km), and two flights by Joseph A. Walker exceeded 100 kilometers (330,000ft), qualifying as spaceflight according to the International Aeronautical Federation. The X-15 program employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets for controlling the orientation of a spacecraft, space suits, and horizon definition for navigation.[31] The reentry and landing data collected were valuable to NASA for designing the Space Shuttle.[29]

Shortly after the Space Race began, an early objective was to get a person into Earth orbit as soon as possible, therefore the simplest spacecraft that could be launched by existing rockets was favored. The US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program considered many manned spacecraft designs, ranging from rocket planes like the X-15, to small ballistic space capsules.[32] By 1958, the space plane concepts were eliminated in favor of the ballistic capsule.[33]

When NASA was created that same year, the Air Force program was transferred to it and renamed Project Mercury. The first seven astronauts were selected among candidates from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Freedom7, launched by a Redstone booster on a 15-minute ballistic (suborbital) flight.[34] John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit, by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20, 1962, aboard Friendship7.[35] Glenn completed three orbits, after which three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight Faith 7, May 1516, 1963.[36]

The Soviet Union (USSR) competed with its own single-pilot spacecraft, Vostok. They sent the first man in space, by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into a single Earth orbit aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961, one month before Shepard’s flight.[37] In August 1962, they achieved an almost four-day record flight with Andriyan Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3, and also conducted a concurrent Vostok 4 mission carrying Pavel Popovich.

Based on studies to grow the Mercury spacecraft capabilities to long-duration flights, developing space rendezvous techniques, and precision Earth landing, Project Gemini was started as a two-man program in 1962 to overcome the Soviets’ lead and to support the Apollo manned lunar landing program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous and docking to its objectives. The first manned Gemini flight, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965.[38] Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, demonstrating an endurance mission of nearly fourteen days, rendezvous, docking, and practical EVA, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.[39][40]

Under the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the USSR competed with Gemini by converting their Vostok spacecraft into a two- or three-man Voskhod. They succeeded in launching two manned flights before Gemini’s first flight, achieving a three-cosmonaut flight in 1963 and the first EVA in 1964. After this, the program was canceled, and Gemini caught up while spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev developed the Soyuz spacecraft, their answer to Apollo.

The U.S public’s perception of the Soviet lead in the space race (by putting the first man into space) motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the Congress on May 25, 1961, to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which effectively launched the Apollo program.[41]

Apollo was one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever. It cost more than $20 billion in 1960s dollars[42] or an estimated $218billion in present-day US dollars.[43] (In comparison, the Manhattan Project cost roughly $27.8billion, accounting for inflation.)[43][44] It used the Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, which were far bigger than the rockets built for previous projects.[45] The spacecraft was also bigger; it had two main parts, the combined command and service module (CSM) and the lunar landing module (LM). The LM was to be left on the Moon and only the command module (CM) containing the three astronauts would eventually return to Earth.[note 2]

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December 1968.[46] Shortly before, the Soviets had sent an unmanned spacecraft around the Moon.[47] On the next two missions docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced[48][49] and then finally the Moon landing was made on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.[50]

The first person to stand on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, who was followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions returned a wealth of scientific data and 381.7 kilograms (842lb) of lunar samples. Topics covered by experiments performed included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismology, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind.[51] The Moon landing marked the end of the space race; and as a gesture, Armstrong mentioned mankind when he stepped down on the Moon.[52]

Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body.[53] Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit to date. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museums.

Skylab was the United States’ first and only independently built space station.[54] Conceived in 1965 as a workshop to be constructed in space from a spent Saturn IB upper stage, the 169,950lb (77,088kg) station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14, 1973, atop the first two stages of a Saturn V, into a 235-nautical-mile (435km) orbit inclined at 50 to the equator. Damaged during launch by the loss of its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panel, it was repaired to functionality by its first crew. It was occupied for a total of 171 days by 3 successive crews in 1973 and 1974.[54] It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory.[54] NASA planned to have a Space Shuttle dock with it, and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but the Shuttle was not ready for flight before Skylab’s re-entry on July 11, 1979.[55]

To save cost, NASA used one of the Saturn V rockets originally earmarked for a canceled Apollo mission to launch the Skylab. Apollo spacecraft were used for transporting astronauts to and from the station. Three three-man crews stayed aboard the station for periods of 28, 59, and 84 days. Skylab’s habitable volume was 11,290 cubic feet (320m3), which was 30.7 times bigger than that of the Apollo Command Module.[55]

On May 24, 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement calling for a joint manned space mission, and declaring intent for all future international manned spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other.[56] This authorized the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), involving the rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit of a surplus Apollo Command/Service Module with a Soyuz spacecraft. The mission took place in July 1975. This was the last US manned space flight until the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981.[57]

The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments, and provided useful engineering experience for future joint USRussian space flights, such as the ShuttleMir Program[58] and the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981,[59] the 20th anniversary of the first known human space flight.[60]

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. The shuttle could orbit in altitudes of 185643km (115400 miles)[61] and carry a maximum payload (to low orbit) of 24,400kg (54,000lb).[62] Missions could last from 5 to 17 days and crews could be from 2 to 8 astronauts.[61]

On 20 missions (198398) the Space Shuttle carried Spacelab, designed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Spacelab was not designed for independent orbital flight, but remained in the Shuttle’s cargo bay as the astronauts entered and left it through an airlock.[63] Another famous series of missions were the launch and later successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and 1993, respectively.[64]

In 1995, Russian-American interaction resumed with the ShuttleMir missions (19951998). Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation has continued with Russia and the United States as two of the biggest partners in the largest space station 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 during the two-year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.[65] While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss.[65] 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 program spanned 30 years with over 300 astronauts sent into space.[66]

The International Space Station (ISS) combines NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kib laboratory module.[67] NASA originally planned in the 1980s to develop Freedom alone, but US budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national program in 1993, managed by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).[68][69] The station consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components, which have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and the US Space Shuttles.[67] It is currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. The on-orbit assembly began in 1998, the completion of the US Orbital Segment occurred in 2011 and the completion of the Russian Orbital Segment is expected by 2016.[70][71][needs update] The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements[72] which divide the station into two areas and allow Russia to retain full ownership of the Russian Orbital Segment (with the exception of Zarya),[73][74] with the US Orbital Segment allocated between the other international partners.[72]

Long duration missions to the ISS are referred to as ISS Expeditions. Expedition crew members typically spend approximately six months on the ISS.[75] The initial expedition crew size was three, temporarily decreased to two following the Columbia disaster. Since May 2009, expedition crew size has been six crew members.[76] Crew size is expected to be increased to seven, the number the ISS was designed for, once the Commercial Crew Program becomes operational.[77] The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 18years and 71days, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations.[78][79]

The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye and, as of 2019, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit with a mass and volume greater than that of any previous space station.[80] The Soyuz spacecraft delivers crew members, stays docked for their half-year-long missions and then returns them home. Several uncrewed cargo spacecraft service the ISS, they are the Russian Progress spacecraft which has done so since 2000, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, the American Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013. The Space Shuttle, before its retirement, was also used for cargo transfer and would often switch out expedition crew members, although it did not have the capability to remain docked for the duration of their stay. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready, crew members will travel to and from the International Space Station exclusively aboard the Soyuz.[81] The highest number of people occupying the ISS has been thirteen; this occurred three times during the late Shuttle ISS assembly missions.[82]

The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, and may be extended beyond 2028.[83]

Dragon being berthed to the ISS in May 2012

Cygnus berthed to the ISS in September 2013

The development of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicles began in 2006 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the ISS.[84] The development of these vehicles was under a fixed price milestone-based program, meaning that each company that received a funded award had a list of milestones with a dollar value attached to them that they didn’t receive until after they had successfully completed the milestone.[85] Companies were also required to raise an unspecified amount of private investment for their proposal.[86]

On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Commercial Resupply Services contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation.[87] SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.[88] Orbital Sciences uses its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dragon resupply mission occurred in May 2012.[89] The first Cygnus resupply mission occurred in September 2013.[90] The CRS program now provides for all America’s ISS cargo needs; with the exception of a few vehicle-specific payloads that are delivered on the European ATV and the Japanese HTV.[91]

Rendering of CST-100 in orbit

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program was started in 2010 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated crewed spacecraft capable of delivering at least four crew members to the ISS, staying docked for 180 days and then returning them back to Earth.[92] It is hoped that these vehicles could also transport non-NASA customers to private space stations such those planned by Bigelow Aerospace.[93] Like COTS, CCDev is also a fixed price milestone-based developmental program that requires some private investment.[85]

In 2010, NASA announced the winners of the first phase of the program, a total of $50million was divided among five American companies to foster research and development into human spaceflight concepts and technologies in the private sector. In 2011, the winners of the second phase of the program were announced, $270million was divided among four companies.[94] In 2012, the winners of the third phase of the program were announced, NASA provided $1.1 billion divided among three companies to further develop their crew transportation systems.[95] In 2014, the winners of the final round were announced.[96] SpaceX’s Dragon V2 (planned to be launched on a Falcon 9 v1.1) received a contract valued up to $2.6 billion and Boeing’s CST-100 (to be launched on an Atlas V) received a contract valued up to $4.2 billion.[97] NASA expects these vehicles to begin transporting humans to the ISS in 2019.[98]

For missions beyond low Earth orbit (BLEO), NASA has been directed to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), a Saturn-V class rocket, and the two to six person, beyond low Earth orbit spacecraft, Orion. In February 2010, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed eliminating public funds for the Constellation program and shifting greater responsibility of servicing the ISS to private companies.[99] During a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, Obama proposed a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) to replace the formerly planned Ares V.[100] In his speech, Obama called for a manned mission to an asteroid as soon as 2025, and a manned mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[100] The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 11, 2010.[101] The act officially canceled the Constellation program.[101]

The Authorization Act required a newly designed HLV be chosen within 90 days of its passing; the launch vehicle was given the name “Space Launch System”. The new law also required the construction of a beyond low earth orbit spacecraft.[102] The Orion spacecraft, which was being developed as part of the Constellation program, was chosen to fulfill this role.[103] The Space Launch System is planned to launch both Orion and other necessary hardware for missions beyond low Earth orbit.[104] The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions. The initial capability of SLS is required to be able to lift 70 mt into LEO. It is then planned to be upgraded to 105 mt and then eventually to 130 mt.[103][105] Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), an unmanned test flight of Orion’s crew module, was launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket.[105] Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is the unmanned initial launch of SLS that would also send Orion on a circumlunar trajectory, which is planned for 2019.[105]

NASA’s next major space initiative is to be the construction of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G, formerly known as the “Deep Space Gateway”). This initiative is to involve the construction of a new “Space-Station” type of habitation, which will have many features in common with the current International Space Station, except that it will be in orbit about the Moon, instead of the Earth.[106] This space station will be designed primarily for non-continuous human habitation. The first tentative steps of returning to manned lunar missions will be Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which is to include the Orion crew module, propelled by the SLS, and is to launch in 2022. This mission is to be a 10- to 14-day mission planned to briefly place a crew of four into Lunar orbit.[105] The construction of the “Lunar Orbital Platform” is to begin with the following Exploration Mission-3 (EM-3), which is planned to deliver a crew of 4 to Lunar orbit along with the first module(s) of the new space-station. This mission will last for up to 26 days.

On June 5, 2016, NASA and DARPA announced plans to also build a series of new X-planes over the next 10 years.[107] One of the planes will be the Quiet Supersonic Technology project, burning low-carbon biofuels and generating quiet sonic booms.[107]

NASA plans to build full scale deep space habitats such as the Lunar Orbital Platform and the Nautilus-X as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.[108]

In 2017, NASA was directed by the congressional NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 to get humans to Mars-orbit (or to the Martian surface) by 2033.[109][110]

More than 1,000 unmanned missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the solar system.[111] Besides exploration, communication satellites have also been launched by NASA.[112] 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.

The first US unmanned satellite was Explorer 1, which started as an ABMA/JPL project during the early part of the Space Race. It was launched in January 1958, two months after Sputnik. At the creation of NASA, the Explorer project was transferred to the agency and still continues to this day. Its missions have been focusing on the Earth and the Sun, measuring magnetic fields and the solar wind, among other aspects.[113] A more recent Earth mission, not related to the Explorer program, was the Hubble Space Telescope, which as mentioned above was brought into orbit in 1990.[114]

The inner Solar System has been made the goal of at least four unmanned programs. The first was Mariner in the 1960s and ’70s, which made multiple visits to Venus and Mars and one to Mercury. Probes launched under the Mariner program were also the first to make a planetary flyby (Mariner 2), to take the first pictures from another planet (Mariner 4), the first planetary orbiter (Mariner 9), and the first to make a gravity assist maneuver (Mariner 10). This is a technique where the satellite takes advantage of the gravity and velocity of planets to reach its destination.[115]

The first successful landing on Mars was made by Viking 1 in 1976. Twenty years later a rover was landed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder.[116]

Outside Mars, Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973. More than 20 years later Galileo sent a probe into the planet’s atmosphere, and became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet.[117] Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn in 1979, with Voyager 2 making the first (and so far only) visits to Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989, respectively. The first spacecraft to leave the solar system was Pioneer 10 in 1983. For a time it was the most distant spacecraft, but it has since been surpassed by both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.[118]

Pioneers 10 and 11 and both Voyager probes carry messages from the Earth to extraterrestrial life.[119][120] Communication can be difficult with deep space travel. For instance, it took about three hours for a radio signal to reach the New Horizons spacecraft when it was more than halfway to Pluto.[121] Contact with Pioneer 10 was lost in 2003. Both Voyager probes continue to operate as they explore the outer boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.[122]

On November 26, 2011, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission was successfully launched for Mars. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and subsequently began its search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.[123][124][125]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini(19972017), and Juno (2011). In the early 2000s, NASA was put on course for the Moon, however in 2010 this program was cancelled (see Constellation program). As part of that plan the Shuttle was going to be replaced, however, although it was retired its replacement was also cancelled, leaving the US with no human spaceflight launcher for the first time in over three decades.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[126]

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base.[127] The goal was to start building the Moon base by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. However, in 2009, the Augustine Committee found the program to be on an “unsustainable trajectory.”[128] In 2010, President Barack Obama halted existing plans, including the Moon base, and directed a generic focus on manned missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.[129]

Since 2011, NASA’s strategic goals have been[130]

In August 2011, NASA accepted the donation of two space telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office. Despite being stored unused, the instruments are superior to the Hubble Space Telescope.[131]

In September 2011, NASA announced the start of the Space Launch System program to develop a human-rated heavy lift vehicle. The Space Launch System is intended to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and other elements towards the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and one day Mars.[132] The Orion MPCV conducted an unmanned test launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.[133]

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is currently scheduled to launch in May 2020.[134]

On August 6, 2012, NASA landed the rover Curiosity on Mars. On August 27, 2012, Curiosity transmitted the first pre-recorded message from the surface of Mars back to Earth, made by Administrator Charlie Bolden:

Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life … new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond to Mars.

This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy others have tried only America has fully succeeded. The investment we are making … the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future. Thank you.[135]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini (19972017), and Juno (2011).

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[126]

There was a new executive administration in the United States, which directed NASA to send Humans to Mars by the year 2033.[109][136] Foci in general for NASA were noted as human space exploration, space science, and technology.[136] The Europa Clipper and Mars 2020 continue to be supported for their planned schedules.[137]

In 2018, NASA alongside with other companies including Sensor Coating Systems, Pratt & Whitney, Monitor Coating and UTRC have launched the project CAUTION (CoAtings for Ultra High Temperature detectION). This project aims to enhance the temperature range of the Thermal History Coating up to 1,500C and beyond. The final goal of this project is improving the safety of jet engines as well as increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.[138]

Recent and planned activities include:

In response to the Apollo 1 accident which killed three astronauts 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 the aftermath of the Shuttle Columbia accident, Congress required that the ASAP submit an annual report to the NASA Administrator and to Congress.[143] By 1971, NASA had also established the Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council to provide the administrator with advisory committee support. In 1977, the latter two were combined to form the NASA Advisory Council (NAC).[144]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 reaffirmed the importance of ASAP.

Some of the major NASA directives were to land people on the Moon, build the space shuttle, and build a large space station. Typically, the major directives had the intervention of the science advisory, political, funding, and public interest that synergized into various waves of effort often heavily swayed by technical, funding, and worldwide events. For example, there was a major push to build Space Station Freedom in the 1980s, but when the Cold War ended, the Russians, the Americans and other international partners came together to build the International Space Station.

In the 2010s, the major shift was the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the development of a new manned heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Missions for the new System have varied but overall, they were similar as it primarily involved the desire to send a human into the space. The Space Exploration Initiative of the 1980s opened newer avenues of galaxy exploration.

In the coming decades, the focus is gradually shifting towards exploration of planet Mars; however, some differences exist over the technologies to develop and focus on for the exploration.[145] One of the options considered was the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).[145] ARM had largely been defunded in 2017, but the key technologies developed for ARM would be utilized for future exploration, especially on a solar electric propulsion system.[146][145]

Longer project execution timelines means its up to the future officials to execute on a directive, which often leads to directional mismanagement. For example, a Shuttle replacement has numerous components involved, each making some headway before being called off for various reasons including the National Aerospace Plane, Venture Star, Orbital Space Plane, Ares I, and others. The asteroid mission was not a major directive in the 2010s. Instead, the general support rested with the long-term goal of getting humans to Mars. The space shuttle was retired and much of the existing road map was shelved including the then planned Lunar Return and Ares I human launch vehicle.

Previously, in the early 2000s, there was a plan called the Constellation Program but this was defunded in the early 2010s.[147][148][149][150] In the 1990s, there was a plan called “Faster, Better, Cheaper”[151] In the 1980s, there was a directive to build a manned space station.[152]

The NASA Authorization Act of 2017, which included $19.5 billion in funding for that fiscal year, directed NASA to get humans near or on the surface of Mars by the early 2030s.[153]

In December 2017, on the 45th anniversary of the last manned mission to the Lunar surface, President Donald Trump approved a directive that includes a lunar mission on the pathway to Mars and beyond.[145]

We’ll learn. The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars. And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.

New NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed this directive in an August 2018 speech where he focused on the sustainability aspectsgoing to the Moon to staythat are explicit in the directive, including taking advantage of US commercial space capability that did not exist even five years ago, which have driven down costs and increased access to space.[155]

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate conducts aeronautics research.

NASA has made use of technologies such as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which is a type of Radioisotope thermoelectric generator used on space missions.[156] Shortages of this material have curtailed deep space missions since the turn of the millennia.[157] An example of a spacecraft that was not developed because of a shortage of this material was New Horizons 2.[157]

The earth science research program was created and first funded in the 1980s under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.[158][159]

NASA started an annual competition in 2014 named Cubes in Space.[160] It is jointly organized by NASA and the global education company I Doodle Learning, with the objective of teaching school students aged 1118 to design and build scientific experiments to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. On June 21, 2017 the world’s smallest satellite, Kalam SAT, built by an Indian team, was launched.[citation needed]

NASA also researches and publishes on climate change.[161] Its statements concur with the global scientific consensus that the global climate is warming.[162] Bob Walker, who has advised the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump on space issues, has advocated that NASA should focus on space exploration and that its climate study operations should be transferred to other agencies such as NOAA. Former NASA atmospheric scientist J. Marshall Shepherd countered that Earth science study was built into NASA’s mission at its creation in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act.[163]

NASA’s facilities are research, construction and communication centers to help its missions. Some facilities serve more than one application for historic or administrative reasons. NASA also operates a short-line railroad at the Kennedy Space Center and uses special aircraft.

John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is one of the best-known NASA facilities. It has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on pause, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America’s civilian space program from three pads at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston is home to the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center, where all flight control is managed for manned space missions. JSC is the lead NASA center for activities regarding the International Space Station and also houses the NASA Astronaut Corps that selects, trains, and provides astronauts as crew members for US and international space missions.

Another major facility is Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama at which the Saturn 5 rocket and Skylab were developed.[164] The JPL worked together with ABMA, one of the agencies behind Explorer 1, the first American space mission.

The ten NASA field centers are:

Numerous other facilities are operated by NASA, including the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia; the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana; the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Deep Space Network stations in Barstow, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

NASA’s share of the total federal budget peaked at approximately 4.41% in 1966 during the Apollo program, then rapidly declined to approximately 1% in 1975, and stayed around that level through 1998.[23][165] The percentage then gradually dropped, until leveling off again at around half a percent in 2006 (estimated in 2012 at 0.48% of the federal budget).[166] In a March 2012 hearing of the United States Senate Science Committee, science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson testified that “Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice thata penny on a dollarwe can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”[167][168]

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NASA – Wikipedia

NASA – YouTube

Weve taken giant leaps and left our mark in the heavens. Now were building the next chapter, returning to the Moon to stay, and preparing to go beyond. We are NASA and after 60 years, were just getting started. Special thanks to Mike Rowe for the voiceover work.

This video is available for download from NASA’s Image and Video Library: https://go.nasa.gov/2DIyYtq Show less

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NASA – YouTube

NASA – Science Mission Directorate | Science

What is SMDs Science Activation program? Science is best understood by doing, and NASA Science has a new team to help learners of all ages do science! 25 competitively-selected teams from across the Nation connect NASA science experts, real content, and experiences with community leaders to do science in ways that activate minds and promote understanding.

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NASA – Science Mission Directorate | Science

Spot The Station | NASA

Watch the International Space Station pass overhead from several thousand worldwide locations. It is the third brightest object in the sky and easy to spot if you know when to look up. Read More

Visible to the naked eye, it looks like a fast-moving plane only much higher and traveling thousands of miles an hour faster!

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Spot The Station | NASA

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Space Mission and …

The largest international array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions.

What is the Deep Space Network?

The DSN consists of three facilities spaced equidistant from each other approximately 120 degrees apart in longitude around the world. These sites are at Goldstone, near Barstow, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. Click to learn more.

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NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Space Mission and …

Citizen Scientists Find New World with NASA Telescope

Usingdata from NASA’s Keplerspace telescope, citizen scientists have discovered a planet roughlytwice the size of Earth located within its star’s habitable zone, the range oforbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface. The newworld, known as K2-288Bb, could be rocky or could be a gas-rich planet similarto Neptune. Its size is rare among exoplanets – planets beyond our solarsystem.

“It’sa very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and becauseplanets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein,a University of Chicago graduate student who discussed the discovery on Monday,Jan. 7, at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.She is also the lead author of a paper describing the new planet accepted forpublication by TheAstronomical Journal.

Located226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, the planet lies in a stellarsystem known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type starsseparated by about 5.1 billion miles (8.2 billion kilometers) – roughly sixtimes the distance between Saturn and the Sun. The brighter star is about halfas massive and large as the Sun, while its companion is about one-third the Sun’smass and size. The new planet, K2-288Bb, orbits the smaller, dimmer star every31.3 days.

In2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at theUniversity of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns with Joshua Schlieder,an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.They searched Kepler data for evidence of transits, the regular dimming of astar when an orbiting planet moves across the star’s face.

Examiningdata from the fourth observing campaignof Kepler’s K2mission, the team noticed two likely planetary transits in the system.But scientists require a third transit before claiming the discovery of a candidateplanet, and there wasn’t a third signal in the observations they reviewed.

Asit turned out, though, the team wasn’t actually analyzing all of the data.

InKepler’s K2 mode, which ran from 2014 to 2018, the spacecraft repositioneditself to point at a new patch of sky at the start of each three-monthobserving campaign. Astronomers were initially concerned that thisrepositioning would cause systematic errors in measurements.

“Re-orientingKepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of thetelescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affectedKepler’s sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign,” saidco-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center inCalifornia’s Silicon Valley and the director of the guest observer office forthe Kepler and K2 missions.

Todeal with this, early versions of the software that was used to prepare thedata for planet-finding analysis simply ignored the first few days ofobservations – and that’s where the third transit was hiding.

Asscientists learned how to correct for these systematic errors, this trimmingstep was eliminated – but the early K2 data Barstow studied had been clipped.

“Weeventually re-ran all data from the early campaigns through the modifiedsoftware and then re-ran the planet search to get a list of candidates, butthese candidates were never fully visually inspected,” explained Schlieder,a co-author of the paper. “Inspecting, or vetting, transits with the humaneye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can mimic transits.”

Instead,the re-processed data were posted directly to ExoplanetExplorers, a project where the public searches Kepler’s K2 observationsto locate new transiting planets. In May 2017, volunteers noticed the thirdtransit and began an excited discussion about what was then thought to be anEarth-sized candidate in the system, which caught the attention of Feinsteinand her colleagues.

“That’show we missed it – and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make thisextremely valuable find and point us to it,” Feinstein said.

Theteam began follow-up observations using NASA’sSpitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope at the W. M. KeckObservatory and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility(the latter two in Hawaii), and also examined data from ESA’s (the EuropeanSpace Agency’s) Gaiamission.

Estimatedto be about 1.9 times Earth’s size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune. This placesthe planet within a recentlydiscovered category called the Fulton gap, or radius gap. Amongplanets that orbit close to their stars, there’s a curious dearth of worlds betweenabout 1.5 and two times Earth’s size. This is likely the result of intensestarlight breaking up atmospheric molecules and eroding away the atmospheres ofsome planets over time, leaving behind two populations. Since K2-288Bb’s radiusplaces it in this gap, it may provide a case study of planetary evolutionwithin this size range.

OnOct. 30, 2018, Kepler ran out of fuel and ended its mission after nine years,during which it discovered 2,600 confirmed planets around other stars – thebulk of those now known – along with thousands of additional candidatesastronomers are working to confirm. And while NASA’sTransiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is the newest space-basedplanet hunter, this new finding shows that more discoveries await scientists inKepler data.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science MissionDirectorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managedKepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporationoperated the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric andSpace Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Formore information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

News Media Contact

Calla CofieldJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.626-808-2469calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

By Francis ReddyNASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

2019-002

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Citizen Scientists Find New World with NASA Telescope

NASA – Wikipedia

space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA ) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.[note 1]

NASA was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science.[8][9][10] Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. 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 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;[11] advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program;[12] exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft missions such as New Horizons;[13] and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs.[14]

From 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had been experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.[15] In the early 1950s, there was challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year (195758). An effort for this was the American Project Vanguard. After the Soviet 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 US 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. On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a “Special Committee on Space Technology”, headed by Guyford Stever.[10] On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published “A National Research Program for Space Technology” stating:[16]

It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space … It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency … NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology.[16]

While this new federal agency would conduct all non-military space activity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created in February 1958 to develop space technology for military application.[17]

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA. When it began operations on October 1, 1958, NASA absorbed the 43-year-old NACA intact; its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of US$100million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.[18] A NASA seal was approved by President Eisenhower in 1959.[19] Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were incorporated into NASA. A significant contributor to NASA’s entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was the technology from the German rocket program led by Wernher von Braun, who was now working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), which in turn incorporated the technology of American scientist Robert Goddard’s earlier works.[20] Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force[18] and many of ARPA’s early space programs were also transferred to NASA.[21] In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology.[18]

The agency’s leader, NASA’s administrator, is nominated by the President of the United States subject to approval of the US Senate, and reports to him or her and serves as senior space science advisor. Though space exploration is ostensibly non-partisan, the appointee usually is associated with the President’s political party (Democratic or Republican), and a new administrator is usually chosen when the Presidency changes parties. The only exceptions to this have been:

The first administrator was Dr. T. Keith Glennan appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his term he brought together the disparate projects in American space development research.[25]

The second administrator, James E. Webb (19611968), appointed by President John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat who first publicly served under President Harry S. Truman. In order to implement the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy’s Moon landing goal by the end of the 1960s, Webb directed major management restructuring and facility expansion, establishing the Houston Manned Spacecraft (Johnson) Center and the Florida Launch Operations (Kennedy) Center. Capitalizing on Kennedy’s legacy, President Lyndon Johnson kept continuity with the Apollo program by keeping Webb on when he succeeded Kennedy in November 1963. But Webb resigned in October 1968 before Apollo achieved its goal, and Republican President Richard M. Nixon replaced Webb with Republican Thomas O. Paine.

James Fletcher was responsible for early planning of the Space Shuttle program during his first term as administrator under President Nixon. He was appointed for a second term as administrator from May 1986 through April 1989 by President Ronald Reagan to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Former astronaut Charles Bolden served as NASA’s twelfth administrator from July 2009 to January 20, 2017.[26] Bolden is one of three former astronauts who became NASA administrators, along with Richard H. Truly (served 19891992) and Frederick D. Gregory (acting, 2005).

The agency’s administration is located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC and provides overall guidance and direction.[27] Except under exceptional circumstances, NASA civil service employees are required to be citizens of the United States.[28]

NASA has conducted many manned and unmanned spaceflight programs throughout its history. Unmanned programs launched the first American artificial satellites into Earth orbit for scientific and communications purposes, and sent scientific probes to explore the planets of the solar system, starting with Venus and Mars, and including “grand tours” of the outer planets. Manned programs sent the first Americans into low Earth orbit (LEO), won the Space Race with the Soviet Union by landing twelve men on the Moon from 1969 to 1972 in the Apollo program, developed a semi-reusable LEO Space Shuttle, and developed LEO space station capability by itself and with the cooperation of several other nations including post-Soviet Russia. Some missions include both manned and unmanned aspects, such as the Galileo probe, which was deployed by astronauts in Earth orbit before being sent unmanned to Jupiter.

The experimental rocket-powered aircraft programs started by NACA were extended by NASA as support for manned spaceflight. This was followed by a one-man space capsule program, and in turn by a two-man capsule program. Reacting to loss of national prestige and security fears caused by early leads in space exploration by the Soviet Union, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960s], and returning him safely to the Earth.” This goal was met in 1969 by the Apollo program, and NASA planned even more ambitious activities leading to a manned mission to Mars. However, reduction of the perceived threat and changing political priorities almost immediately caused the termination of most of these plans. NASA turned its attention to an Apollo-derived temporary space laboratory, and a semi-reusable Earth orbital shuttle. In the 1990s, funding was approved for NASA to develop a permanent Earth orbital space station in cooperation with the international community, which now included the former rival, post-Soviet Russia. To date, NASA has launched a total of 166 manned space missions on rockets, and thirteen X-15 rocket flights above the USAF definition of spaceflight altitude, 260,000 feet (80km).[29]

The X-15 was an NACA experimental rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft, developed in conjunction with the US Air Force and Navy. The design featured a slender fuselage with fairings along the side containing fuel and early computerized control systems.[30] Requests for proposal were issued on December 30, 1954, for the airframe, and February 4, 1955, for the rocket engine. The airframe contract was awarded to North American Aviation in November 1955, and the XLR30 engine contract was awarded to Reaction Motors in 1956, and three planes were built. The X-15 was drop-launched from the wing of one of two NASA Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, NB52A tail number 52-003, and NB52B, tail number 52-008 (known as the Balls 8). Release took place at an altitude of about 45,000 feet (14km) and a speed of about 500 miles per hour (805km/h).

Twelve pilots were selected for the program from the Air Force, Navy, and NACA (later NASA). A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a manned powered aircraft (current as of 2014[update]), and a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, 4,519 miles per hour (7,273km/h).[31] The altitude record for X-15 was 354,200 feet (107.96km).[32] Eight of the pilots were awarded Air Force astronaut wings for flying above 260,000 feet (80km), and two flights by Joseph A. Walker exceeded 100 kilometers (330,000ft), qualifying as spaceflight according to the International Aeronautical Federation. The X-15 program employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets for controlling the orientation of a spacecraft, space suits, and horizon definition for navigation.[32] The reentry and landing data collected were valuable to NASA for designing the Space Shuttle.[30]

Shortly after the Space Race began, an early objective was to get a person into Earth orbit as soon as possible, therefore the simplest spacecraft that could be launched by existing rockets was favored. The US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program considered many manned spacecraft designs, ranging from rocket planes like the X-15, to small ballistic space capsules.[33] By 1958, the space plane concepts were eliminated in favor of the ballistic capsule.[34]

When NASA was created that same year, the Air Force program was transferred to it and renamed Project Mercury. The first seven astronauts were selected among candidates from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Freedom7, launched by a Redstone booster on a 15-minute ballistic (suborbital) flight.[35] John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit, by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20, 1962, aboard Friendship7.[36] Glenn completed three orbits, after which three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight Faith 7, May 1516, 1963.[37]

The Soviet Union (USSR) competed with its own single-pilot spacecraft, Vostok. They sent the first man in space, by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into a single Earth orbit aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961, one month before Shepard’s flight.[38] In August 1962, they achieved an almost four-day record flight with Andriyan Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3, and also conducted a concurrent Vostok 4 mission carrying Pavel Popovich.

Based on studies to grow the Mercury spacecraft capabilities to long-duration flights, developing space rendezvous techniques, and precision Earth landing, Project Gemini was started as a two-man program in 1962 to overcome the Soviets’ lead and to support the Apollo manned lunar landing program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous and docking to its objectives. The first manned Gemini flight, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965.[39] Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, demonstrating an endurance mission of nearly fourteen days, rendezvous, docking, and practical EVA, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.[40][41]

Under the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the USSR competed with Gemini by converting their Vostok spacecraft into a two- or three-man Voskhod. They succeeded in launching two manned flights before Gemini’s first flight, achieving a three-cosmonaut flight in 1963 and the first EVA in 1964. After this, the program was canceled, and Gemini caught up while spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev developed the Soyuz spacecraft, their answer to Apollo.

The U.S public’s perception of the Soviet lead in the space race (by putting the first man into space) motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the Congress on May 25, 1961, to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which effectively launched the Apollo program.[42]

Apollo was one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever. It cost more than $20 billion in 1960s dollars[43] or an estimated $218billion in present-day US dollars.[44] (In comparison, the Manhattan Project cost roughly $27.8billion, accounting for inflation.)[44][45] It used the Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, which were far bigger than the rockets built for previous projects.[46] The spacecraft was also bigger; it had two main parts, the combined command and service module (CSM) and the lunar landing module (LM). The LM was to be left on the Moon and only the command module (CM) containing the three astronauts would eventually return to Earth.[note 2]

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December 1968.[47] Shortly before, the Soviets had sent an unmanned spacecraft around the Moon.[48] On the next two missions docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced[49][50] and then finally the Moon landing was made on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.[51]

The first person to stand on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, who was followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions returned a wealth of scientific data and 381.7 kilograms (842lb) of lunar samples. Topics covered by experiments performed included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismology, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind.[52] The Moon landing marked the end of the space race; and as a gesture, Armstrong mentioned mankind when he stepped down on the Moon.[53]

Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body.[54] Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit to date. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museums.

Skylab was the United States’ first and only independently built space station.[55] Conceived in 1965 as a workshop to be constructed in space from a spent Saturn IB upper stage, the 169,950lb (77,088kg) station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14, 1973, atop the first two stages of a Saturn V, into a 235-nautical-mile (435km) orbit inclined at 50 to the equator. Damaged during launch by the loss of its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panel, it was repaired to functionality by its first crew. It was occupied for a total of 171 days by 3 successive crews in 1973 and 1974.[55] It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory.[55] NASA planned to have a Space Shuttle dock with it, and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but the Shuttle was not ready for flight before Skylab’s re-entry on July 11, 1979.[56]

To save cost, NASA used one of the Saturn V rockets originally earmarked for a canceled Apollo mission to launch the Skylab. Apollo spacecraft were used for transporting astronauts to and from the station. Three three-man crews stayed aboard the station for periods of 28, 59, and 84 days. Skylab’s habitable volume was 11,290 cubic feet (320m3), which was 30.7 times bigger than that of the Apollo Command Module.[56]

On May 24, 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement calling for a joint manned space mission, and declaring intent for all future international manned spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other.[57] This authorized the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), involving the rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit of a surplus Apollo Command/Service Module with a Soyuz spacecraft. The mission took place in July 1975. This was the last US manned space flight until the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981.[58]

The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments, and provided useful engineering experience for future joint USRussian space flights, such as the ShuttleMir Program[59] and the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981,[60] the 20th anniversary of the first known human space flight.[61]

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. The shuttle could orbit in altitudes of 185643km (115400 miles)[62] and carry a maximum payload (to low orbit) of 24,400kg (54,000lb).[63] Missions could last from 5 to 17 days and crews could be from 2 to 8 astronauts.[62]

On 20 missions (198398) the Space Shuttle carried Spacelab, designed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Spacelab was not designed for independent orbital flight, but remained in the Shuttle’s cargo bay as the astronauts entered and left it through an airlock.[64] Another famous series of missions were the launch and later successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and 1993, respectively.[65]

In 1995, Russian-American interaction resumed with the ShuttleMir missions (19951998). Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation has continued with Russia and the United States as two of the biggest partners in the largest space station 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 during the two-year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.[66] While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss.[66] 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 program spanned 30 years with over 300 astronauts sent into space.[67]

The International Space Station (ISS) combines NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kib laboratory module.[68] NASA originally planned in the 1980s to develop Freedom alone, but US budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national program in 1993, managed by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).[69][70] The station consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components, which have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and the US Space Shuttles.[68] It is currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. The on-orbit assembly began in 1998, the completion of the US Orbital Segment occurred in 2011 and the completion of the Russian Orbital Segment is expected by 2016.[71][72][needs update] The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements[73] which divide the station into two areas and allow Russia to retain full ownership of the Russian Orbital Segment (with the exception of Zarya),[74][75] with the US Orbital Segment allocated between the other international partners.[73]

Long duration missions to the ISS are referred to as ISS Expeditions. Expedition crew members typically spend approximately six months on the ISS.[76] The initial expedition crew size was three, temporarily decreased to two following the Columbia disaster. Since May 2009, expedition crew size has been six crew members.[77] Crew size is expected to be increased to seven, the number the ISS was designed for, once the Commercial Crew Program becomes operational.[78] The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 18years and 66days, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations.[79][80]

The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye and, as of 2019, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit with a mass and volume greater than that of any previous space station.[81] The Soyuz spacecraft delivers crew members, stays docked for their half-year-long missions and then returns them home. Several uncrewed cargo spacecraft service the ISS, they are the Russian Progress spacecraft which has done so since 2000, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, the American Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013. The Space Shuttle, before its retirement, was also used for cargo transfer and would often switch out expedition crew members, although it did not have the capability to remain docked for the duration of their stay. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready, crew members will travel to and from the International Space Station exclusively aboard the Soyuz.[82] The highest number of people occupying the ISS has been thirteen; this occurred three times during the late Shuttle ISS assembly missions.[83]

The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, and may be extended beyond 2028.[84]

Dragon being berthed to the ISS in May 2012

Cygnus berthed to the ISS in September 2013

The development of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicles began in 2006 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the ISS.[85] The development of these vehicles was under a fixed price milestone-based program, meaning that each company that received a funded award had a list of milestones with a dollar value attached to them that they didn’t receive until after they had successfully completed the milestone.[86] Companies were also required to raise an unspecified amount of private investment for their proposal.[87]

On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Commercial Resupply Services contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation.[88] SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.[89] Orbital Sciences uses its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dragon resupply mission occurred in May 2012.[90] The first Cygnus resupply mission occurred in September 2013.[91] The CRS program now provides for all America’s ISS cargo needs; with the exception of a few vehicle-specific payloads that are delivered on the European ATV and the Japanese HTV.[92]

Rendering of CST-100 in orbit

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program was started in 2010 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated crewed spacecraft capable of delivering at least four crew members to the ISS, staying docked for 180 days and then returning them back to Earth.[93] It is hoped that these vehicles could also transport non-NASA customers to private space stations such those planned by Bigelow Aerospace.[94] Like COTS, CCDev is also a fixed price milestone-based developmental program that requires some private investment.[86]

In 2010, NASA announced the winners of the first phase of the program, a total of $50million was divided among five American companies to foster research and development into human spaceflight concepts and technologies in the private sector. In 2011, the winners of the second phase of the program were announced, $270million was divided among four companies.[95] In 2012, the winners of the third phase of the program were announced, NASA provided $1.1 billion divided among three companies to further develop their crew transportation systems.[96] In 2014, the winners of the final round were announced.[97] SpaceX’s Dragon V2 (planned to be launched on a Falcon 9 v1.1) received a contract valued up to $2.6 billion and Boeing’s CST-100 (to be launched on an Atlas V) received a contract valued up to $4.2 billion.[98] NASA expects these vehicles to begin transporting humans to the ISS in 2019.[99]

For missions beyond low Earth orbit (BLEO), NASA has been directed to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), a Saturn-V class rocket, and the two to six person, beyond low Earth orbit spacecraft, Orion. In February 2010, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed eliminating public funds for the Constellation program and shifting greater responsibility of servicing the ISS to private companies.[100] During a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, Obama proposed a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) to replace the formerly planned Ares V.[101] In his speech, Obama called for a manned mission to an asteroid as soon as 2025, and a manned mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[101] The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 11, 2010.[102] The act officially canceled the Constellation program.[102]

The Authorization Act required a newly designed HLV be chosen within 90 days of its passing; the launch vehicle was given the name “Space Launch System”. The new law also required the construction of a beyond low earth orbit spacecraft.[103] The Orion spacecraft, which was being developed as part of the Constellation program, was chosen to fulfill this role.[104] The Space Launch System is planned to launch both Orion and other necessary hardware for missions beyond low Earth orbit.[105] The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions. The initial capability of SLS is required to be able to lift 70 mt into LEO. It is then planned to be upgraded to 105 mt and then eventually to 130 mt.[104][106] Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), an unmanned test flight of Orion’s crew module, was launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket.[106] Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is the unmanned initial launch of SLS that would also send Orion on a circumlunar trajectory, which is planned for 2019.[106]

NASA’s next major space initiative is to be the construction of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G, formerly known as the “Deep Space Gateway”). This initiative is to involve the construction of a new “Space-Station” type of habitation, which will have many features in common with the current International Space Station, except that it will be in orbit about the Moon, instead of the Earth.[107] This space station will be designed primarily for non-continuous human habitation. The first tentative steps of returning to manned lunar missions will be Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which is to include the Orion crew module, propelled by the SLS, and is to launch in 2022. This mission is to be a 10- to 14-day mission planned to briefly place a crew of four into Lunar orbit.[106] The construction of the “Lunar Orbital Platform” is to begin with the following Exploration Mission-3 (EM-3), which is planned to deliver a crew of 4 to Lunar orbit along with the first module(s) of the new space-station. This mission will last for up to 26 days.

On June 5, 2016, NASA and DARPA announced plans to also build a series of new X-planes over the next 10 years.[108] One of the planes will be the Quiet Supersonic Technology project, burning low-carbon biofuels and generating quiet sonic booms.[108]

NASA plans to build full scale deep space habitats such as the Lunar Orbital Platform and the Nautilus-X as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.[109]

In 2017, NASA was directed by the congressional NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 to get humans to Mars-orbit (or to the Martian surface) by 2033.[110][111]

More than 1,000 unmanned missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the solar system.[112] Besides exploration, communication satellites have also been launched by NASA.[113] 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.

The first US unmanned satellite was Explorer 1, which started as an ABMA/JPL project during the early part of the Space Race. It was launched in January 1958, two months after Sputnik. At the creation of NASA, the Explorer project was transferred to the agency and still continues to this day. Its missions have been focusing on the Earth and the Sun, measuring magnetic fields and the solar wind, among other aspects.[114] A more recent Earth mission, not related to the Explorer program, was the Hubble Space Telescope, which as mentioned above was brought into orbit in 1990.[115]

The inner Solar System has been made the goal of at least four unmanned programs. The first was Mariner in the 1960s and ’70s, which made multiple visits to Venus and Mars and one to Mercury. Probes launched under the Mariner program were also the first to make a planetary flyby (Mariner 2), to take the first pictures from another planet (Mariner 4), the first planetary orbiter (Mariner 9), and the first to make a gravity assist maneuver (Mariner 10). This is a technique where the satellite takes advantage of the gravity and velocity of planets to reach its destination.[116]

The first successful landing on Mars was made by Viking 1 in 1976. Twenty years later a rover was landed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder.[117]

Outside Mars, Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973. More than 20 years later Galileo sent a probe into the planet’s atmosphere, and became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet.[118] Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn in 1979, with Voyager 2 making the first (and so far only) visits to Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989, respectively. The first spacecraft to leave the solar system was Pioneer 10 in 1983. For a time it was the most distant spacecraft, but it has since been surpassed by both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.[119]

Pioneers 10 and 11 and both Voyager probes carry messages from the Earth to extraterrestrial life.[120][121] Communication can be difficult with deep space travel. For instance, it took about three hours for a radio signal to reach the New Horizons spacecraft when it was more than halfway to Pluto.[122] Contact with Pioneer 10 was lost in 2003. Both Voyager probes continue to operate as they explore the outer boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.[123]

On November 26, 2011, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission was successfully launched for Mars. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and subsequently began its search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.[124][125][126]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini(19972017), and Juno (2011). In the early 2000s, NASA was put on course for the Moon, however in 2010 this program was cancelled (see Constellation program). As part of that plan the Shuttle was going to be replaced, however, although it was retired its replacement was also cancelled, leaving the US with no human spaceflight launcher for the first time in over three decades.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[127]

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base.[128] The goal was to start building the Moon base by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. However, in 2009, the Augustine Committee found the program to be on an “unsustainable trajectory.”[129] In 2010, President Barack Obama halted existing plans, including the Moon base, and directed a generic focus on manned missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.[130]

Since 2011, NASA’s strategic goals have been[131]

In August 2011, NASA accepted the donation of two space telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office. Despite being stored unused, the instruments are superior to the Hubble Space Telescope.[132]

In September 2011, NASA announced the start of the Space Launch System program to develop a human-rated heavy lift vehicle. The Space Launch System is intended to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and other elements towards the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and one day Mars.[133] The Orion MPCV conducted an unmanned test launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.[134]

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is currently scheduled to launch in May 2020.[135]

On August 6, 2012, NASA landed the rover Curiosity on Mars. On August 27, 2012, Curiosity transmitted the first pre-recorded message from the surface of Mars back to Earth, made by Administrator Charlie Bolden:

Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life … new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond to Mars.

This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy others have tried only America has fully succeeded. The investment we are making … the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future. Thank you.[136]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini (19972017), and Juno (2011).

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[127]

There was a new executive administration in the United States, which directed NASA to send Humans to Mars by the year 2033.[110][137] Foci in general for NASA were noted as human space exploration, space science, and technology.[137] The Europa Clipper and Mars 2020 continue to be supported for their planned schedules.[138]

In 2018, NASA alongside with other companies including Sensor Coating Systems, Pratt & Whitney, Monitor Coating and UTRC have launched the project CAUTION (CoAtings for Ultra High Temperature detectION). This project aims to enhance the temperature range of the Thermal History Coating up to 1,500C and beyond. The final goal of this project is improving the safety of jet engines as well as increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.[139]

Recent and planned activities include:

In response to the Apollo 1 accident which killed three astronauts 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 the aftermath of the Shuttle Columbia accident, Congress required that the ASAP submit an annual report to the NASA Administrator and to Congress.[144] By 1971, NASA had also established the Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council to provide the administrator with advisory committee support. In 1977, the latter two were combined to form the NASA Advisory Council (NAC).[145]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 reaffirmed the importance of ASAP.

Some of the major NASA directives were to land people on the Moon, build the space shuttle, and build a large space station. Typically, the major directives had the intervention of the science advisory, political, funding, and public interest that synergized into various waves of effort often heavily swayed by technical, funding, and worldwide events. For example, there was a major push to build Space Station Freedom in the 1980s, but when the Cold War ended, the Russians, the Americans and other international partners came together to build the International Space Station.

In the 2010s, the major shift was the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the development of a new manned heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Missions for the new System have varied but overall, they were similar as it primarily involved the desire to send a human into the space. The Space Exploration Initiative of the 1980s opened newer avenues of galaxy exploration.

In the coming decades, the focus is gradually shifting towards exploration of planet Mars; however, some differences exist over the technologies to develop and focus on for the exploration.[146] One of the options considered was the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).[146] ARM had largely been defunded in 2017, but the key technologies developed for ARM would be utilized for future exploration, especially on a solar electric propulsion system.[147][146]

Longer project execution timelines means its up to the future officials to execute on a directive, which often leads to directional mismanagement. For example, a Shuttle replacement has numerous components involved, each making some headway before being called off for various reasons including the National Aerospace Plane, Venture Star, Orbital Space Plane, Ares I, and others. The asteroid mission was not a major directive in the 2010s. Instead, the general support rested with the long-term goal of getting humans to Mars. The space shuttle was retired and much of the existing road map was shelved including the then planned Lunar Return and Ares I human launch vehicle.

Previously, in the early 2000s, there was a plan called the Constellation Program but this was defunded in the early 2010s.[148][149][150][151] In the 1990s, there was a plan called “Faster, Better, Cheaper”[152] In the 1980s, there was a directive to build a manned space station.[153]

The NASA Authorization Act of 2017, which included $19.5 billion in funding for that fiscal year, directed NASA to get humans near or on the surface of Mars by the early 2030s.[154]

In December 2017, on the 45th anniversary of the last manned mission to the Lunar surface, President Donald Trump approved a directive that includes a lunar mission on the pathway to Mars and beyond.[146]

We’ll learn. The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars. And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.

New NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed this directive in an August 2018 speech where he focused on the sustainability aspectsgoing to the Moon to staythat are explicit in the directive, including taking advantage of US commercial space capability that did not exist even five years ago, which have driven down costs and increased access to space.[156]

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate conducts aeronautics research.

NASA has made use of technologies such as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which is a type of Radioisotope thermoelectric generator used on space missions.[157] Shortages of this material have curtailed deep space missions since the turn of the millennia.[158] An example of a spacecraft that was not developed because of a shortage of this material was New Horizons 2.[158]

The earth science research program was created and first funded in the 1980s under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.[159][160]

NASA started an annual competition in 2014 named Cubes in Space.[161] It is jointly organized by NASA and the global education company I Doodle Learning, with the objective of teaching school students aged 1118 to design and build scientific experiments to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. On June 21, 2017 the world’s smallest satellite, Kalam SAT, built by an Indian team, was launched.[citation needed]

NASA also researches and publishes on climate change.[162] Its statements concur with the global scientific consensus that the global climate is warming.[163] Bob Walker, who has advised the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump on space issues, has advocated that NASA should focus on space exploration and that its climate study operations should be transferred to other agencies such as NOAA. Former NASA atmospheric scientist J. Marshall Shepherd countered that Earth science study was built into NASA’s mission at its creation in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act.[164]

NASA’s facilities are research, construction and communication centers to help its missions. Some facilities serve more than one application for historic or administrative reasons. NASA also operates a short-line railroad at the Kennedy Space Center and uses special aircraft.

John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is one of the best-known NASA facilities. It has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on pause, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America’s civilian space program from three pads at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston is home to the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center, where all flight control is managed for manned space missions. JSC is the lead NASA center for activities regarding the International Space Station and also houses the NASA Astronaut Corps that selects, trains, and provides astronauts as crew members for US and international space missions.

Another major facility is Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama at which the Saturn 5 rocket and Skylab were developed.[165] The JPL worked together with ABMA, one of the agencies behind Explorer 1, the first American space mission.

The ten NASA field centers are:

Numerous other facilities are operated by NASA, including the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia; the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana; the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Deep Space Network stations in Barstow, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

NASA’s share of the total federal budget peaked at approximately 4.41% in 1966 during the Apollo program, then rapidly declined to approximately 1% in 1975, and stayed around that level through 1998.[24][166] The percentage then gradually dropped, until leveling off again at around half a percent in 2006 (estimated in 2012 at 0.48% of the federal budget).[167] In a March 2012 hearing of the United States Senate Science Committee, science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson testified that “Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice thata penny on a dollarwe can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”[168][169]

The rest is here:

NASA – Wikipedia

NASA Learns More About Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua

In November2017, scientists pointed NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope toward the object knownas ‘Oumuamua- the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. The infraredSpitzer was one of many telescopes pointed at ‘Oumuamua in the weeks after itsdiscovery that October.

‘Oumuamua wastoo faint for Spitzer to detect when it looked more than two months after theobject’s closest aproach to Earth in early September. However, the “non-detection”puts a new limit on how large the strange object can be. The results arereported in a new study published today in the Astronomical Journal andcoauthored by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,California.

Scientists have concluded that vents on the surface of ‘Oumuamua must have emitted jets of gases, giving the object a slight boost in speed, which researchers detected by measuring the position of the object as it passed by Earth in 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Larger view

The new size limitis consistent with the findings of a research paper published earlierthis year, which suggested that outgassing was responsible for theslight changes in ‘Oumuamua’s speed and direction as it was tracked last year:The authors of that paper conclude the expelled gas acted like a small thrustergently pushing the object. That determination was dependent on ‘Oumuamua beingrelatively smaller than typical solar system comets. (The conclusion that’Oumuamua experienced outgassing suggested that it was composed of frozen gases,similar to a comet.)

“‘Oumuamuahas been full of surprises from day one, so we were eager to see what Spitzer mightshow,” said David Trilling, lead author on the new study and a professorof astronomy at Northern Arizona University. “The fact that ‘Oumuamua wastoo small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result.”

‘Oumuamua wasfirst detected by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope onHaleakala, Hawaii (the object’s name is a Hawaiian word meaning “visitorfrom afar arriving first”), in October 2017 while the telescope wassurveying for near-Earth asteroids.

Subsequent detailedobservations conducted by multiple ground-based telescopes and NASA’s HubbleSpace Telescope detected the sunlight reflected off ‘Oumuamua’s surface. Largevariations in the object’s brightness suggested that ‘Oumuamua is highly elongatedand probably less than half a mile (2,600 feet, or 800 meters) in its longestdimension.

But Spitzertracks asteroids and comets using the infrared energy, or heat, that they radiate,which can provide more specific information about an object’s size than opticalobservations of reflected sunlight alone would.

The fact that’Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect sets a limit on the object’s totalsurface area. However, since the non-detection can’t be used to infer shape, thesize limits are presented as what ‘Oumuamua’s diameter would be if it werespherical. Using three separate models that make slightly different assumptionsabout the object’s composition, Spitzer’s non-detection limited ‘Oumuamua’s “sphericaldiameter” to 1,440 feet (440 meters), 460 feet (140 meters) or perhaps aslittle as 320 feet (100 meters). The wide range of results stems from theassumptions about ‘Oumuamua’s composition, which influences how visible (or faint)it would appear to Spitzer were it a particular size.

Small but Reflective

The new studyalso suggests that ‘Oumuamua may be up to 10 times more reflective than the cometsthat reside in our solar system – a surprising result, according to the paper’sauthors. Because infrared light is largely heat radiation produced by”warm” objects, it can be used to determine the temperature of acomet or asteroid; in turn, this can be used to determine the reflectivity ofthe object’s surface – what scientists call albedo. Just as a dark T-shirt in sunlightheats up more quickly than a light one, an object with low reflectivity retainsmore heat than an object with high reflectivity. So a lower temperature means ahigher albedo.

A comet’salbedo can change throughout its lifetime. When it passes close to the Sun, acomet’s ice warms and turns directly into a gas, sweeping dust and dirt off thecomet’s surface and revealing more reflective ice.

‘Oumuamua hadbeen traveling through interstellar space for millions of years, far from anystar that could refresh its surface. But it may have had its surface refreshed throughsuch “outgassing” when it made an extremely close approach to our Sun,a little more than five weeks before it was discovered. In addition to sweepingaway dust and dirt, some of the released gas may have covered the surface of’Oumuamua with a reflective coat of ice and snow – a phenomenon that’s alsobeen observed in comets in our solar system.

‘Oumuamua ison its way out of our solar system – almost as far from the Sun as Saturn’sorbit – and is well beyond the reach of any existing telescopes.

“Usually,if we get a measurement from a comet that’s kind of weird, we go back andmeasure it again until we understand what we’re seeing,” said DavideFarnocchia, of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL and acoauthor on both papers. “But this one is gone forever; we probably knowas much about it as we’re ever going to know.”

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’sScience Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted atthe Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraftoperations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Littleton,Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC atCaltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

https://spitzer.caltech.edu

https://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

News Media Contact

2018-262

The rest is here:

NASA Learns More About Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua

NASA Learns More About Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua

In November2017, scientists pointed NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope toward the object knownas ‘Oumuamua- the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. The infraredSpitzer was one of many telescopes pointed at ‘Oumuamua in the weeks after itsdiscovery that October.

‘Oumuamua wastoo faint for Spitzer to detect when it looked more than two months after theobject’s closest aproach to Earth in early September. However, the “non-detection”puts a new limit on how large the strange object can be. The results arereported in a new study published today in the Astronomical Journal andcoauthored by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,California.

Scientists have concluded that vents on the surface of ‘Oumuamua must have emitted jets of gases, giving the object a slight boost in speed, which researchers detected by measuring the position of the object as it passed by Earth in 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Larger view

The new size limitis consistent with the findings of a research paper published earlierthis year, which suggested that outgassing was responsible for theslight changes in ‘Oumuamua’s speed and direction as it was tracked last year:The authors of that paper conclude the expelled gas acted like a small thrustergently pushing the object. That determination was dependent on ‘Oumuamua beingrelatively smaller than typical solar system comets. (The conclusion that’Oumuamua experienced outgassing suggested that it was composed of frozen gases,similar to a comet.)

“‘Oumuamuahas been full of surprises from day one, so we were eager to see what Spitzer mightshow,” said David Trilling, lead author on the new study and a professorof astronomy at Northern Arizona University. “The fact that ‘Oumuamua wastoo small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result.”

‘Oumuamua wasfirst detected by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope onHaleakala, Hawaii (the object’s name is a Hawaiian word meaning “visitorfrom afar arriving first”), in October 2017 while the telescope wassurveying for near-Earth asteroids.

Subsequent detailedobservations conducted by multiple ground-based telescopes and NASA’s HubbleSpace Telescope detected the sunlight reflected off ‘Oumuamua’s surface. Largevariations in the object’s brightness suggested that ‘Oumuamua is highly elongatedand probably less than half a mile (2,600 feet, or 800 meters) in its longestdimension.

But Spitzertracks asteroids and comets using the infrared energy, or heat, that they radiate,which can provide more specific information about an object’s size than opticalobservations of reflected sunlight alone would.

The fact that’Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect sets a limit on the object’s totalsurface area. However, since the non-detection can’t be used to infer shape, thesize limits are presented as what ‘Oumuamua’s diameter would be if it werespherical. Using three separate models that make slightly different assumptionsabout the object’s composition, Spitzer’s non-detection limited ‘Oumuamua’s “sphericaldiameter” to 1,440 feet (440 meters), 460 feet (140 meters) or perhaps aslittle as 320 feet (100 meters). The wide range of results stems from theassumptions about ‘Oumuamua’s composition, which influences how visible (or faint)it would appear to Spitzer were it a particular size.

Small but Reflective

The new studyalso suggests that ‘Oumuamua may be up to 10 times more reflective than the cometsthat reside in our solar system – a surprising result, according to the paper’sauthors. Because infrared light is largely heat radiation produced by”warm” objects, it can be used to determine the temperature of acomet or asteroid; in turn, this can be used to determine the reflectivity ofthe object’s surface – what scientists call albedo. Just as a dark T-shirt in sunlightheats up more quickly than a light one, an object with low reflectivity retainsmore heat than an object with high reflectivity. So a lower temperature means ahigher albedo.

A comet’salbedo can change throughout its lifetime. When it passes close to the Sun, acomet’s ice warms and turns directly into a gas, sweeping dust and dirt off thecomet’s surface and revealing more reflective ice.

‘Oumuamua hadbeen traveling through interstellar space for millions of years, far from anystar that could refresh its surface. But it may have had its surface refreshed throughsuch “outgassing” when it made an extremely close approach to our Sun,a little more than five weeks before it was discovered. In addition to sweepingaway dust and dirt, some of the released gas may have covered the surface of’Oumuamua with a reflective coat of ice and snow – a phenomenon that’s alsobeen observed in comets in our solar system.

‘Oumuamua ison its way out of our solar system – almost as far from the Sun as Saturn’sorbit – and is well beyond the reach of any existing telescopes.

“Usually,if we get a measurement from a comet that’s kind of weird, we go back andmeasure it again until we understand what we’re seeing,” said DavideFarnocchia, of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL and acoauthor on both papers. “But this one is gone forever; we probably knowas much about it as we’re ever going to know.”

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’sScience Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted atthe Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraftoperations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Littleton,Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC atCaltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

https://spitzer.caltech.edu

https://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

News Media Contact

2018-262

View post:

NASA Learns More About Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua

NASA – Wikipedia

A documentary about spaceflight in NASA

NASA has conducted many manned and unmanned spaceflight programs throughout its history. Unmanned programs launched the first American artificial satellites into Earth orbit for scientific and communications purposes, and sent scientific probes to explore the planets of the solar system, starting with Venus and Mars, and including “grand tours” of the outer planets. Manned programs sent the first Americans into low Earth orbit (LEO), won the Space Race with the Soviet Union by landing twelve men on the Moon from 1969 to 1972 in the Apollo program, developed a semi-reusable LEO Space Shuttle, and developed LEO space station capability by itself and with the cooperation of several other nations including post-Soviet Russia. Some missions include both manned and unmanned aspects, such as the Galileo probe, which was deployed by astronauts in Earth orbit before being sent unmanned to Jupiter.

The experimental rocket-powered aircraft programs started by NACA were extended by NASA as support for manned spaceflight. This was followed by a one-man space capsule program, and in turn by a two-man capsule program. Reacting to loss of national prestige and security fears caused by early leads in space exploration by the Soviet Union, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960s], and returning him safely to the Earth.” This goal was met in 1969 by the Apollo program, and NASA planned even more ambitious activities leading to a manned mission to Mars. However, reduction of the perceived threat and changing political priorities almost immediately caused the termination of most of these plans. NASA turned its attention to an Apollo-derived temporary space laboratory, and a semi-reusable Earth orbital shuttle. In the 1990s, funding was approved for NASA to develop a permanent Earth orbital space station in cooperation with the international community, which now included the former rival, post-Soviet Russia. To date, NASA has launched a total of 166 manned space missions on rockets, and thirteen X-15 rocket flights above the USAF definition of spaceflight altitude, 260,000 feet (80km).[29]

The X-15 was an NACA experimental rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft, developed in conjunction with the US Air Force and Navy. The design featured a slender fuselage with fairings along the side containing fuel and early computerized control systems.[30] Requests for proposal were issued on December 30, 1954, for the airframe, and February 4, 1955, for the rocket engine. The airframe contract was awarded to North American Aviation in November 1955, and the XLR30 engine contract was awarded to Reaction Motors in 1956, and three planes were built. The X-15 was drop-launched from the wing of one of two NASA Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, NB52A tail number 52-003, and NB52B, tail number 52-008 (known as the Balls 8). Release took place at an altitude of about 45,000 feet (14km) and a speed of about 500 miles per hour (805km/h).

Twelve pilots were selected for the program from the Air Force, Navy, and NACA (later NASA). A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a manned powered aircraft (current as of 2014[update]), and a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, 4,519 miles per hour (7,273km/h).[31] The altitude record for X-15 was 354,200 feet (107.96km).[32] Eight of the pilots were awarded Air Force astronaut wings for flying above 260,000 feet (80km), and two flights by Joseph A. Walker exceeded 100 kilometers (330,000ft), qualifying as spaceflight according to the International Aeronautical Federation. The X-15 program employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets for controlling the orientation of a spacecraft, space suits, and horizon definition for navigation.[32] The reentry and landing data collected were valuable to NASA for designing the Space Shuttle.[30]

Shortly after the Space Race began, an early objective was to get a person into Earth orbit as soon as possible, therefore the simplest spacecraft that could be launched by existing rockets was favored. The US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program considered many manned spacecraft designs, ranging from rocket planes like the X-15, to small ballistic space capsules.[33] By 1958, the space plane concepts were eliminated in favor of the ballistic capsule.[34]

When NASA was created that same year, the Air Force program was transferred to it and renamed Project Mercury. The first seven astronauts were selected among candidates from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Freedom7, launched by a Redstone booster on a 15-minute ballistic (suborbital) flight.[35] John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit, by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20, 1962, aboard Friendship7.[36] Glenn completed three orbits, after which three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight Faith 7, May 1516, 1963.[37]

The Soviet Union (USSR) competed with its own single-pilot spacecraft, Vostok. They sent the first man in space, by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into a single Earth orbit aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961, one month before Shepard’s flight.[38] In August 1962, they achieved an almost four-day record flight with Andriyan Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3, and also conducted a concurrent Vostok 4 mission carrying Pavel Popovich.

Based on studies to grow the Mercury spacecraft capabilities to long-duration flights, developing space rendezvous techniques, and precision Earth landing, Project Gemini was started as a two-man program in 1962 to overcome the Soviets’ lead and to support the Apollo manned lunar landing program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous and docking to its objectives. The first manned Gemini flight, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965.[39] Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, demonstrating an endurance mission of nearly fourteen days, rendezvous, docking, and practical EVA, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.[40][41]

Under the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the USSR competed with Gemini by converting their Vostok spacecraft into a two- or three-man Voskhod. They succeeded in launching two manned flights before Gemini’s first flight, achieving a three-cosmonaut flight in 1963 and the first EVA in 1964. After this, the program was canceled, and Gemini caught up while spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev developed the Soyuz spacecraft, their answer to Apollo.

The U.S public’s perception of the Soviet lead in the space race (by putting the first man into space) motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the Congress on May 25, 1961, to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which effectively launched the Apollo program.[42]

Apollo was one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever. It cost more than $20 billion in 1960s dollars[43] or an estimated $218billion in present-day US dollars.[44] (In comparison, the Manhattan Project cost roughly $27.8billion, accounting for inflation.)[44][45] It used the Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, which were far bigger than the rockets built for previous projects.[46] The spacecraft was also bigger; it had two main parts, the combined command and service module (CSM) and the lunar landing module (LM). The LM was to be left on the Moon and only the command module (CM) containing the three astronauts would eventually return to Earth.[note 2]

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December 1968.[47] Shortly before, the Soviets had sent an unmanned spacecraft around the Moon.[48] On the next two missions docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced[49][50] and then finally the Moon landing was made on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.[51]

The first person to stand on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, who was followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions returned a wealth of scientific data and 381.7 kilograms (842lb) of lunar samples. Topics covered by experiments performed included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismology, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind.[52] The Moon landing marked the end of the space race; and as a gesture, Armstrong mentioned mankind when he stepped down on the Moon.[53]

Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body.[54] Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit to date. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museums.

Skylab was the United States’ first and only independently built space station.[55] Conceived in 1965 as a workshop to be constructed in space from a spent Saturn IB upper stage, the 169,950lb (77,088kg) station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14, 1973, atop the first two stages of a Saturn V, into a 235-nautical-mile (435km) orbit inclined at 50 to the equator. Damaged during launch by the loss of its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panel, it was repaired to functionality by its first crew. It was occupied for a total of 171 days by 3 successive crews in 1973 and 1974.[55] It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory.[55] NASA planned to have a Space Shuttle dock with it, and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but the Shuttle was not ready for flight before Skylab’s re-entry on July 11, 1979.[56]

To save cost, NASA used one of the Saturn V rockets originally earmarked for a canceled Apollo mission to launch the Skylab. Apollo spacecraft were used for transporting astronauts to and from the station. Three three-man crews stayed aboard the station for periods of 28, 59, and 84 days. Skylab’s habitable volume was 11,290 cubic feet (320m3), which was 30.7 times bigger than that of the Apollo Command Module.[56]

On May 24, 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement calling for a joint manned space mission, and declaring intent for all future international manned spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other.[57] This authorized the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), involving the rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit of a surplus Apollo Command/Service Module with a Soyuz spacecraft. The mission took place in July 1975. This was the last US manned space flight until the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981.[58]

The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments, and provided useful engineering experience for future joint USRussian space flights, such as the ShuttleMir Program[59] and the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as a frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicle, four space shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981,[60] the 20th anniversary of the first known human space flight.[61]

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. The shuttle could orbit in altitudes of 185643km (115400 miles)[62] and carry a maximum payload (to low orbit) of 24,400kg (54,000lb).[63] Missions could last from 5 to 17 days and crews could be from 2 to 8 astronauts.[62]

On 20 missions (198398) the Space Shuttle carried Spacelab, designed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Spacelab was not designed for independent orbital flight, but remained in the Shuttle’s cargo bay as the astronauts entered and left it through an airlock.[64] Another famous series of missions were the launch and later successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and 1993, respectively.[65]

In 1995, Russian-American interaction resumed with the ShuttleMir missions (19951998). Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation has continued with Russia and the United States as two of the biggest partners in the largest space station 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 during the two-year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003.[66] While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss.[66] 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 program spanned 30 years with over 300 astronauts sent into space.[67]

The International Space Station (ISS) combines NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kib laboratory module.[68] NASA originally planned in the 1980s to develop Freedom alone, but US budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national program in 1993, managed by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).[69][70] The station consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components, which have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and the US Space Shuttles.[68] It is currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. The on-orbit assembly began in 1998, the completion of the US Orbital Segment occurred in 2011 and the completion of the Russian Orbital Segment is expected by 2016.[71][72][needs update] The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements[73] which divide the station into two areas and allow Russia to retain full ownership of the Russian Orbital Segment (with the exception of Zarya),[74][75] with the US Orbital Segment allocated between the other international partners.[73]

Long duration missions to the ISS are referred to as ISS Expeditions. Expedition crew members typically spend approximately six months on the ISS.[76] The initial expedition crew size was three, temporarily decreased to two following the Columbia disaster. Since May 2009, expedition crew size has been six crew members.[77] Crew size is expected to be increased to seven, the number the ISS was designed for, once the Commercial Crew Program becomes operational.[78] The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 18years and 63days, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations.[79][80]

The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye and, as of 2019, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit with a mass and volume greater than that of any previous space station.[81] The Soyuz spacecraft delivers crew members, stays docked for their half-year-long missions and then returns them home. Several uncrewed cargo spacecraft service the ISS, they are the Russian Progress spacecraft which has done so since 2000, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, the American Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013. The Space Shuttle, before its retirement, was also used for cargo transfer and would often switch out expedition crew members, although it did not have the capability to remain docked for the duration of their stay. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready, crew members will travel to and from the International Space Station exclusively aboard the Soyuz.[82] The highest number of people occupying the ISS has been thirteen; this occurred three times during the late Shuttle ISS assembly missions.[83]

The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, and may be extended beyond 2028.[84]

Dragon being berthed to the ISS in May 2012

Cygnus berthed to the ISS in September 2013

The development of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicles began in 2006 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated uncrewed cargo vehicles to service the ISS.[85] The development of these vehicles was under a fixed price milestone-based program, meaning that each company that received a funded award had a list of milestones with a dollar value attached to them that they didn’t receive until after they had successfully completed the milestone.[86] Companies were also required to raise an unspecified amount of private investment for their proposal.[87]

On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Commercial Resupply Services contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation.[88] SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.[89] Orbital Sciences uses its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dragon resupply mission occurred in May 2012.[90] The first Cygnus resupply mission occurred in September 2013.[91] The CRS program now provides for all America’s ISS cargo needs; with the exception of a few vehicle-specific payloads that are delivered on the European ATV and the Japanese HTV.[92]

Rendering of CST-100 in orbit

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program was started in 2010 with the purpose of creating American commercially operated crewed spacecraft capable of delivering at least four crew members to the ISS, staying docked for 180 days and then returning them back to Earth.[93] It is hoped that these vehicles could also transport non-NASA customers to private space stations such those planned by Bigelow Aerospace.[94] Like COTS, CCDev is also a fixed price milestone-based developmental program that requires some private investment.[86]

In 2010, NASA announced the winners of the first phase of the program, a total of $50million was divided among five American companies to foster research and development into human spaceflight concepts and technologies in the private sector. In 2011, the winners of the second phase of the program were announced, $270million was divided among four companies.[95] In 2012, the winners of the third phase of the program were announced, NASA provided $1.1 billion divided among three companies to further develop their crew transportation systems.[96] In 2014, the winners of the final round were announced.[97] SpaceX’s Dragon V2 (planned to be launched on a Falcon 9 v1.1) received a contract valued up to $2.6 billion and Boeing’s CST-100 (to be launched on an Atlas V) received a contract valued up to $4.2 billion.[98] NASA expects these vehicles to begin transporting humans to the ISS in 2019.[99]

For missions beyond low Earth orbit (BLEO), NASA has been directed to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), a Saturn-V class rocket, and the two to six person, beyond low Earth orbit spacecraft, Orion. In February 2010, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed eliminating public funds for the Constellation program and shifting greater responsibility of servicing the ISS to private companies.[100] During a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, Obama proposed a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) to replace the formerly planned Ares V.[101] In his speech, Obama called for a manned mission to an asteroid as soon as 2025, and a manned mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[101] The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 11, 2010.[102] The act officially canceled the Constellation program.[102]

The Authorization Act required a newly designed HLV be chosen within 90 days of its passing; the launch vehicle was given the name “Space Launch System”. The new law also required the construction of a beyond low earth orbit spacecraft.[103] The Orion spacecraft, which was being developed as part of the Constellation program, was chosen to fulfill this role.[104] The Space Launch System is planned to launch both Orion and other necessary hardware for missions beyond low Earth orbit.[105] The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions. The initial capability of SLS is required to be able to lift 70 mt into LEO. It is then planned to be upgraded to 105 mt and then eventually to 130 mt.[104][106] Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), an unmanned test flight of Orion’s crew module, was launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket.[106] Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is the unmanned initial launch of SLS that would also send Orion on a circumlunar trajectory, which is planned for 2019.[106]

NASA’s next major space initiative is to be the construction of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G, formerly known as the “Deep Space Gateway”). This initiative is to involve the construction of a new “Space-Station” type of habitation, which will have many features in common with the current International Space Station, except that it will be in orbit about the Moon, instead of the Earth.[107] This space station will be designed primarily for non-continuous human habitation. The first tentative steps of returning to manned lunar missions will be Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), which is to include the Orion crew module, propelled by the SLS, and is to launch in 2022. This mission is to be a 10- to 14-day mission planned to briefly place a crew of four into Lunar orbit.[106] The construction of the “Lunar Orbital Platform” is to begin with the following Exploration Mission-3 (EM-3), which is planned to deliver a crew of 4 to Lunar orbit along with the first module(s) of the new space-station. This mission will last for up to 26 days.

On June 5, 2016, NASA and DARPA announced plans to also build a series of new X-planes over the next 10 years.[108] One of the planes will be the Quiet Supersonic Technology project, burning low-carbon biofuels and generating quiet sonic booms.[108]

NASA plans to build full scale deep space habitats such as the Lunar Orbital Platform and the Nautilus-X as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.[109]

In 2017, NASA was directed by the congressional NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 to get humans to Mars-orbit (or to the Martian surface) by 2033.[110][111]

More than 1,000 unmanned missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the solar system.[112] Besides exploration, communication satellites have also been launched by NASA.[113] 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.

The first US unmanned satellite was Explorer 1, which started as an ABMA/JPL project during the early part of the Space Race. It was launched in January 1958, two months after Sputnik. At the creation of NASA, the Explorer project was transferred to the agency and still continues to this day. Its missions have been focusing on the Earth and the Sun, measuring magnetic fields and the solar wind, among other aspects.[114] A more recent Earth mission, not related to the Explorer program, was the Hubble Space Telescope, which as mentioned above was brought into orbit in 1990.[115]

The inner Solar System has been made the goal of at least four unmanned programs. The first was Mariner in the 1960s and ’70s, which made multiple visits to Venus and Mars and one to Mercury. Probes launched under the Mariner program were also the first to make a planetary flyby (Mariner 2), to take the first pictures from another planet (Mariner 4), the first planetary orbiter (Mariner 9), and the first to make a gravity assist maneuver (Mariner 10). This is a technique where the satellite takes advantage of the gravity and velocity of planets to reach its destination.[116]

The first successful landing on Mars was made by Viking 1 in 1976. Twenty years later a rover was landed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder.[117]

Outside Mars, Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973. More than 20 years later Galileo sent a probe into the planet’s atmosphere, and became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet.[118] Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn in 1979, with Voyager 2 making the first (and so far only) visits to Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989, respectively. The first spacecraft to leave the solar system was Pioneer 10 in 1983. For a time it was the most distant spacecraft, but it has since been surpassed by both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.[119]

Pioneers 10 and 11 and both Voyager probes carry messages from the Earth to extraterrestrial life.[120][121] Communication can be difficult with deep space travel. For instance, it took about three hours for a radio signal to reach the New Horizons spacecraft when it was more than halfway to Pluto.[122] Contact with Pioneer 10 was lost in 2003. Both Voyager probes continue to operate as they explore the outer boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.[123]

On November 26, 2011, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission was successfully launched for Mars. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and subsequently began its search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.[124][125][126]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini(19972017), and Juno (2011). In the early 2000s, NASA was put on course for the Moon, however in 2010 this program was cancelled (see Constellation program). As part of that plan the Shuttle was going to be replaced, however, although it was retired its replacement was also cancelled, leaving the US with no human spaceflight launcher for the first time in over three decades.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[127]

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base.[128] The goal was to start building the Moon base by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. However, in 2009, the Augustine Committee found the program to be on an “unsustainable trajectory.”[129] In 2010, President Barack Obama halted existing plans, including the Moon base, and directed a generic focus on manned missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.[130]

Since 2011, NASA’s strategic goals have been[131]

In August 2011, NASA accepted the donation of two space telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office. Despite being stored unused, the instruments are superior to the Hubble Space Telescope.[132]

In September 2011, NASA announced the start of the Space Launch System program to develop a human-rated heavy lift vehicle. The Space Launch System is intended to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and other elements towards the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and one day Mars.[133] The Orion MPCV conducted an unmanned test launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.[134]

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is currently scheduled to launch in May 2020.[135]

On August 6, 2012, NASA landed the rover Curiosity on Mars. On August 27, 2012, Curiosity transmitted the first pre-recorded message from the surface of Mars back to Earth, made by Administrator Charlie Bolden:

Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life … new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond to Mars.

This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy others have tried only America has fully succeeded. The investment we are making … the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future. Thank you.[136]

NASA’s ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Mars 2020 and InSight) and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other active spacecraft missions are Juno for Jupiter, 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 (19892003), Cassini (19972017), and Juno (2011).

The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and successfully performed a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 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 flyby. On the horizon of NASA’s plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[127]

There was a new executive administration in the United States, which directed NASA to send Humans to Mars by the year 2033.[110][137] Foci in general for NASA were noted as human space exploration, space science, and technology.[137] The Europa Clipper and Mars 2020 continue to be supported for their planned schedules.[138]

In 2018, NASA alongside with other companies including Sensor Coating Systems, Pratt & Whitney, Monitor Coating and UTRC have launched the project CAUTION (CoAtings for Ultra High Temperature detectION). This project aims to enhance the temperature range of the Thermal History Coating up to 1,500C and beyond. The final goal of this project is improving the safety of jet engines as well as increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.[139]

Recent and planned activities include:

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NASA – Wikipedia


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