The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is responsible for unique scientific and technological achievements in human space flight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications that have had widespread impacts on our nation and the world. Forged in response to early Soviet space achievements, NASA was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and other government organizations, as the locus of U. S. civil aerospace research and development. When NASA opened for business on October 1, 1958, it accelerated the work already started on human and robotic space flight. NASA's first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. This was followed by Project Gemini, which used spacecraft built for two astronauts to perfect the capabilities needed for the national objective of a human trip to the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Project Apollo achieved that objective in July 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission and expanded on it with five more successful lunar landing missions through 1972. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Projects of the mid-1970s, NASA's human spaceflight efforts again resumed in 1981, with the Space Shuttle program that continued for thirty years. The Shuttle was not only a breakthrough technology, but was essential to our next major step in space, the construction of the International Space Station. Over the last 57 years NASA has continued to push the boundaries with cutting edge aeronautics research that has dramatically changed the way we build and fly airplanes. NASA has also completed the reconnaissance of our solar system, with intense investigation of many of the planets. Using orbital spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has also dramatically changed our understanding of the universe around us, as well as our own planet. NASA’s early work on launch vehicles, communication satellites, and weather satellites has fundamentally changed daily life and created whole new industries. As a catalyst for international cooperation, NASA has also changed how and why humanity conducts space exploration. Now, NASA is preparing to take mankind farther than ever before, as it helps to foster a robust commercial space economy near Earth, and pioneers further human and robotic exploration on the journey to Mars.
Not enough history? Need more info? See our NASA History Fact Sheet or our book Orders of Magnitude: A History of the NACA and NASA, 1915- or try our Centennial of Flight Timeline and Celebrating the Century of Flight brochure.
Bill Barry, NASA Chief Historian
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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