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 space research.
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.
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 uncrewed NASA launches.
NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program; exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft missions such as New Horizons; and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs.
Key Description of NASA:
Headquarters: Two Independence Square, Washington, D.C., United States
Preceding agency: NACA (1915–1958)
Founder: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Founded: 1 October 1958, United States
Administered by: Jim Bridenstine
Subsidiaries: NASA, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Type: Space agency
Jurisdiction: US Federal Government
Motto: For the Benefit of All
Employees: 17,373 (2020)
Annual Budget: Increase US$22.629 billion (2020)
Agency Executives: Jim Bridenstine, Administrator, James, Morhard, Deputy Administrator, Jeff DeWit, Chief Financial Officer
Creation of NASA:
Since 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had been experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1.
In the early 1950s, there was a challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year (1957–58), resulting in the American Project Vanguard among others. 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. On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published "A National Research Program for Space Technology" stating.
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.
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$100 million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities. A NASA seal was approved by President Eisenhower in 1959.
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.
Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force and many of ARPA's early space programs were also transferred to NASA.
In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology.
NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars (Perseverance 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 (1989–2003), Cassini (1997–2017), 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.
On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base.
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." In 2010, President Barack Obama halted existing plans, including the Moon base, and directed a generic focus on crewed missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.
Since 2011, NASA's strategic goals have been
- Extend and sustain human activities across the solar system
- Expand scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe
- Create innovative new space technologies
- Advance aeronautics research
- Enable program and institutional capabilities to conduct
- NASA's aeronautics and space activities
- Share NASA with the public, educators, and students to provide opportunities to participate
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.
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 spacecraft and other elements towards the Moon and Mars. The Orion spacecraft conducted an uncrewed test launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.
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.
NASA's budget from 1958 to 2012 as a percentage of federal budget
An artist's conception, from NASA, of an astronaut planting a US flag on Mars. A human mission to Mars has been discussed as a possible NASA mission since the 1960s.
Main article: Budget of NASA
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.
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). 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 that—a penny on a dollar—we 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.
Despite this, public perception of NASA's budget differs significantly: a 1997 poll indicated that most Americans believed that 20% of the federal budget went to NASA.
For Fiscal Year 2015, NASA received an appropriation of US$18.01 billion from Congress—$549 million more than requested and approximately $350 million more than the 2014 NASA budget passed by Congress.
In Fiscal Year 2016, NASA received $19.3 billion.
President Donald Trump signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 in March, which set the 2017 budget at around $19.5 billion. The budget is also reported as $19.3 billion for 2017, with $20.7 billion proposed for FY2018.
Examples of some proposed FY2018 budgets:
- Exploration: $4.79 billion
- Planetary science: $2.23 billion
- Earth science: $1.92 billion
- Aeronautics: $0.685 billion
Image of Some Spacecraft: