Sunday, July 10, 2011


The History of NASA
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) remains a government agency that still provides an amazing sense of wonder. Yet, in recent years, many do not see what NASA does as being all that spectacular. Perhaps NASA has done its job so well that many take the ability to travel through space completely for granted. During the early days of NASA, however, the American public consciousness was completely mesmerized at the ability of legendary astronauts to travel beyond the big blue marble we call earth.

NASA evolved from a previous Executive Branch office known as NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). In many ways, the United States was caught somewhat sleeping when the Soviets launched Sputnik I into space in October of 1957. This caused major panic in the United States due to fear of space launched atomic weapons. A sense of national pride was at stake because the Soviets had defeated the USA to get to space first. This led to the legendary space race, the establishment of NACA and subsequently, NASA, under the leadership of president Dwight Eisenhower. 
July 29, 1958 saw Eisenhower sign the National Aeronautics and Space Act which led to the establishment of NASA. This was a huge undertaking and maintained an operational workforce of 8,000 personnel. NASA was heavily involved with the development of rockets and satellites for military and non-military use. NASA would, however, develop more lofty goals.

1958 saw NASA launch the development of Project Mercury which dealt with sending a man into space. While we take such things for granted today, in 1958 there was serious questions regarding whether or not a man could survive in space. The work developed through Project Mercury certainly delivered results. In May of 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space when he operated the Freedom 7 in a suborbital mission. In February of 1962, John Glenn entered the history books as he orbited the earth building significantly on the accomplishments of Alan Shepard.
While the military component of NASA was always pronounced, the notion of human space exploration (Dubbed the final frontier by John F. Kennedy) is what truly captured the public's imagination. In particular, astronauts became true heroes to children as astronauts were as close to the classic image of the superhero that a human being could possibly become.
The next two major programs of NASA were Gemini and Apollo. Gemini was designed to develop and research missions to the moon. Gemini's work was quite successful as it set the stage for the Apollo moon mission. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon it what was clearly the watershed mark in the history of NASA.
In some ways, the legendary moonwalk was the pinnacle of success for NASA. The work of NASA continued on and would experience many more dramatic successes over the decades. This is why the legacy of NASA is an exalted one.

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