NASA — 50 Years in Space and Beyond
August 15, 2008 -- On July 29, 1958, nine months after the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite sparked concern that the U.S. was falling behind in technology, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law. The act authorized the creation and funding of a civilian agency that would direct and conduct civil aeronautics and space research and programs. Three months later on October 1, NASA opened its doors.
NASA's aeronautics research program – the first A in NASA – builds on research dating back to 1915 when the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) was created by President Woodrow Wilson in an effort to organize American aeronautical research and raise it to the level of European aviation. Until forming a core component of NASA, NACA provided advice and carried out much of the cutting-edge research in aeronautics in the United States.
NASA has recorded a long history of achievements in space exploration since its 1958 inception. There have been more than 150 successful U.S. human space flights, including the Apollo moon landings, the launch of the United States' first space station, Skylab, and more than 120 flights of the space shuttle. Today, the shuttle's primary purpose is construction of the International Space Station, an endeavor involving 14 other countries including Russia, Japan, Canada, and several European nations.
NASA craft have visited every planet in the solar system, and one is en route to Pluto. Today, two rovers plus the new Phoenix lander are on the surface of Mars at the same time as two NASA spacecraft orbit the red planet, the Cassini spacecraft is investigating Saturn and its moons (including Titan where the presence of liquid was recently confirmed), and the Messenger spacecraft is studying Mercury. Other space-based instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, reveal the mysteries of the universe, while still others observe the interaction between the sun and Earth and monitor changes in Earth's climate.
The National Research Council's Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) produce numerous reports each year, often focusing on NASA projects. Available online, SSB's 2007 annual report highlights studies on astrophysics, earth science, planetary exploration, and more, and its newsletter provides information on more recent reports and studies that are under way. ASEB's newsletter also summarizes its recent and forthcoming reports, which center on space and aeronautics.
In addition, SSB recently completed a yearlong series of public seminars and colloquia, Forging the Future of Space Science, to highlight what we have learned from the first 50 years of space science research and look forward to what the next 50 may hold in store. Presentations and podcasts from the series are available online.