Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA celebrates its 50th Aniversary

For the benefit of all—NASA motto

In honor of NASA’s 50th anniversary, I wanted to post some awesome pictures of our Planet Earth as seen through the perspective of our astronauts and give you a summary history of this worthwhile program. I must confess that since I was a little girl I was fascinated by space and wanted to explore it as an astronaut. I seriously thought for a while that I would train to be one. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, except in my imagination and in my writing (see my upcoming book, Splintered Universe, which features a whole universe of space travel and adventure).
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, pronounced /ˈnæsə/) is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nation's public space program. NASA was established on July 29, 1958, by the National Aeronautics and Space Act.
In addition to the space program, NASA also conducts long-term civilian and military aerospace research.
Since February 2006 NASA's self-described mission statement is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research." The motto of NASA's Office of Education is: Shaping the Future: Launching New Endeavors to Inspire the Next Generation of Explorers.
On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard—one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts selected as pilot for this mission—became the first American in space when he piloted Freedom 7 on a 15-minute suborbital flight. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on 20 February 1962 during the 5 and a quarter-hour flight of Friendship 7.
Once the Mercury project proved that human spaceflight was possible, Project Gemini was launched to conduct experiments and work out issues relating to a moon mission. The first Gemini flight with astronauts on board, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on 23 March 1965. Nine other missions followed, showing that long-duration human space flight was possible, proving that rendezvous and docking with another vehicle in space was possible, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on human beings (Wikipedia).
The Apollo program followed with its exciting program to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11, landed the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments

The United States launched Skylab in 1973 and the 75 tonne station remained in Earth orbit until 1979. Skylab included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory.

The Space Shuttle became NASA's major focus in the late 1970s and the 1980s and was planned to be a frequently launchable vehicle. The first shuttle, Columbia was launched on my birthday, April 12, in 1981.
The shuttle program launched milestone projects like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and its success has paved the way for greater collaboration between the agencies. Some of its images, such as the groundbreaking Hubble Deep Field, have become famous.

In 1995 Russian-American interaction resumed with the Shuttle-Mir missions. Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation continues to today, with Russia and America the two biggest partners in the largest space station ever built – the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other NASA spacecraft are presently en route to Mercury and Pluto. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system.

the Phoenix mission was launched on August 4, 2007, in search of possible underground water courses in the northern Martian pole. This lander revives much of its experiments and instrumentation from the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander, hence its name. An improved and larger rover, Mars Science Laboratory, is under construction and slated to launch in 2009. On the horizon of NASA's plans are two possibilities under consideration for the Mars Scout 2013 mission.
The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and will fly by Pluto in 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 fly-by.
According to a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration, mankind will return to the Moon by 2018, and set up outposts as a testbed and potential resource for future missions. The Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and Orion will replace it by 2014, capable of both docking with the ISS and leaving the Earth's orbit.
Hoping to spur innovation from the private sector, NASA established a series of Centennial Challenges, technology prizes for non-government teams, in 2004. The Challenges include tasks that will be useful for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration, such as building more efficient astronaut gloves.
NASA’s mission statement reads: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.” In early February 2006, the statement was altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

A fine history of NASA, Nina and the list of it's many accomplishments.

sfgirl said...

Indeed, they have accomplished much, despite budget cuts and opposition from various parties. I think they have done very well. This is an optimistic program that represents the striving endeavors of the entire human race. People should look at it this way; many don't unfortunately.

Footsteps said...

I, too, dreamed of being an astronaut... until I read how long it would take to get to where I wanted to travel! And then there was that little math/science issue (as in I preferred other subjects)...

-Glad there are imaginative authors like yourself to take me out of this world in spite of myself!

x said...

I believe one day being an astronaut will be as common as janitorial work. Great history timeline Nina. You might be intersted to know that I have a friend who worked on for NASA on the Space Shuttle Columbia. (Since retired.)

sfgirl said...

It's a cool dream isn't it, Heather?...

Esau, it's so neat that you knew someone who worked on the Shuttle!

NASA's missions are so exciting! I love following them.

blackburn1 said...

Great revisiting of one of the most hopeful of all industries.

In our kindergarten class we made a giant rocket, much taller than any of us. It was an immense project, and stood almost 5 feet high. We were so proud. We watched the B/W tv as events unfolded, and staged our own liftoff and moon landing. Our class scored the village newspaper, and for a glorious week, all of us kids were walking on the moon with the astronauts. They were our heroes.

NASA is absolutely about Hope, and may it always be so.

sfgirl said...

Wonderful comment, Blackburn! Yes, NASA's whole program is about HOPE. Hope for the entire human race. It was wonderful to hear of what your kindergarden class accomplished. Bravo! I can imagine what that felt like...it was your link to a greater world and something that you have obviously never forgotten. \thanks so much for sharing that story. :)

blackburn1 said...

Thanks, SF. No, I haven't forgotten... never will. Off to catch up on your latest. Sakes! You're a blogging machine. :)

sfgirl said...

That's me... :)