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National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA seal.svg
NASA seal
NASA logo.svg NASA Worm logo.svg
NASA "meatball" and "worm" insignias
NASA HQ Building.jpg
NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Agency overview
FormedJuly 29, 1958; 64 years ago (1958-07-29)
Preceding agency
Type Space agency
Aeronautics research agency
Jurisdiction United States Federal Government
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
38°52′59″N 77°0′59″W / 38.88306°N 77.01639°W / 38.88306; -77.01639
MottoFor the Benefit of All [2]
Bill Nelson
Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy
Primary spaceports
OwnerUnited States
Employees17,960 (2022) [3]
Annual budgetIncrease US$24.041 billion (2022) [4]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA /ˈnæsə/) is an independent agency of the US federal government responsible for the civil space program, aeronautics research, and space research. [note 1]

NASA was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), to give the US space development effort a distinctly civilian orientation, emphasizing peaceful applications in space science. [7] [8] [9] Since its establishment, most American 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 spacecraft, the Space Launch System, Commercial Crew vehicles, and the planned Lunar Gateway space station. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program, which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for uncrewed NASA launches.

NASA's science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System; [10] advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program; [11] exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft such as New Horizons; [12] and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs. [13]



Administrator Bill Nelson

The agency's administration is located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, and provides overall guidance and direction. [14] Except under exceptional circumstances, NASA civil service employees are required to be US citizens. [15] NASA's administrator is nominated by the President of the United States subject to the approval of the US Senate, [16] and serves at the President's pleasure as a senior space science advisor. The current administrator is Bill Nelson, appointed by President Joe Biden, since May 3, 2021. [17]

Strategic Plan

NASA operates with four FY2022 strategic goals. [18]

  • Expand human knowledge through new scientific discoveries
  • Extend human presence to the Moon and on towards Mars for sustainable long-term exploration, development, and utilization
  • Catalyze economic growth and drive innovation to address national challenges
  • Enhance capabilities and operations to catalyze current and future mission success


NASA budget requests are developed by NASA and approved by the administration prior to submission to the U.S. Congress. Authorized budgets are those that have been included in enacted appropriations bills that are approved by both houses of Congress and enacted into law by the U.S. president. [19]

NASA fiscal year budget requests and authorized budgets are provided below.

Year Budget Request
in bil. US$
Authorized Budget
in bil. US$
U.S. Government
2018 $19.092 [20] $20.736 [21] 17,551 [22]
2019 $19.892 [21] $21.500 [23] 17,551 [24]
2020 $22.613 [23] $22.629 [25] 18,048 [26]
2021 $25.246 [25] $23.271 [27] 18,339 [28]
2022 $24.802 [27] $24.041 [29] 18,400 est


NASA funding and priorities are developed through its six Mission Directorates.

Mission Directorate Associate Administrator % of NASA Budget (FY22) [27]
Aeronautics Research (ARMD) Robert A. Pearce [30]
Exploration Systems Development (ESDMD) James Free [31]
Space Operations (SOMD) Kathy Lueders [31]
Science (SMD) Thomas Zurbuchen [32]
Space Technology (STMD) James L. Reuter [33]
Mission Support (MSD) Robert Gibbs [34]

Center-wide activities such as the Chief Engineer and Safety and Mission Assurance organizations are aligned to the headquarters function. The MSD budget estimate includes funds for these HQ functions. The administration operates 10 major field centers with several managing additional subordinate facilities across the country. Each is led by a Center Director (data below valid as of September 1, 2022).

Field Center Primary Location Center Director
Ames Research Center Mountain View, California Dr. Eugene L. Tu [35]
Armstrong Flight Research Center Palmdale, California Brad Flick (acting) [36]
Glenn Research Center Cleveland, Ohio Dr. James A. Kenyon (acting) [37]
Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, Maryland Dennis J. Andrucyk [38]
Jet Propulsion Laboratory La Canada-Flintridge, California Laurie Leshin [39]
Johnson Space Center Houston, Texas Vanessa E. Wyche [40]
Kennedy Space Center Merritt Island, Florida Janet Petro [41]
Langley Research Center Hampton, Virginia Clayton Turner [42]
Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, Alabama Jody Singer [43]
Stennis Space Center Hancock County, Mississippi Richard J. Gilbrech [44]


Establishment of NASA

Short 2018 documentary about NASA produced for its 60th anniversary

Beginning in 1946, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) began experimenting with rocket planes such as the supersonic Bell X-1. [45] In the early 1950s, there was challenge to launch an artificial satellite for the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958). An effort for this was the American Project Vanguard. After the Soviet space program's 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 counseled more deliberate measures. The result was a consensus that the White House forged among key interest groups, including scientists committed to basic research; the Pentagon which had to match the Soviet military achievement; corporate America looking for new business; and a strong new trend in public opinion looking up to space exploration. [46]

On January 12, 1958, NACA organized a "Special Committee on Space Technology," headed by Guyford Stever. [9] On January 14, 1958, NACA Director Hugh Dryden published "A National Research Program for Space Technology," stating, [47]

It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [ Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space ... It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency ... NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology. [47]

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. [48]

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA. [49] 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. [50] 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. [51] Earlier research efforts within the US Air Force [50] and many of ARPA's early space programs were also transferred to NASA. [52] In December 1958, NASA gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. [50]

Past Administrators

The first administrator was Dr. T. Keith Glennan, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his term (1958–1961) he brought together the disparate projects in American space development research. [53]

The third administrator, James E. Webb (1961–1968), appointed by President John F. Kennedy, was a Democrat who first publicly served under President Harry S. Truman. In order to implement the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy's Moon landing goal by the end of the 1960s, Webb directed major management restructuring and facility expansion, establishing the Houston Manned Spacecraft (Johnson) Center and the Florida Launch Operations (Kennedy) Center. Capitalizing on Kennedy's legacy, President Lyndon Johnson kept continuity with the Apollo program by keeping Webb on when he succeeded Kennedy in November 1963. But Webb resigned in October 1968 before Apollo achieved its goal. [54]

James C. Fletcher supervised early planning of the Space Shuttle program during his first term as administrator under President Nixon. [55] He was appointed for a second term as administrator from May 1986 through April 1989 by President Ronald Reagan to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. [56]

Four former astronauts have served as NASA administrators: Charles Bolden, (2009–2017); [57] Richard H. Truly (1989–1992); [58] Frederick D. Gregory (acting, 2005); and Bill Nelson (2021–present). [59]

Though space exploration is ostensibly non-partisan, a new administrator is frequently chosen when the Presidency changes to or from the ( Democratic or Republican) political party. Notable exceptions to this have been:


The NASA seal was approved by Eisenhower in 1959, and slightly modified by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. [62] [63] NASA's first logo was designed by the head of Lewis' Research Reports Division, James Modarelli, as a simplification of the 1959 seal. [64] In 1975, the original logo was first dubbed "the meatball" to distinguish it from the newly designed "worm" logo which replaced it. The "meatball" returned to official use in 1992. [64] The "worm" was brought out of retirement by administrator Jim Bridenstine in 2020. [65]


NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC provides overall guidance and political leadership to the agency's ten field centers, through which all other facilities are administered. [66] Four of these were inherited from NACA; two others were transferred from the Army; and NASA commissioned and built the other four itself shortly after its formation.

Inherited from NACA

View of LaRC (left) and its research aircraft (right)

Langley Research Center (LaRC), located in Hampton, Virginia. LaRC focuses on aeronautical research, though the Apollo lunar lander was flight-tested at the facility and a number of high-profile space missions have been planned and designed on-site. Established in 1917 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the center currently devotes two-thirds of its programs to aeronautics, and the rest to space. [67] LaRC researchers use more than 40 wind tunnels to study improved aircraft and spacecraft safety, performance, and efficiency. Both Langley Field and the Langley Laboratory are named for aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. [68] LaRC was the original home of the Space Task Group. [69]

View of ARC (left) and of Hanger One (right)

Ames Research Center (ARC) at Moffett Field was founded on December 20, 1939. The center was named after Joseph Sweetman Ames, a founding member of the NACA. [70] ARC is one of NASA's 10 major field centers and is located in California's Silicon Valley. Historically, Ames was founded to do wind-tunnel research on the aerodynamics of propeller-driven aircraft; however, it has expanded its role to doing research and technology in aeronautics, spaceflight, and information technology. [71] It provides leadership in astrobiology, small satellites, robotic lunar exploration, intelligent/adaptive systems and thermal protection.

George W. Lewis Research Center was founded by NACA in 1941 in Cleveland, Ohio. [72] The center's core competencies include air-breathing and in-space propulsion and cryogenics, communications, power energy storage and conversion, microgravity sciences, and advanced materials. [73] On October 21, 1998, President Clinton directed that the center be designated the John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field honoring both Astronaut and Senator John Glenn and its original namesake, Mr. George Lewis. [74]

Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Facility (AFRC), established by NACA before 1946 and located inside Edwards Air Force Base, is the home of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 designed to carry a Space Shuttle orbiter back to Kennedy Space Center after a landing at Edwards AFB. On January 16, 2014, the center was renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the Moon. [75] [76]

Transferred from the Army

View of JPL (left) and the Goldstone DSN site (right)

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, CA, is headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [77] [78] with a Pasadena mailing address. JPL traces its beginnings to 1936 in the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology when the first set of rocket experiments were carried out in the Arroyo Seco. [79] JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). [80]

The Laboratory's primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. [81] It is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) which includes stations in Barstow, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia. [82]

View of MSFC test stands (left) and Saturn V stage assembly at MAF (right)

George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), located on the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, is one of NASA's largest centers. MSFC is where the Saturn V rocket and Skylab were developed. [83] Marshall is NASA's lead center for International Space Station (ISS) design and assembly; payloads and related crew training; and was the lead for Space Shuttle propulsion and its external tank. [84] From December 1959, it contained the Launch Operations Directorate, which moved to Florida to become the Launch Operations Center on July 1, 1962. [85] The MSFC was named in honor of General George C. Marshall. [86] The center also operates the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, Louisiana for the manufacture and assembly of critical hardware components for space systems. [87]

Built by NASA

View of GSFC campus (left) and of Goddard Institute for Space Studies location (right)

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was commissioned by NASA on May 1, 1959. [88] It is the largest combined organization of scientists and engineers in the United States dedicated to increasing knowledge of the Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe via observations from space. GSFC is a major US laboratory for developing and operating uncrewed scientific spacecraft. [89] GSFC also operates two spaceflight tracking and data acquisition networks (the Space Network and the Near Earth Network), develops and maintains advanced space and Earth science data information systems, and develops satellite systems for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [89] External facilities of the GSFC include the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, and the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia. [90] [91]

John C. Stennis Space Center, originally the "Mississippi Test Facility", is located in Hancock County, Mississippi, on the banks of the Pearl River at the MississippiLouisiana border. [92] Commissioned on October 25, 1961, it was NASA's largest rocket engine test facility until the end of the Space Shuttle program. [93] It is currently used for rocket testing by over 30 local, state, national, international, private, and public companies and agencies. [94] [95] It also contains the NASA Shared Services Center. [96]

Aerial view of JSC in Houston, Texas (left) and Kraft Mission Control Center (right)

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC), originally the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), is the NASA center for human spaceflight training, research and flight control. [97] Created on November 1, 1961, the center consists of a complex of 100 buildings constructed in 1962–1963 on 1,620 acres (656 ha) of land donated by Rice University in Houston, Texas. [98] The center grew out of the Space Task Group formed soon after the creation of NASA to co-ordinate the US human spaceflight program. It is home to the United States Astronaut Corps and is responsible for training astronauts from the US and its international partners, and includes the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center. [98] The center was renamed in honor of the late US president and Texas native Lyndon B. Johnson on February 19, 1973. [99] [100] JSC also operates the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico to support rocket testing.

Aerial view of Kennedy Space Center showing VAB and Launch Complex 39
View of the SLS exiting the VAB (left) and aerial view of the VAB and Launch Complex 39 (right)

John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), located west of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, is one of the best known NASA facilities. Named the "Launch Operations Center" at its creation on July 1, 1962, it was renamed in honor of the late US president on November 29, 1963, [101] [102] and has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. KSC continues to manage and operate uncrewed rocket launch facilities for America's civil space program from three pads at Cape Canaveral. Its Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the fourth-largest structure in the world by volume [103] and was the largest when completed in 1965. [104] A total of 10,733 people worked at the center as of September 2021. Approximately 2,140 are employees of the federal government; the rest are contractors. [105]

Past human spaceflight programs

X-15 (1954–1968)

X-15 in powered flight

NASA inherited NACA's X-15 experimental rocket-powered hypersonic research aircraft, developed in conjunction with the US Air Force and Navy. Three planes were built starting in 1955. The X-15 was drop-launched from the wing of one of two NASA Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, NB52A tail number 52-003, and NB52B, tail number 52-008 (known as the Balls 8). Release took place at an altitude of about 45,000 feet (14 km) and a speed of about 500 miles per hour (805 km/h). [106]

Twelve pilots were selected for the program from the Air Force, Navy, and NACA. A total of 199 flights were made between June 1959 and December 1968, resulting in the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a crewed powered aircraft (current as of 2014), and a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, 4,519 miles per hour (7,273 km/h). [107] The altitude record for X-15 was 354,200 feet (107.96 km). [108] Eight of the pilots were awarded Air Force astronaut wings for flying above 260,000 feet (80 km), and two flights by Joseph A. Walker exceeded 100 kilometers (330,000 ft), qualifying as spaceflight according to the International Aeronautical Federation. The X-15 program employed mechanical techniques used in the later crewed spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets for controlling the orientation of a spacecraft, space suits, and horizon definition for navigation. [108] The reentry and landing data collected were valuable to NASA for designing the Space Shuttle. [109]

Mercury (1958–1963)

L. Gordon Cooper, photographed by a slow-scan television camera aboard Faith 7 (May 16, 1963)

In 1958, NASA formed an engineering group, the Space Task Group, to manage their human spaceflight programs under the direction of Robert Gilruth. Their earliest programs were conducted under the pressure of the Cold War competition between the US and the Soviet Union. NASA inherited the US Air Force's Man in Space Soonest program, which considered many crewed spacecraft designs ranging from rocket planes like the X-15, to small ballistic space capsules. [110] By 1958, the space plane concepts were eliminated in favor of the ballistic capsule, [111] and NASA renamed it Project Mercury. The first seven astronauts were selected among candidates from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard a capsule he named Freedom 7, launched on a Redstone booster on a 15-minute ballistic (suborbital) flight. [112] John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit, on an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20, 1962, aboard Friendship 7. [113] Glenn completed three orbits, after which three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper's 22-orbit flight Faith 7, May 15–16, 1963. [114] Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were three of the human computers doing calculations on trajectories during the Space Race. [115] [116] [117] Johnson was well known for doing trajectory calculations for John Glenn's mission in 1962, where she was running the same equations by hand that were being run on the computer. [115]

Mercury's competition from the Soviet Union (USSR) was the single-pilot Vostok spacecraft. They sent the first man in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into a single Earth orbit aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961, one month before Shepard's flight. [118] In August 1962, they achieved an almost four-day record flight with Andriyan Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3, and also conducted a concurrent Vostok 4 mission carrying Pavel Popovich. [119]

Gemini (1961–1966)

Richard Gordon performs a spacewalk to attach a tether to the Agena Target Vehicle on Gemini 11, 1966

Based on studies to grow the Mercury spacecraft capabilities to long-duration flights, developing space rendezvous techniques, and precision Earth landing, Project Gemini was started as a two-man program in 1961 to overcome the Soviets' lead and to support the planned Apollo crewed lunar landing program, adding extravehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous and docking to its objectives. The first crewed Gemini flight, Gemini 3, was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young on March 23, 1965. [120] Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, demonstrating an endurance mission of nearly fourteen days, rendezvous, docking, and practical EVA, and gathering medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans. [121] [122]

Under the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the USSR competed with Gemini by converting their Vostok spacecraft into a two- or three-man Voskhod. They succeeded in launching two crewed flights before Gemini's first flight, achieving a three-cosmonaut flight in 1964 and the first EVA in 1965. [123] After this, the program was canceled, and Gemini caught up while spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev developed the Soyuz spacecraft, their answer to Apollo.

Apollo (1960–1972)

Apollo program.svg
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, 1969 (photograph by Neil Armstrong)

The U.S. public's perception of the Soviet lead in the Space Race (by putting the first man into space) motivated President John F. Kennedy [124] to ask the Congress on May 25, 1961, to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which effectively launched the Apollo program. [125]

Apollo was one of the most expensive American scientific programs ever. It cost more than $20 billion in 1960s dollars [126] or an estimated $236 billion in present-day US dollars. [127] (In comparison, the Manhattan Project cost roughly $30.1 billion, accounting for inflation.) [127] [128] The Apollo program used the newly developed Saturn I and Saturn V rockets, which were far larger than the repurposed ICBMs of the previous Mercury and Gemini programs. [129] They were used to launch the Apollo spacecraft, consisting of the Command and Service Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module (LM). The CSM ferried astronauts from Earth to Moon orbit and back, while the Lunar Module would land them on the Moon itself. [note 2]

The planned first crew of 3 astronauts were killed due to a fire during a 1967 preflight test for the Apollo 204 mission (later renamed Apollo 1). [130] The second crewed mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December 1968. [131] Shortly before, the Soviets had sent an uncrewed spacecraft around the Moon. [132] The next two missions ( Apollo 9 and Apollo 10) practiced rendezvous and docking maneuvers required to conduct the Moon landing. [133] [134]

The Apollo 11 mission, launched in July 1969, landed the first humans on the Moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, conducting experiments and sample collection, while Michael Collins orbited above in the CSM. [135] Six subsequent Apollo missions (12 through 17) were launched; five of them were successful, while one ( Apollo 13) was aborted after an in-flight emergency nearly killed the astronauts. Throughout these seven Apollo spaceflights, twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions returned a wealth of scientific data and 381.7 kilograms (842 lb) of lunar samples. Topics covered by experiments performed included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismology, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind. [136] The Moon landing marked the end of the space race; and as a gesture, Armstrong mentioned mankind when he stepped down on the Moon. [137]

On July 3, 1969, the Soviets suffered a major setback on their moon program when the rocket known as the N-1 had exploded in a fireball at its launch site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, destroying one of two launch pads. Each of the first four launches of N-1 resulted in failure before the end of the first stage flight effectively denying the Soviet Union the capacity to deliver the systems required for a crewed lunar landing. [138]

Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit, and landing humans on another celestial body. [139] Apollo 8 was the first crewed spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last crewed mission beyond low Earth orbit. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology peripheral to rocketry and crewed spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at various locations throughout the world, notably at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museums.

Skylab (1965–1979)

Skylab Program Patch.png
Skylab in 1974, seen from the departing Skylab 4 CSM.

Skylab was the United States' first and only independently built space station. [140] Conceived in 1965 as a workshop to be constructed in space from a spent Saturn IB upper stage, the 169,950 lb (77,088 kg) station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14, 1973, atop the first two stages of a Saturn V, into a 235-nautical-mile (435 km) orbit inclined at 50° to the equator. Damaged during launch by the loss of its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panel, it was repaired to functionality by its first crew. It was occupied for a total of 171 days by 3 successive crews in 1973 and 1974. [140] It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity, and a solar observatory. [140] NASA planned to have the in-development Space Shuttle dock with it, and elevate Skylab to a higher safe altitude, but the Shuttle was not ready for flight before Skylab's re-entry and demise on July 11, 1979. [141]

To reduce cost, NASA modified one of the Saturn V rockets originally earmarked for a canceled Apollo mission to launch Skylab, which itself was a modified Saturn V fuel tank. Apollo spacecraft, launched on smaller Saturn IB rockets, were used for transporting astronauts to and from the station. Three crews, consisting of three men each, stayed aboard the station for periods of 28, 59, and 84 days. Skylab's habitable volume was 11,290 cubic feet (320 m3), which was 30.7 times bigger than that of the Apollo Command Module. [141]

Space Transportation System (1969–1972)

In February 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed a space task group headed by Vice President Spiro Agnew to recommend human spaceflight projects beyond Apollo. The group responded in September with the Integrated Program Plan (IPP), intended to support space stations in Earth and lunar orbit, a lunar surface base, and a human Mars landing. These would be supported by replacing NASA's existing expendable launch systems with a reusable infrastructure including Earth orbit shuttles, space tugs, and a nuclear-powered trans-lunar and interplanetary shuttle. Despite the enthusiastic support of Agnew and NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine, Nixon realized public enthusiasm, which translated into Congressional support, for the space program was waning as Apollo neared its climax, and vetoed most of these plans, except for the Earth orbital shuttle, and a deferred Earth space station. [142]

Apollo-Soyuz (1972–1975)

ASTP patch.png
Soviet and American crews with spacecraft model, 1975.

On May 24, 1972, US President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement calling for a joint crewed space mission, and declaring intent for all future international crewed spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other. [143] This authorized the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), involving the rendezvous and docking in Earth orbit of a surplus Apollo command and service module with a Soyuz spacecraft. The mission took place in July 1975. This was the last US human spaceflight until the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle in April 1981. [144]

The mission included both joint and separate scientific experiments and provided useful engineering experience for future joint US–Russian space flights, such as the Shuttle–Mir program [145] and the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle (1972–2011)

Shuttle Patch.svg
Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery at the start of STS-120.

The Space Shuttle was the only vehicle in the Space Transportation System to be developed, and became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Originally planned as a frequently launchable, fully reusable vehicle, the design was changed to use an expendable external propellant tank to reduce development cost, and four Space Shuttle orbiters were built by 1985. The first to launch, Columbia, did so on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight. [146]

The Shuttle flew 135 missions and carried 355 astronauts from 16 countries, many on multiple trips. Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. The shuttle could orbit in altitudes of 185–643 km (115–400 miles) [147] and carry a maximum payload (to low orbit) of 24,400 kg (54,000 lb). [148] Missions could last from 5 to 17 days and crews could be from 2 to 8 astronauts. [147]

On 20 missions (1983–1998) the Space Shuttle carried Spacelab, designed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Spacelab was not designed for independent orbital flight, but remained in the Shuttle's cargo bay as the astronauts entered and left it through an airlock. [149] On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, on board the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-7 mission. [150] Another famous series of missions were the launch and later successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and 1993, respectively. [151]

In 1995, Russian-American interaction resumed with the Shuttle–Mir missions (1995–1998). Once more an American vehicle docked with a Russian craft, this time a full-fledged space station. This cooperation has continued with Russia and the United States as two of the biggest partners in the largest space station built: the International Space Station (ISS). [152] The strength of their cooperation on this project was even more evident when NASA began relying on Russian launch vehicles to service the ISS during the two-year grounding of the shuttle fleet following the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The Shuttle fleet lost two orbiters and 14 astronauts in two disasters: Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003. [153] While the 1986 loss was mitigated by building the Space Shuttle Endeavour from replacement parts, NASA did not build another orbiter to replace the second loss. [153] NASA's Space Shuttle program had 135 missions when the program ended with the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011. The program spanned 30 years with 355 separate astronauts sent into space, many on multiple missions. [154]

Constellation (2005–2010)

Constellation logo white.svg
Artist's rendering of Altair lander on the Moon

While the Space Shuttle program was still suspended after the loss of Columbia, President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration including the retirement of the Space Shuttle after completing the International Space Station. The plan was enacted into law by the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and directs NASA to develop and launch the Crew Exploration Vehicle (later called Orion) by 2010, return Americans to the Moon by 2020, land on Mars as feasible, repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and continue scientific investigation through robotic solar system exploration, human presence on the ISS, Earth observation, and astrophysics research. The crewed exploration goals prompted NASA's Constellation program. [155]

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent Moon base. [156] 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." [157] In February 2010, President Barack Obama's administration proposed eliminating public funds for it. [158]

Journey to Mars (2010–2017)

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.
Concepts for how the first human landing site on Mars might evolve over the course of multiple human expeditions

President Obama's plan was to develop American private spaceflight capabilities to get astronauts to the International Space Station, replace Russian Soyuz capsules, and use Orion capsules for ISS emergency escape purposes. During a speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, Obama proposed a new heavy-lift vehicle (HLV) to replace the formerly planned Ares V. [159] In his speech, Obama called for a crewed mission to an asteroid as soon as 2025, and a crewed mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s. [159] The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 11, 2010. [160] The act officially canceled the Constellation program. [160]

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 required a newly designed HLV be chosen within 90 days of its passing; the launch vehicle was given the name Space Launch System. The new law also required the construction of a beyond low earth orbit spacecraft. [161] The Orion spacecraft, which was being developed as part of the Constellation program, was chosen to fulfill this role. [162] The Space Launch System is planned to launch both Orion and other necessary hardware for missions beyond low Earth orbit. [163] The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions. The initial capability of SLS is required to be able to lift 70 t (150,000 lb) (later 95 t or 209,000 lb) into LEO. It is then planned to be upgraded to 105 t (231,000 lb) and then eventually to 130 t (290,000 lb). [162] [164] The Orion capsule first flew on Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), an uncrewed test flight that was launched on December 5, 2014, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. [164]

NASA undertook a feasibility study in 2012 and developed the Asteroid Redirect Mission as an uncrewed mission to move a boulder-sized near-Earth asteroid (or boulder-sized chunk of a larger asteroid) into lunar orbit. The mission would demonstrate ion thruster technology, and develop techniques that could be used for planetary defense against an asteroid collision, as well as a cargo transport to Mars in support of a future human mission. The Moon-orbiting boulder might then later be visited by astronauts. The Asteroid Redirect Mission was cancelled in 2017 as part of the FY2018 NASA budget, the first one under President Donald Trump. [165]

Past robotic exploration programs

NASA has conducted many uncrewed and robotic spaceflight programs throughout its history. Uncrewed robotic programs launched the first American artificial satellites into Earth orbit for scientific and communications purposes, and sent scientific probes to explore the planets of the Solar System, starting with Venus and Mars, and including " grand tours" of the outer planets. More than 1,000 uncrewed missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the Solar System. [166]

Early Efforts

The first US uncrewed satellite was Explorer 1, which started as an ABMA/JPL project during the early part of the Space Race. It was launched in January 1958, two months after Sputnik. At the creation of NASA, the Explorer project was transferred to the agency and still continues to this day. Its missions have been focusing on the Earth and the Sun, measuring magnetic fields and the solar wind, among other aspects. [167]

The Ranger missions developed technology to build and deliver robotic probes into orbit and to the vicinity of the Moon. Ranger 7 successfully returned images of the Moon in July 1964, followed by two more successful missions. [168]

NASA also played a role in the development and delivery of early communications satellite technology to orbit. Syncom 3 was the first geostationary satellite. It was an experimental geosynchronous communications satellite placed over the equator at 180 degrees longitude in the Pacific Ocean. The satellite provided live television coverage of the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan and conducted various communications tests. Operations were turned over to the Department of Defense on 1 January 1965, Syncom 3 was to prove useful in the DoD's Vietnam communications. [169] Programs like Syncom, Telstar and Applications Technology Satellites (ATS) demonstrated the utility of communications satellites and delivered early telephonic and video satellite transmission. [170]

Planetary exploration

William H. Pickering, (center) JPL Director, President John F. Kennedy, (right). NASA Administrator James E. Webb (background) discussing the Mariner program, with a model presented.

The inner Solar System has been made the goal of at least four uncrewed programs. The first was Mariner in the 1960s and 1970s, which made multiple visits to Venus and Mars and one to Mercury. Probes launched under the Mariner program were also the first to make a planetary flyby ( Mariner 2), to take the first pictures from another planet ( Mariner 4), the first planetary orbiter ( Mariner 9), and the first to make a gravity assist maneuver ( Mariner 10). This is a technique where the satellite takes advantage of the gravity and velocity of planets to reach its destination. [171]

From 1966 to 1968, the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions provided higher quality photographs and other measurements to pave the way for the crewed Apollo missions to the moon. [172]

The first successful landing on Mars was made by Viking 1 in 1976. Twenty years later a rover was landed on Mars by Mars Pathfinder. [173]

After Mars, Jupiter was first visited by Pioneer 10 in 1973. More than 20 years later Galileo sent a probe into the planet's atmosphere, and became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. [174] Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn in 1979, with Voyager 2 making the first (and so far only) visits to Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989, respectively. The first spacecraft to leave the Solar System was Pioneer 10 in 1983. For a time it was the most distant spacecraft, but it has since been surpassed by both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. [175]

Pioneers 10 and 11 and both Voyager probes carry messages from the Earth to extraterrestrial life. [176] [177] Communication can be difficult with deep space travel. For instance, it took about three hours for a radio signal to reach the New Horizons spacecraft when it was more than halfway to Pluto. [178] Contact with Pioneer 10 was lost in 2003. Both Voyager probes continue to operate as they explore the outer boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space. [179]

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) and Cassini (1997–2017) epxloring the Jovian and Saturnian systems respectively.

Active programs

Human spaceflight

International Space Station (1993–present)

ISS emblem.png
The International Space Station as seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour during STS-134.

The International Space Station (ISS) combines NASA's Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kibō laboratory module. [180] NASA originally planned in the 1980s to develop Freedom alone, but US budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national program in 1993, managed by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). [181] [182] The station consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components, which were manufactured in various factories around the world, and have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and the US Space Shuttles. [180] The on-orbit assembly began in 1998, the completion of the US Orbital Segment occurred in 2009 and the completion of the Russian Orbital Segment occurred in 2010, though there are some debates of whether new modules should be added in the segment. The ownership and use of the space station is established in intergovernmental treaties and agreements [183] which divide the station into two areas and allow Russia to retain full ownership of the Russian Orbital Segment (with the exception of Zarya), [184] [185] with the US Orbital Segment allocated between the other international partners. [183]

Long-duration missions to the ISS are referred to as ISS Expeditions. Expedition crew members typically spend approximately six months on the ISS. [186] The initial expedition crew size was three, temporarily decreased to two following the Columbia disaster. Since May 2009, expedition crew size has been six crew members. [187] Crew size is expected to be increased to seven, the number the ISS was designed for, once the Commercial Crew Program becomes operational. [188] The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 21 years and 338 days, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations. [189] [190]

The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye and, as of 2022, is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit with a mass and volume greater than that of any previous space station. [191] The Russian Soyuz and American Dragon spacecraft are used to send astronauts to and from the ISS. Several uncrewed cargo spacecraft provide service to the ISS; they are the Russian Progress spacecraft which has done so since 2000, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, the (uncrewed) Dragon since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013. [192] [193] The Space Shuttle, before its retirement, was also used for cargo transfer and would often switch out expedition crew members, although it did not have the capability to remain docked for the duration of their stay. Between the retirement of the Shuttle in 2011 and the commencement of crewed Dragon flights in 2020, American astronauts exclusively used the Soyuz for crew transport to and from the ISS [194] The highest number of people occupying the ISS has been thirteen; this occurred three times during the late Shuttle ISS assembly missions. [195]

The ISS program is expected to continue to 2030, [196] after which the space station will be retired and destroyed in a controlled de-orbit. [197]

Commercial Resupply Services (2008–present)

Commercial Resupply Services missions approaching International Space Station

Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of flights awarded by NASA for the delivery of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) on commercially operated spacecraft. [198] The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008 and awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for twelve cargo Dragon and $1.9 billion to Orbital Sciences [note 3] for eight Cygnus flights, covering deliveries to 2016. The Falcon 9 and Antares rockets were also developed under the CRS program to deliver cargo spacecraft to the ISS.

The first operational resupply missions were flown by SpaceX in 2012 ( SpaceX CRS-1) [199] and Orbital Sciences in 2014 ( Cygnus CRS Orb-1). [200]

A second phase of contracts (known as CRS-2) was solicited in 2014. In 2015, NASA extended CRS-1 to twenty flights for SpaceX and twelve flights for Orbital ATK [note 3]. [201] [202] CRS-2 contracts were awarded in January 2016 to Orbital ATK [note 3] Cygnus, Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser, and SpaceX Dragon 2, for cargo transport flights beginning in 2019 and expected to last through 2024.

Commercial Crew Program (2011–present)

NASA Commercial Crew Program logo (cropped).svg
The Crew Dragon (left) and Starliner (right) approaching the ISS on their respective missions.

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) provides commercially operated crew transportation service to and from the International Space Station (ISS) under contract to NASA, conducting crew rotations between the expeditions of the International Space Station program. American space manufacturer SpaceX began providing service in 2020, using the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and NASA plans to add Boeing when its Boeing Starliner spacecraft becomes operational some time after 2022. [203] NASA has contracted for six operational missions from Boeing and fourteen from SpaceX, ensuring sufficient support for ISS through 2030. [204]

The spacecraft are owned and operated by the vendor, and crew transportation is provided to NASA as a commercial service. Each mission sends up to four astronauts to the ISS, with an option for a fifth passenger available. Operational flights occur approximately once every six months for missions that last for approximately six months. A spacecraft remains docked to the ISS during its mission, and missions usually overlap by at least a few days. Between the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011 and the first operational CCP mission in 2020, NASA relied on the Soyuz program to transport its astronauts to the ISS.

A Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched to space atop a Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle and the capsule returns to Earth via splashdown in the ocean near Florida. The program's first operational mission, SpaceX Crew-1, launched on 16 November 2020. [205] Boeing Starliner operational flights will now commence after its final test flight which was launched atop an Atlas V N22 launch vehicle. Instead of a splashdown, a Starliner capsule returns on land with airbags at one of four designated sites in the western United States. [206]

Artemis (2017–present)

An arrowhead combined with a depiction of a trans-lunar injection trajectory forms an "A", with an "Artemis" wordmark printed underneath
SLS with Orion rolling to Launch Complex 39B for tests, Mar 2022

Since 2017, NASA's crewed spaceflight program has been the Artemis program, which involves the help of US commercial spaceflight companies and international partners such as ESA, JAXA, and CSA. [207] The goal of this program is to land "the first woman and the next man" on the lunar south pole region by 2024. Artemis would be the first step towards the long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon, laying the foundation for companies to build a lunar economy, and eventually sending humans to Mars.

The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle was held over from the canceled Constellation program for Artemis. Artemis 1 is the uncrewed initial launch of Space Launch System (SLS) that would also send an Orion spacecraft on a Distant Retrograde Orbit. [208]

NASA's next major space initiative is to be the construction of the Lunar Gateway, a small space station in lunar orbit. [209] This space station will be designed primarily for non-continuous human habitation. The first tentative steps of returning to crewed lunar missions will be Artemis 2, which is to include the Orion crew module, propelled by the SLS, and is to launch in 2024. [207] This mission is to be a 10-day mission planned to briefly place a crew of four into a Lunar flyby. [164] The construction of the Gateway would begin with the proposed Artemis 3, which is planned to deliver a crew of four to Lunar orbit along with the first modules of the Gateway. This mission would last for up to 30 days. NASA plans to build full scale deep space habitats such as the Lunar Gateway and the Nautilus-X as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. [210] In 2017, NASA was directed by the congressional NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 to get humans to Mars-orbit (or to the Martian surface) by the 2030s. [211] [212]

In support of the Artemis missions, NASA has been funding private companies to land robotic probes on the lunar surface in a program known as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services. As of March 2022, NASA has awarded contracts for robotic lunar probes to companies such as Intuitive Machines, Firefly Space Systems, and Astrobotic. [213]

On April 16, 2021, NASA announced they had selected the SpaceX Lunar Starship as its Human Landing System. The agency's Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit where they will transfer to SpaceX's Starship for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. [214]

In November 2021, it was announced that the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 had slipped to no earlier than 2025 due to numerous factors. As of June 2022, NASA plans to launch Artemis 1 no earlier than August 2022, Artemis 2 in May 2024 and Artemis 3 sometime in 2025. [215] [216] Additional Artemis missions, Artemis 4 and Artemis 5, are planned to launch after 2025. [217]

Commercial LEO Development (2021–present)

The Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations program is an initiative by NASA to support work on commercial space stations that the agency hopes to have in place by the end of the current decade to replace the "International Space Station". The three selected companies are: Blue Origin (et al.) with their Orbital Reef station concept, Nanoracks (et al.) with their Starlab Space Station concept, and Northrop Grumman with a station concept based on the HALO-module for the Gateway station. [218]

Robotic exploration

Video of many of the uncrewed missions used to explore the outer reaches of space

NASA has conducted many uncrewed and robotic spaceflight programs throughout its history. More than 1,000 uncrewed missions have been designed to explore the Earth and the Solar System. [166]

Planetary Science

NASA continues to play a material in exploration of the solar system as it has for decades. Ongoing missions have current science objectives with respect to more than five extraterrestrial bodies within the solar system – Moon ( Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), Mars ( Perseverance), Jupiter ( Juno), asteroid Bennu( OSIRIS-REx), and Kuiper Belt Objects ( New Horizons). The Juno extended mission will make multiple flybys of the Jovian moon Io in 2023 and 2024 after flybys of Ganymede in 2021 and Europa in 2022. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continue to provide science data back to Earth while continuing on their outward journeys into interstellar space.

On November 26, 2011, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission was successfully launched for Mars. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and subsequently began its search for evidence of past or present life on Mars. [219] [220] [221] On the horizon of NASA's plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars. [222] NASA's ongoing Mars investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars ( Perseverance and InSight).

NASA has authorized the Europa Clipper orbiter mission that is planned to launch in October 2024 and will study the Galilean moon Europa through a series of flybys while in orbit around Jupiter. Dragonfly will send a mobile robotic rotorcraft to Saturn's biggest moon Titan [223] As of May 2021, Dragonfly is scheduled for launch in June 2027. [224] [225]


NASA has invested significant resources in the development, delivery, and operations of various forms of space telescopes. These telescopes have provided the means to study the cosmos over a large range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Great Observatories that were launched in the 1980s and 1990s have provided a wealth of observations for study by physicists across the planent. The first of the observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, was delivered to orbit in 1990 and continues to function today, in part due to prior servicing missions performed by the Space Shuttle.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched in December 2021 on an Ariane 5 rocket, [226] [227] was placed in a halo orbit circling the Sun-Earth L2 point. [228] [229]

Earth Sciences Program (1965–present)

Schematic of NASA Earth Science Division operating satellite missions as of February 2015.

NASA Earth Science, formerly called NASA Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) and Mission To Planet Earth (MTPE), [230] is a NASA research program "to develop a scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural and human-induced changes to enable improved prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards for present and future generations". [231] Its director was Michael Freilich (2006–2019).

NASA supports research in the Earth Sciences and, as part of its Earth Observing System (EOS), launches and maintains Earth observing satellites to monitor the state of the climate, atmospheric chemistry, ocean and land ecosystems. It was a NASA scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who first alerted the world to the dangers of global warming due to greenhouse gases emitted by human burning of fossil fuels. Earth Science research also provides the foundations of understanding for the search for extraterrestrial life through the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), in which the focus is often on the extreme conditions for life to survive. [232]

Space operations architecture

NASA invests in various ground and space based infrastructures to support its science and exploration mandate. The Deep Space Network provides a worldwide network of high gain antennas for communications with spacecrafts across the solar system. The Near Earth ground station network provides a similar utility for a large quantity of Earth orbit spacecraft.

Sounding Rocket Program (1959–present)

The NASA Sounding Rocket Program (NSRP) is a NASA run program of sounding rockets which has been operating since 1959. [233] [234] The missions carried out by this program are primarily used for scientific research, particularly low gravity and material based research. [235] NASA's sounding rocket program is commonly used by colleges and universities for upper atmosphere research. [236]

In June 2022, NASA conducted its first rocket launch from a commmercial spaceport outside the US. It launched a Black Brant IX from the Arnhem Space Centre in Australia. [237]

Launch Services Program (1990–present)

Launch Services Program logo.svg

The NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) is responsible for procurement of launch services for NASA uncrewed missions and oversight of launch integration and launch preparation activity, providing added quality and mission assurance to meet program objectives. [238] Since 1990, NASA has purchased expendable launch vehicle launch services directly from commercial providers, whenever possible, for its scientific and applications missions. Expendable launch vehicles can accommodate all types of orbit inclinations and altitudes and are ideal vehicles for launching Earth-orbit and interplanetary missions. LSP operates from Kennedy Space Center and falls under the NASA Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD). [239] [240]

Aeronautics Research

The Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) is one of five mission directorates within NASA, the other four being the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, the Space Operations Mission Directorate, the Science Mission Directorate, and the Space Technology Mission Directorate. [241] The ARMD is responsible for NASA's aeronautical research, which benefits the commercial, military, and general aviation sectors. ARMD performs its aeronautics research at four NASA facilities: Ames Research Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and Langley Research Center in Virginia. [242]

NASA X-57 Maxwell aircraft (2016–present)

The NASA X-57 Maxwell is an experimental aircraft being developed by NASA, intended to demonstrate technology to reduce fuel use, emissions, and noise. [243] The first flight of the X-57 is scheduled to take place in November 2022. [244]

Next Generation Air Transportation System (2007–present)

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is an ongoing modernization project of the United States National Airspace System (NAS). The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began work on NextGen improvements in 2007 and plans to have all major components in place by 2025. [245] [246] The goals of the modernization include using new technologies and procedures to increase the safety, efficiency, capacity, access, flexibility, predictability, and resilience of the NAS while reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

Technology Research

Nuclear energy for in-space power and propulsion (ongoing)

NASA has made use of technologies such as the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), which is a type of radioisotope thermoelectric generator used to power spacecraft. [247] Shortages of the required plutonium-238 have curtailed deep space missions since the turn of the millennium. [248] An example of a spacecraft that was not developed because of a shortage of this material was New Horizons 2. [248]

In July 2021, NASA announced contract awards for development of nuclear thermal propulsion reactors. Three contractors will develop individual designs over 12 months for later evaluation by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy. [249] NASA's space nuclear technologies portfolio are led and funded by its Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Other Initiatives

Free Space Optics. NASA contracted a third party to study the probability of using Free Space Optics (FSO) to communicate with Optical ( laser) Stations on the Ground (OGS) called laser-com RF networks for satellite communications. [250]

Water Extraction from Lunar Soil. On July 29, 2020, NASA requested American universities to propose new technologies for extracting water from the lunar soil and developing power systems. The idea will help the space agency conduct sustainable exploration of the Moon. [251]

Human Spaceflight Research (2005–present)

Human Research Program logo.png
SpaceX Crew-4 astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti operating the rHEALTH ONE on the ISS to address key health risks for space travel.

NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) is designed to study the effects of space on human health and also to provide countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. The medical effects of space exploration are reasonably limited in Low Earth Orbit or in travel to the Moon. Travel to Mars, however is significantly longer and deeper into space and significant medical issues can result. This includes bone loss, radiation exposure, vision changes, circadian rhythm disturbances, heart remodeling, and immune alterations. In order to study and diagnose these ill-effects, HRP has been tasked with identifying or developing small portable instrumentation with low mass, volume, and power to monitor the health of astronauts. [252] To achieve this aim, on May 13, 2022, NASA and SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts successfully tested its rHEALTH ONE universal biomedical analyzer for its ability to identify and analyzer biomarkers, cells, microorganisms, and proteins in a spaceflight environment. [253]

Planetary Defense (2016–present)

Planetary Defense Coordination Office seal.png

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) is a planetary defense organization established by NASA in January 2016 within the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate. [254] The PDCO was given the job of cataloging and tracking potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEO), such as asteroids and comets, larger than 30–50 meters in diameter (compare to the 20-meter Chelyabinsk meteor that hit Russia in 2013) and coordinating an effective threat response and mitigation effort. [255] [256] Since 1998, the United States, the European Union, and other nations are scanning the sky for NEOs in an effort called Spaceguard. [257]

Near Earth Object Catalog (1998–present)

In 1998, the United States Congress gave NASA a mandate to detect 90% of near-earth asteroids over 1 km (0.62 mi) diameter (that threaten global devastation) by 2008. [258] This initial mandate was met by 2011. [259] In 2005, the original USA Spaceguard mandate was extended by the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act, which calls for NASA to detect 90% of NEOs with diameters of 140 m (460 ft) or greater, by 2020. [260] As of January 2020, it is estimated that less than half of these have been found, but objects of this size hit the earth only about once in 2000 years. [261]

In January 2020, NASA officials estimated it would take 30 years to find all objects meeting the 140 m (460 ft) size criteria, more than twice the timeframe that was built into the 2005 mandate. [262] In June 2021, NASA authorized the development of the NEO Surveillance Mission spacecraft to reduce that projected duration to achieve the mandate down to 10 years. [263] [264]

Involvement in current robotic missions

PDCO objectives have been a part of several key NASA missions, including OSIRIS-REx, [265] NEOWISE, and Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). For NEOWISE, NASA worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to investigate various impact-threat scenarios in order to learn the best approach to the threat of an incoming impactor. The office will continue to use the polar orbiting infrared telescope NEOWISE to detect any potentially hazardous objects. [266]

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is the first planetary defense mission of NASA. [267] In November 2021, the DART spacecraft was launched with the goal of seeing if it could "alter an asteroid's path, a technique that may be used to defend the planet in the future". [268] On September, 26 2022, the DART spacecraft hit its target by impacting with the Dimorphos asteroid. Studies in the coming weeks will determine the extent that the impact changed the trajectory of the NEO. [269]

Study of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (2022–present)

In June 2022, the head of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, confirmed that NASA would join the hunt for Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)/Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). [270] At a speech before the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, Zurbuchen said the space agency would bring a scientific perspective to efforts already underway by the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to make sense of dozens of such sightings. He said it was “high-risk, high-impact” research that the space agency should not shy away from, even if it is a controversial field of study. [271]


NASA Advisory Council

In response to the Apollo 1 accident, which killed three astronauts in 1967, Congress directed NASA to form an Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) to advise the NASA Administrator on safety issues and hazards in NASA's air and space programs. In the aftermath of the Shuttle Columbia disaster, Congress required that the ASAP submit an annual report to the NASA Administrator and to Congress. [272] By 1971, NASA had also established the Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council to provide the administrator with advisory committee support. In 1977, the latter two were combined to form the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). [273] The NASA Authorization Act of 2014 reaffirmed the importance of ASAP.

Partnership with the United States Space Force

United States Space Force logo.svg

The United States Space Force (USSF) is the space service branch of the United States Armed Forces, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for civil spaceflight. NASA and the Space Force's predecessors in the Air Force have a long-standing cooperative relationship, with the Space Force supporting NASA launches out of Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and Vandenberg Space Force Base, to include range support and rescue operations from Task Force 45. [274] NASA and the Space Force also partner on matters such as defending Earth from asteroids. [275] Space Force members can be NASA astronauts, with Colonel Michael S. Hopkins, the commander of SpaceX Crew-1, commissioned into the Space Force from the International Space Station on December 18, 2020. [276] [277] [278] In September 2020, the Space Force and NASA signed a memorandum of understanding formally acknowledging the joint role of both agencies. This new memorandum replaced a similar document signed in 2006 between NASA and Air Force Space Command. [279] [280]

Collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey

The Landsat program is the longest-running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth. It is a joint NASA / USGS program. [281] On 23 July 1972, the Earth Resources Technology Satellite was launched. This was eventually renamed to Landsat 1 in 1975. [282] The most recent satellite in the series, Landsat 9, was launched on 27 September 2021. [283]

The instruments on the Landsat satellites have acquired millions of images. The images, archived in the United States and at Landsat receiving stations around the world, are a unique resource for global change research and applications in agriculture, cartography, geology, forestry, regional planning, surveillance and education, and can be viewed through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) "EarthExplorer" website. The collaboration between NASA and USGS involves NASA designing and delivering the space system (satellite) solution, launching the satellite into orbit with the USGS operating the system once in orbit. [281] As of October 2022, nine satellites have been built with eight of them successfully operating in orbit.

Cooperation with JAXA

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) cooperate on a range of space projects. JAXA is a direct participant in the Artemis program, including the Lunar Gateway effort. JAXA's planned contributions to Gateway include I-Hab’s environmental control and life support system, batteries, thermal control, and imagery components, which will be integrated into the module by the European Space Agency (ESA) prior to launch. These capabilities are critical for sustained Gateway operations during crewed and uncrewed time periods. [284] [285]

JAXA and NASA have collaborated on numerous satellite programs, especially in areas of earth science. NASA has contributed to JAXA satellites and vice versa. Japanese instruments are flying on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, and NASA sensors have flown on previous Japanese Earth-observation missions. The NASA-JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement mission was launched in 2014 and includes both NASA- and JAXA-supplied sensors on a NASA satellite launched on a JAXA rocket. The mission provides the frequent, accurate measurements of rainfall over the entire globe for use by scientists and weather forecasters. [286]

Related agencies


Environmental impact

The exhaust gases produced by rocket propulsion systems, both in Earth's atmosphere and in space, can adversely effect the Earth's environment. Some hypergolic rocket propellants, such as hydrazine, are highly toxic prior to combustion, but decompose into less toxic compounds after burning. Rockets using hydrocarbon fuels, such as kerosene, release carbon dioxide and soot in their exhaust. [287] However, carbon dioxide emissions are insignificant compared to those from other sources; on average, the United States consumed 803 million US gal (3.0 million m3) of liquid fuels per day in 2014, while a single Falcon 9 rocket first stage burns around 25,000 US gallons (95 m3) of kerosene fuel per launch. [288] [289] Even if a Falcon 9 were launched every single day, it would only represent 0.006% of liquid fuel consumption (and carbon dioxide emissions) for that day. Additionally, the exhaust from LOx- and LH2- fueled engines, like the SSME, is almost entirely water vapor. [290] NASA addressed environmental concerns with its canceled Constellation program in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act in 2011. [291] In contrast, ion engines use harmless noble gases like xenon for propulsion. [292] [293]

An example of NASA's environmental efforts is the NASA Sustainability Base. Additionally, the Exploration Sciences Building was awarded the LEED Gold rating in 2010. [294] On May 8, 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized NASA as the first federal agency to directly use landfill gas to produce energy at one of its facilities—the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. [295]

In 2018, NASA along with other companies including Sensor Coating Systems, Pratt & Whitney, Monitor Coating and UTRC launched the project CAUTION (CoAtings for Ultra High Temperature detectION). This project aims to enhance the temperature range of the Thermal History Coating up to 1,500 °C (2,730 °F) and beyond. The final goal of this project is improving the safety of jet engines as well as increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions. [296]

Climate change

NASA also researches and publishes on climate change. [297] Its statements concur with the global scientific consensus that the global climate is warming. [298] Bob Walker, who has advised US President Donald Trump on space issues, has advocated that NASA should focus on space exploration and that its climate study operations should be transferred to other agencies such as NOAA. Former NASA atmospheric scientist J. Marshall Shepherd countered that Earth science study was built into NASA's mission at its creation in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act. [299] NASA won the 2020 Webby People's Voice Award for Green in the category Web. [300]

Perceptions on NASA's Budget

NASA's budget from 1958 to 2012 as a percentage of federal budget

NASA's share of the total federal budget peaked at approximately 4.41% in 1966 during the Apollo man-on-the-Moon program, then rapidly declined to approximately 1% in 1975, and stayed around that level through 1998. [301] [302] 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). [303] 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." [304] [305]

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. [306]

In 2018, Business Insider surveyed approximately 1,000 US residents to determine what they believed was the annual NASA budgets. The average respondent estimated that NASA's budget was 6.4% of annual federal spending, when it was actually 0.5%. In the answer to a follow up question, 85% of respondents stated that NASA funding should be increased, despite the majority of responses overestimating NASA's actual budget. [307]

STEM Initiatives

Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa). Since 2011, the ELaNa program has provided opportunities for NASA to work with university teams to test emerging technologies and commercial-off-the-shelf solutions by providing launch opportunities for developed CubeSats using NASA procured launch opportunities. [308] By example, two NASA-sponsored CubeSats launched in June 2022 on a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne vehicle as the ELaNa 39 mission. [309]

Cubes in Space. NASA started an annual competition in 2014 named Cubes in Space. [310] It is jointly organized by NASA and the global education company I Doodle Learning, with the objective of teaching school students aged 11–18 to design and build scientific experiments to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. On June 21, 2017, the world's smallest satellite, KalamSAT, was launched. [311]

Use of the metric system

US law requires the International System of Units to be used in all US Government programs, "except where impractical". [312]

In 1969, the Apollo 11 landed on the Moon using a mix of United States customary units and metric units. In the 1980s, NASA started the transition towards the metric system, but was still using both systems in the 1990s. [313] [314] On September 23, 1999, a unit mixup between US and SI units resulted in the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter. [315]

In August 2007, NASA stated that all future missions and explorations of the Moon would be done entirely using the SI system. This was done to improve cooperation with space agencies of other countries that already use the metric system. [316]

As of 2007, NASA is predominantly working with SI units, but some projects still use English units, and some, including the International Space Station, use a mix of both. [317]

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

NASA announced the temporary closure of all visitor complexes at its field centers until further notice and asked all non-critical personnel to work from home if possible. Production and manufacturing of the Space Launch System at the Michoud Assembly Facility has been halted, [318] [319] and further delays occurred for the James Webb Space Telescope, [320] although work resumed on June 3, 2020. [321]

The majority of Johnson Space Center personnel have transitioned to telecommunicating, and mission-critical personnel on the International Space Station have been ordered to reside in the mission control room until further notice. Station operations are relatively unaffected, but astronauts on new expeditions are subject to longer more stringent pre-flight quarantine. [322]

Media Presence


NASA TV is the television service of NASA. It is broadcast by satellite with a simulcast over the Internet. The network was formally created in the early 1980s to provide NASA managers and engineers with real-time video of missions. [323] [324] NASA has operated a television service since the beginning of the space program for archival purposes, and in order to provide media outlets with video footage. [325] The network airs a large amount of educational programming, and provides live coverage of an array of manned missions (including the International Space Station), robotic missions, and domestic and international launches.


NASAcast is the official audio and video podcast of the NASA website. Created in late 2005, the podcast service contains the latest audio and video features from the NASA web site, including NASA TV's This Week at NASA and educational materials produced by NASA. Additional NASA podcasts, such as Science@NASA, are also featured and give subscribers an in-depth look at content by subject matter. [326]


NASA EDGE broadcasting live from White Sands Missile Range in 2010

NASA EDGE is a video podcast which explores different missions, technologies and projects developed by NASA. The program was released by NASA on March 18, 2007, and, as of August 2020, there have been 200 vodcasts produced. It is a public outreach vodcast sponsored by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and based out of the Exploration and Space Operations Directorate at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The NASA EDGE team takes an insiders look at current projects and technologies from NASA facilities around the United States, and it is depicted through personal interviews, on-scene broadcasts, computer animations, and personal interviews with top scientists and engineers at NASA. [note 4]

The show explores the contributions NASA has made to society as well as the progress of current projects in materials and space exploration. NASA EDGE vodcasts can be downloaded from the NASA website and from iTunes.

In its first year of production, the show was downloaded over 450,000 times. As of February 2010, the average download rate is more than 420,000 per month, with over one million downloads in December 2009 and January 2010. [328]

NASA and the NASA EDGE have also developed interactive programs designed to complement the vodcast. The Lunar Electric Rover App allows users to drive a simulated Lunar Electric Rover between objectives, and it provides information about and images of the vehicle. [329] The NASA EDGE Widget provides a graphical user interface for accessing NASA EDGE vodcasts, image galleries, and the program's Twitter feed, as well as a live NASA news feed. [330]

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is a website provided by NASA and Michigan Technological University (MTU). According to the website, "Each day a different image or photograph of our universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer." [331] The photograph does not necessarily correspond to a celestial event on the exact day that it is displayed, and images are sometimes repeated. [332] However, the pictures and descriptions often relate to current events in astronomy and space exploration. The text has several hyperlinks to more pictures and websites for more information. The images are either visible spectrum photographs, images taken at non-visible wavelengths and displayed in false color, video footage, animations, artist's conceptions, or micrographs that relate to space or cosmology. Past images are stored in the APOD Archive, with the first image appearing on June 16, 1995. [333] This initiative has received support from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and MTU. The images are sometimes authored by people or organizations outside NASA, and therefore APOD images are often copyrighted, unlike many other NASA image galleries. [334]

When the APOD website was created, it received a total of 14 page views on its first day. As of 2012, the APOD website has received over a billion image views throughout its lifetime. [335] APOD is also translated into 21 languages daily. [336]


See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ NASA is an independent agency that is not a part of any executive department, but reports directly to the President. [5] [6]
  2. ^ The descent stage of the LM stayed on the Moon after landing, while the ascent stage brought the two astronauts back to the CSM and then was discarded in lunar orbit.
  3. ^ a b c Orbital Sciences was awarded a CRS contract in 2008. In 2015, Orbital Sciences became Orbital ATK through a business merger. Orbital ATK was awarded a CRS-2 contract in 2016. In 2018, Orbital ATK was acquired by Northrop Grumman.
  4. ^ NASA EDGE Cast and Crew: Chris Giersch (Host); Blair Allen (Co-host and senior producer); Franklin Fitzgerald ( News anchor and "everyman"); Jaqueline Mirielle Cortez (Special co-host); Ron Beard (Director and "set therapist"); and Don Morrison (Audio/ video engineer) [327]
  5. ^ From left to right: Launch vehicle of Apollo (Saturn 5), Gemini (Titan 2) and Mercury (Atlas). Left, top-down: Spacecraft of Apollo, Gemini and Mercury. The Saturn IB and Mercury-Redstone launch vehicles are left out.


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Further reading

  • Alexander, Joseph K. Science Advice to NASA: Conflict, Consensus, Partnership, Leadership (2019) excerpt
  • Bizony, Piers et al. The NASA Archives. 60 Years in Space (2019)
  • Brady, Kevin M. "NASA Launches Houston into Orbit How America's Space Program Contributed to Southeast Texas's Economic Growth, Scientific Development, and Modernization during the Late Twentieth Century." Journal of the West (2018) 57#4 pp 13–54.
  • Bromberg, Joan Lisa. NASA and the Space Industry (Johns Hopkins UP, 1999).
  • Clemons, Jack. Safely to Earth: The Men and Women Who Brought the Astronauts Home (2018) excerpt
  • Dick, Steven J., and Roger D. Launius, eds. Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight (NASA, 2006)
  • Launius, Roger D. "Eisenhower, Sputnik, and the Creation of NASA." Prologue-Quarterly of the National Archives 28.2 (1996): 127–143.
  • Pyle, Rod. Space 2.0: How Private Spaceflight, a Resurgent NASA, and International Partners are Creating a New Space Age (2019), overview of space exploration excerpt
  • Spencer, Brett. "The Book and the Rocket: The Symbiotic Relationship between American Public Libraries and the Space Program, 1950–2015," Information & Culture 51, no. 4 (2016): 550–82.
  • Weinzierl, Matthew. "Space, the final economic frontier." Journal of Economic Perspectives 32.2 (2018): 173–92. online, review of economics literature

External links

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