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National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), civilian agency of the U.S. federal government with the mission of conducting research and developing operational programs in the areas of space exploration, artificial satellites (see satellite, artificial), rocketry, and space telescopes (see Hubble Space Telescope) and observatories. It is also responsible for international cooperation in space matters. NASA came into existence on Oct. 1, 1958, superseding the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), an agency that had been oriented primarily toward laboratory research. While the NACA budget never went higher than $5 million and its staff never exceeded 500, the NASA annual budget reached $14.2 billion in 1995, and its staff reached a maximum size of 34,000 in 1966 (21,000 in 1995), with some 400,000 contract employees working directly on agency programs.

The creation of NASA was spurred by American unpreparedness at the time the Soviet Union launched (Oct. 4, 1957) the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1). NASA took over the Langley (including the Wallops Island, Va., launch facility), Ames, and Lewis (now Glenn) research centers from NACA. Soon after its creation, NASA acquired from the U.S. army the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (operated by the California Institute of Technology). Later, the Army Ballistic Missile Arsenal (now the Marshall Space Flight Center) at Huntsville, Ala., was placed under NASA control.

The best-known NASA field installations are the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center near Houston, Tex., where flights are coordinated, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where space shuttle and other space program launches have taken place. Other facilities include the Armstrong, Goddard, and Stennis centers and NASA headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Operationally, NASA is headed by a civilian appointed by the president and has four main divisions, the mission directorates for aeronautics research, human exploration and operations, science, and space technology, as well as a directorate for mission support. Despite some highly publicized failures, NASA has in many cases successfully completed its missions within their projected budgets; the total cost of the Apollo project, for example, wound up very close to the original $20-billion estimate. Currently, NASA oversees all space science projects and launches approximately half of all military space missions.

Bibliography

See T. Crouch, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1989); H. Benedict, NASA: The Journey Continues (2d ed., 1992); R. D. Launius et al., NASA and the Exploration of Space (1998); W. E. Burrows and W. Cronkite, The Infinite Journey (2000); H. E. McCurdy, Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program (2000); R. E. Bilstein, Testing Aircraft, Exploring Space (2003); F. Sietzen, Jr., et al., New Moon Rising: The Making of America's New Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA (2004).

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NASA

(nass -ă) Abbrev. for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The US civilian government agency that is responsible for all nonmilitary aspects of the US space program. It was formed in Oct. 1958, largely in response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik 1 in the previous year, and was given the task of researching and developing the equipment and activities involved in space exploration. NASA's headquarters are in Washington, DC, and it operates several field centers and other facilities. Chief among these are the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and the Deep Space Network. Other facilities include the Langley Research Center (Hampton, Virginia), the Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, Alabama), and the John C. Stennis Space Center (near Starkville, Mississippi). NASA's current organizational structure is headed by an Administrator and Deputy Administrator, to whom the agency's other departments are responsible. These departments consist of four Mission Directorates: Aeronautics Research (concerned with the research and development of technologies for safe, reliable, and efficient aviation systems); Exploration Systems (concerned with developing the research and technology needed to enable sustainable and affordable human and robotic exploration of space); Space Operations (which directs all the agency's space launches, spaceflight operations and space communications); and Science (which is responsible for organizing and carrying out the scientific exploration of the Earth, the Solar System and beyond and reaping the rewards of Earth and space exploration for society). NASA's space activities currently fall into a series of long-term programs; for example, its Discovery program seeks to unlock the mysteries of the Solar System by means of low-cost exploration missions, while the Origins program focuses on observations of the earliest stars and galaxies, the search for planets around other stars, and the search for life elsewhere in the universe. NASA collaborates on projects with the European Space Agency (ESA) and with individual countries. One major focus of its international efforts is the International Space Station. NASA funds and maintains the Astrophysics Data System and offers a satellite launcher service to other countries. See also space shuttle.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006
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