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Published by Rizwan Nadeem

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Published by: Rizwan Nadeem on Jan 28, 2009
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 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has truly taken the Beatles song"Across the Universe" to heart. The federal agency was founded in 1958 -- partly inresponse to Russia's launch of the Sputnik satellite -- to research space and flighttechnology and, in 1969, successfully landed two Americans on the moon. Today itmanages the space shuttle program; partners with several nations, including Russia, to build and man the International Space Station; and does research and exploration viaunmanned satellites and probes (including the Mars Rovers and the Hubble SpaceTelescope). NASA plans to retire the space shuttle program by 2010 and deliver man back to the moon by 2020.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) is the unit of the federalgovernment charged with operating the nation's space exploration andaeronautics  programs. The administrator of NASA, an independent agency, is appointed by the president, subject to Senate confirmation. NASA came into existence on 1 October 1958,after Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Actof 1958, at therecommendation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many Americans had been highlyalarmed when, on 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union put into orbit
the first man-made satellite. In the midst of the Cold War, Americans feared that the Soviets mightdevelop superior missile and space technology and use it against the United States. Thenew agency absorbed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a poorly fundedresearch agency formed in 1915.Even though much of NASA's early political support stemmed from America's Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, NASA was designed as an explicitly civilian agencyto pursue peaceful space activities. Overseeing the military applications of spacetechnology was left to the Department of Defense. In practice, however, the distinctionhas sometimes blurred. From the beginning, NASA and the military have cooperated in avariety of ways, and many astronauts have come from military backgrounds.
Projects Mercury and Gemini
 NASA designed its first major program, Project Mercury, to study human abilities inspace and to develop the technology required for manned space exploration. The programand the original seven astronauts received tremendous public attention, and the astronauts became national heroes. One of those seven, Alan Shepard, became the first American inspace with hissuborbitalflight on 5 May 1961. On 20 February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth (Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin was thefirst human in space and the first to orbit the Earth, on 12 April 1961).
President John F. Kennedy congratulated the astronauts and NASA but said that thenation needed "a substantially larger effort" in space. Speaking to Congress on 25 May1961, Kennedy declared what that effort should be: "I believe that this nation shouldcommit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on themoon and returning him safely to the Earth." Kennedy admitted that the lunar programwould be expensive andrisky, but the public came to support it enthusiastically. Congressapproved the program—called Project Apollo—with very little debate. Apollo becamethe most expensive civilian project in American history.Kennedy's dramatic goal exhilarated NASA. Under the skillful leadership of administrator James Webb, NASA set out to achieve the goal. The Mercury flights (a totalof six from 1961 to 1963) and the subsequent Project Gemini (ten flights from 1965 to1966) served as preliminary steps to going to the moon. The larger and more advancedGemini spacecraft allowed astronauts to practice maneuversthat would be essential in the Apollo program.
Project Apollo
Ironically, as NASA worked toward fulfilling its exciting goal, public support for theagency began to decline. After it became clear that the United States was not really losingthe "space race" to the Soviet Union, many Americans wondered whether the lunar  program was worth its cost. Then, on 27 January 1967, three astronauts conducting testsinside a sealed Apollo capsule died when a fire broke out in the spacecraft. A review board found that NASA had not paid adequate attention to safety.After several unmanned Apollo test flights and one manned mission that orbited theEarth, NASA was ready to send a spacecraft into lunar orbit. Circling the moon onChristmas Eve, 1968, the crew of 
 Apollo 8
beamed back to Earth spectacular pictures of the moon's surface. NASAsent two more test flights into lunar orbit and was then ready to land on the moon.
lifted off on 16 July 1969 and landed on the moon four days later. As much of theworld watched televised coverage inawe, Neil Armstrong became the first human towalk on the moon. Just after he stepped from his spacecraft onto the lunar surface,Armstrong spoke his immortal line: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The crew of 
 Apollo 11
returned safely to earth on 24 July.
 Apollo 12
made a smooth journey to the moon and back, but the next mission— 
 Apollo 13
 —encountered serious problems. On the way to the moon in April 1970, one of thespacecraft's oxygen tanks exploded, crippling the ship and leaving doubt whether thecrew could return safely. Some ingenious work by the astronauts and the NASAengineers on the ground brought the crew of 
 Apollo 13
home alive. NASA conductedfour more successful expeditions to the moon, but dwindling public interest andcongressional support led to the cancellation of the final two planned flights.
The Space Shuttle
 NASA's next major project was the space shuttle, which the agency promoted as a meansof reliable and economical access to space. As it developed the shuttle during the 1970s, NASA also pursued the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project with the Soviets, Skylab, and a seriesof unmanned exploratory missions, including the Viking probe of Mars. The shuttle began flying in 1981. Although the shuttle proved not to be as efficient as NASA promised, more than twenty flights had taken place by the end of 1985.On 28 January 1986, tragedy struck. The shuttle
exploded seventy-threeseconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The disaster stunned NASA andthe nation. A presidential commission investigating the accident sharply criticized NASA's management and safety procedures. After revamping the program, shuttle flightsresumed in 1988.
The Space Station
The 1990s saw NASA make significant improvements to the shuttle program, pursue avariety of unmanned missions (including the impressive Hubble Space Telescope),continue research in aeronautics and space science, and work on its next major project, anorbiting space station. Hampered by budgetary restraints and widespread criticisms of theinitial station design, the project progressed slowly. In the mid-1980s, NASA hadannounced that the station would be a cooperative effort. Fifteen other nations— including Russia, America's former rival in space—eventually joined with the UnitedStates to develop the International Space Station (ISS). Russia's own space station, Mir,orbited the Earth from 1986 to 2001.In late 1998, the first of more than forty space flights needed to transport and assemblethe station in orbit took place. Plans originally called for international crews of up toseven astronauts to stay on the station for three to six months at a time. However,unexpectedly high development costs, plus unexpectedly low financial contributions fromRussia, forced NASA to scale back the project to save money. The first crew to inhabitthe station arrived in November 2000. Assembly of the station was scheduled for completion around 2004.(NASA), civilian agency of the U.S. federal government with the mission of conductingresearch and developing operational programs in the areas of  space exploration, artificial satellites (seesatellite, artificial), rocketry, and space telescopes (seeHubble Space Telescope
) and observatories. It is also responsible for international cooperation in spacematters. NASA came into existence on Oct. 1, 1958, superseding the National AdvisoryCommittee on Aeronautics (NACA), an agency that had been oriented primarily towardlaboratory research. While the NACA budget never went higher than $5 million and itsstaff never exceeded 500, the NASA annual budget reached $14.2 billion in 1995, and itsstaff reached a maximum size of 34,000 in 1966 (21,000 in 1995), with some 400,000contract employees working directly on agency programs.The creation of NASA was spurred by American unpreparedness at the time the SovietUnion launched (Oct. 4, 1957) the first artificial satellite (
Sputnik 1
). NASA took over the

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