01Oct2018

NASA Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary

NASA turned 60 on Monday, October 1. Over six decades, it’s had a remarkable run of rocketeering and exploratory achievements, from the moon landings, space shuttles, from the surface of Mars to destinations far beyond our solar system.

NASA has said the logo it has released for use in observing the 60th anniversary of its establishment as a US government agency in 2018 represents its quest for knowledge.

And as space becomes just another place to do business, NASA looks to keep its edge as it is facing an identity crisis.  Blame people like SpaceX‘s Elon Musk and Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos in part for that. They’re in the vanguard of a new wave of commercial activity that’s launching into what had for so long been the exclusive domain of government agencies, both in the US and abroad.

NASA’s 60th anniversary is an occasion, then, to look both back to a settled past and ahead to an uncertain future. The agency long-associated with America’s scientific prowess and can-do spirit got its start in one space race. Its next challenges lie in a new race to return humans to the moon and to push onward to Mars.

There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a handy cheat sheet to get you started, with more to come.

How did NASA get its start?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration officially opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1958, two months after it was established through a law signed by President Dwight Eisenhower. The US government had been spurred into action by the Soviet Union’s launch a year earlier

of Sputnik, the first satellite to go into orbit around the Earth. The space race with America’s Cold War foe was on. But even though there was a subtext of military posturing, NASA was founded with a nonmartial mission. “It is the policy of the United States,” the law said, “that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.”

NASA wasn’t started from scratch, however. It took over from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, which had been created during World War I and which had already begun experimenting with rockets.

What were some of NASA’s first achievements?

On Oct. 11, 1958, NASA launched its first spacecraft, the Pioneer I. Five months later, Pioneer 4 made the first lunar flyby, and in April 1960 it recorded the first TV images of Earth from space, thanks to the TIROS meteorological satellite. But the really big early moments came from putting humans into space (again, after the Soviet Union got there first) through the Mercury space program. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut, making a 15-

minute suborbital flight, and on Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

What are some of NASA’s other most memorable moments?

There’s one that stands out from all others: Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” on the surface of the moon. That achievement in July 1969 probably remains NASA’s most iconic moment after almost half a century. But there have been others.

For three decades, launches of the US space shuttles — with their airplane-like design, they were the first reusable spacecraft  — made regular headlines, including numerous trips to the International Space Station, where astronaut Scott Kelley set a record by living in orbit for an entire year. Let’s not forget the landing of multiple rovers on Mars, sending the Voyager spacecraft beyond the edge of the solar system and all the many discoveries and breathtaking images sent back by spacecraft including Cassini, Hubble and Kepler.  Source: CNET

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