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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)





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A civilian agency of the United States government, formally established on Oct. 1, 1958, under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. It absorbed the former NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), including its 8,000 employees and three major research laboratories – Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory – and two small test facilities. Under its first Administrator, T. Keith Glennan, NASA also incorporated several organizations involved in space exploration projects from other federal agencies to ensure that a viable scientific program of space exploration could be reasonably conducted over the long-term. Glennan brought in part of the Naval Research Laboratory and created for its use the Goddard Space Flight Center. He also incorporated several disparate satellite programs, two lunar probes, and the important research effort to develop a million-pound-thrust, single-chamber rocket engine from the Air Force and the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency. In December 1958 Glennan also acquired control of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. In 1960 Glennan obtained the transfer to NASA of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, then renamed the Marshall Space Flight Center. By mid-1960 Glennan had secured for NASA primacy in the Federal Government for the execution of all space activities except reconnaissance satellites, ballistic missiles and a few other space-related projects, most of which were still in the study stage, that the DOD controlled.

The functions of the organization were conceived to plan, direct, and conduct all American aeronautical and space activities, except those that are primarily military. NASA's Administrator is a civilian appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Administration arranges for the scientific community to take part in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through the use of aeronautical and space vehicles, and provides for the dissemination of data that results. Under the guidance of the President, the Administration participates in the development of programs of international cooperation in space activities.

With the advent of the Space Shuttle, NASA became more frequently involved in military activities despite its original intent as a civilian agency. Because of the long delay caused by the 1986 Challenger disaster, however, the military began expanding its own fleet of booster rockets. In 1996, NASA announced a $7-billion, six-year contract under which the agency would gradually turn over routine operation of the Shuttle program to private industry.

In 1998 NASA established the Astrobiology Institute at its Ames Research Center to enhance research for new instruments and space probes to search for life in the Solar System and beyond. This Institute is a consortium of academic institutions, including the University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard University, and the University of Colorado, as well as the private sector and several NASA field centers.


NASA field stations and facilities

Ames Research Center
Dryden Flight Research Center
Glenn Research Center
Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Goddard Space Flight Center
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Johnson Space Center
Kennedy Space Center
Langley Research Center
Marshall Space Flight Center
Stennis Space Center
Wallops Flight Facility
White Sands Test Facility

NASA Administrators

T. Keith Glennan (1958–1961)
James E. Webb (1961–1968)
Thomas O. Paine (1969–1970)
James C. Fletcher (1971–1977)
Robert A. Frosch (1977–1981)
James M. Beggs (1981–1985)
James C. Fletcher (1986–1989)
Richard H. Truly (1989–1992)
Daniel S. Goldin (1992–2001)
Sean O'Keefe (2001–2004)
Michael Griffin (2005–2009)
Charles F. Bolden (2009–)

Related category

   • SPACE AGENCIES