National Aeronautics and
The era of space exploration began in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first
satellite, Sputnik, into Earth orbit October 4, 1957. The Soviet also were the first to launch a
manned spacecraft when Yuri Gagarni, made one orbit around the Earth in 1961. Americans
were electrified by the news. A year later the Soviets issued an ultimatum that the Western
Allies evacuate Berlin. Next came a proposal that Berlin become a free city. There waere fears
that the Cold War of coexistence could turn into a world war.
America also had goals they wanted to fulfil. A year later the United States Congress
passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act to promote and coordinate the United States
space program. In 1958 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established,
commonly referred to NASA. Shortly after NASA s founding, the launching site at Cape
Canaveral, Florida, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas were planned and built.
Thus creating the space race .
According to the 1958 act, NASA s functions are: to conduct research on problems of
flight within and outside the Earth s atmosphere; to develop, construct, tests and operate space
vehicles; to explore space with manned and unmanned vehicles; to cooperate with other nations
on projects for the peaceful uses of space; and to publish the results of its work.
The planning and control of NASA s activities take place at the agency s headquarters in
Washington, D.C. There are four program offices that have been set up to develop and direct the
activities of NASA s several field installation: Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology,
Office of Space Science and Applications, Office of Space Flight, and Office of Space Tracking
and Data Systems.
The Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology is responsible for the continued
development of advanced technology. This office set the guidelines for NASA s objectives,
demonstrates the feasibility of the objectives, and proposes the necessary technology to carry
them out. It also coordinates activities with other agencies to prevent duplication of effort.
The office of Space Science and Applications directs the study of the nature of the
universe through research in astrophysics, biology, Earth sciences, solar system exploration,
communications, micro gravity, and information systems. This office uses a vairety of devices to
conduct its research. These include remote sensing equipment, automated spacecraft, sounding
rockets, balloons, and aircraft.
The Office of Space Flight is responsible for the space laboratories and all facets of the
Space Transportaion System, or space shuttles of NASA. This office also directs several of the
field installations and oversees the purchase of all hardware necessary for NASA s space
The office of Space Tracking and Data Systems Provides all the information necessary
for the commencement and progress of space missions. The facilities that provide this
information support are the Deep Space Network, the Space flight Tracking and Data Network,
and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite systems. A global communications system coordinates
the tasks of this office by linking all tracking sites, control centers, and data processing
facilities.NASA has nine chief field installations. Many people who follow space launches know
of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex., and the John F. Kennedy Space Center
at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Houston installation is a command control center, while the center
at Cape Canaveral is the primary launching site.
The other field installations are: Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, Calif.; Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; Langley
Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; George C.
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; and the National Space Technology
Laboratories in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Since it was founded, NASA has had many striking successes and at least two unfortunate
tragedies. In 1961 Alan Shepard was the first American sent into space. The following year John
Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. The most stunning achievement was putting
two men on the moon in July 1969. The agency’s first major accident was the death by fire in
1967 of astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The second disaster was the
explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on Jan. 28, 1986. Less than two minutes after lift-off
all seven astronauts aboard were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher-astronaut.
NASA launched its first U.S. Earth satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. It was
launched at 10:48 P.M. from Cape Canaveral, Fla. It was bullet-shaped, 80 inches long and 6
inches in diameter with the last stage attached, and weighed 30.8 lbs. Then in October 11, 1958
a Pioneer rocket was launched in an attempt to circle the moon. The mission failed on Oct. 12,
but the vehicle obtained a record maximum altitude of 79, 193 miles-30 times the altitude of any
previous man made object.
The first United States astronaut to enter space was Alan B. Shepard, Jr. His suborbital
flight, on May 5, 1961, in a one-man Mercury spacecraft carried him 115 miles above the Earth.
In 1959 John Glenn was selected as one of the Mercury Seven- the first seven astronauts
int eh United States space program. On Feb. 20, 1962, he entered the space capsule Friendship 7
and began his historic mission, orbiting the Earth three times within a five-hour period. The
success of the mission instantly boosted American morale, which had lagged during the Cold
War years because of the lead the Soviet Union had taken in the space race. Upon his return to
Earth, Glenn was hailed as a genuine American hero and was honored with a ticker-tape parade
down Broadway in New York City. He also received the Space Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1962, President Jhon F. Kennedy had promised that the nation would land a man on
the moon befor the dacade was over. Jhon F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon and
disicate and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because
that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skill. Because that
challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to pospone, and one we
intend to win”.
On July 31, 1964, Ranger 7 became the first United States spacecraft to photograph the
moon. All the early probes either bypassed the moon or crashed on it. The two-man Gemini
vehicles were the world’s first maneuverable manned spacecraft. In the first manned Gemini
flight–that of Gemini 3, on March 23, 1965–Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young completed
three orbits. On June 3, 1965, during the flight of Gemini 4, Edward H. White II became the first
American to walk in space.
The first rendezvous between two orbiting spacecraft was accomplished on Dec. 15,
1965. Walter M. Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford maneuvered Gemini 6 to within a foot of
Gemini 7, in which Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, Jr., set a space-flight endurance record
of 330 hours 35 minutes. In the succeeding Gemini flights, rendezvous and docking were
achieved with unmanned Agena target vehicles. The program ended in November 1966 with
Gemini 12.The first manned test of the Apollo spacecraft was scheduled for 1967, but in January
1967, during a practice countdown, Grissom, White, and Roger B. Chaffee were killed when a
flash fire swept the command module in which they sat. The first manned Apollo spacecraft–
Apollo 7–was launched on Oct. 11, 1968. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and Walter Cunningham were
in Earth orbit for 11 days.
In Apollo 8, launched on Dec. 21, 1968, Borman, Lovell, and William Anders became
the first men to orbit the moon, completing ten lunar orbits. Apollo 11, launched on July 16,
1969, carried the first men to land on the moon. Command pilot Neil A. Armstrong and lunar
module pilot Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., landed in the Mare Tranquillitatis on July 20 at 3:17 PM
CDT. At 9:56 PM Armstrong stepped onto the moon. He was followed by Aldrin. Michael
Collins remained in the moon-orbiting command module. Apollo 13, the third mission planned
by the United States to land men on the moon. The mission nearly ended in tragedy. An
explosion and power failure partially disabled the spacecraft’s command module, Odyssey, as it
neared the moon. The astronauts–spacecraft commander James A. Lovell, Jr., lunar module pilot
Fred Haise, Jr., and command module pilot John L. Swigert, Jr.–were able to employ their lunar
module, Aquarius, as a temporary lifeboat, however, and accomplish a safe return to Earth.
The Saturn V launch vehicle of Apollo 13 had lifted off from Cape Kennedy, Fla., at 2:13
PM EST on April 11, 1970. The spacecraft was first inserted into Earth orbit, then boosted into
lunar trajectory by the Saturn rocket’s third stage. Transposition and docking of Odyssey and
Aquarius were carried out, and by early evening Apollo 13 was coasting toward the moon on a
path so accurate that the first planned course adjustment was canceled. Later, the craft was
transferred to a non-free-return trajectory to facilitate the planned landing in the Fra Mauro
region of the moon. The transfer meant that, should no further propulsive maneuver be made
during the flight, Apollo 13 would swing around the moon and return toward Earth, but would
miss Earth by 2,950 miles (4,750 kilometers).
Sunday, April 12, passed without incident, and early Monday evening, nearly 56 hours into the
flight, Lovell and Haise entered Aquarius and began checking systems. Suddenly a loud bang
was heard, and electrical power failed in Odyssey. Swigert radioed Mission Control in Houston,
Tex., with the ominous message, “Hey, we’ve had a problem here.” Much later, the bang was
discovered to have been an oxygen-tank explosion in Odyssey’s service module. It disabled the
three fuel cells that normally provided electricity and drinking water for the command module.
(Swigert had replaced scheduled pilot Ken Mattingly after Mattingly was exposed to measles
just days before the launch.)
With plans for a lunar landing abandoned, the astronauts transferred into the lunar module,
Aquarius, which had sufficient power, oxygen, and water to sustain them while the crippled
spacecraft swung around the moon and returned toward Earth. The systems of the Odyssey–the
only module that could reenter the Earth’s atmosphere–were shut down to conserve its
emergency battery power. Early Tuesday morning, as the spacecraft neared the moon, Aquarius’
engine was fired to put it into a free-return trajectory. Then, as expected, Apollo 13 lost radio
contact with Earth as it passed behind the moon, but communication was soon reestablished
when the craft emerged from behind the moon. At about this time the long-discarded Saturn
third stage crashed into the moon as planned, providing an artificial moonquake for scientists to
Some two hours later, Aquarius’ engine was fired again to increase the spacecraft’s velocity,
reduce its flight time by ten hours, and assure a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean south of
Samoa. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels in the lunar module began to rise to dangerous levels
as the spacecraft’s lithium hydroxide absorbers became saturated. The air purifiers in the
command module did not fit the Aquarius, so NASA engineers were forced to improvise a
purification system, radioing the astronauts detailed instructions on how to assemble it from the
materials available on the spacecraft. The hastily designed system worked well, keeping the
carbon dioxide content of the air well below hazardous levels for the remainder of the mission.
A further course correction was made Wednesday morning. Preparing to reenter the Earth’s
atmosphere, the astronauts first discarded the service module, taking valuable photographs of the
damaged section as it separated. They then transferred into the command module and discarded
the lifesaving Aquarius, which could not return to Earth. The command module entered the
atmosphere and splashed down on target, 142 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds after the
mission began. A recovery team from the aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima picked up the astronauts
on April 17, and they were flown to Hawaii to meet their families. President Richard Nixon, on
his way to visit the Apollo 13 crew, stopped in Houston to award the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award, to the entire Mission Control team.
In the wake of the near-disaster, NASA appointed a review board under the leadership of
Edgar M. Cortright, director of Langley Research Center, to investigate the Apollo 13 accident.
After some three months of study, the cause of the explosion was traced to two inadequate
thermostatic switches in an oxygen-tank heater assembly. Dysfunction of the switches under
load caused overheating that led to an insulation fire, and the subsequent blast tore a side panel
from the service module and disabled the fuel cells. Other defects in manufacture and in testing
procedures were also found. Further Apollo flights were delayed until 1971 so that modifications
could be made to prevent similar incidents. During the 1970s the United States developed the
space shuttle, the first reusable manned space vehicle. It combined three systems: a winged
orbiter carrying crew and payload; an external tank with propellant for the three main rocket
engines; and twin solid rocket boosters to lift the craft above the thickest part of the atmosphere.
The boosters were designed to parachute into the ocean for recycling, and the orbiter glided back
to a runway at the end of its mission.
The program began with a total of four space shuttles; they were named for famous
oceangoing ships: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis. The Columbia flew four
orbital test flights from April 1981 to July 1982. The first flight (STS 1) was flown by astronauts
John W. Young and Robert Crippen. The next three flights carried payloads to demonstrate the
shuttle’s utility as a carrier. Beginning with the STS 5 in 1982, the shuttle carried operational
The shuttle Challenger made its first flight in April 1983. On its next ascent, in June, the crew
included the first American woman in space, Sally K. Ride. Columbia went up again in
November carrying Spacelab 1, a highly complex laboratory module. In February 1984
astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart used gas-jet propulsion backpacks called
manned maneuvering units (MMUs) to move and work in space and return to the shuttle
Challenger while free of any lifeline to the spacecraft.
On Jan. 28, 1986, after 24 successful launches, the shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds
after lift-off. Its seven crew members were killed, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe,
the winner of a nationwide teacher-in-space contest. The shuttle program was suspended until
the exact cause of the explosion could be found. The United States returned to space in 1988
with the launching of the space shuttle Discovery in September. The mission reflected hundreds
of design changes. In December 1988 and again in May 1989, Atlantis made successful flights.
In 1991 the United States replaced the shuttle Challenger with the new Endeavour. In 1996
NASA announced plans to build a new experimental reusable rocket that would replace the first
generation of space shuttles, possibly leading to large reductions in the cost of lifting payloads
into space. By mid-1998, NASA had launched a total of 90 shuttle missions.
In 1996, the United States launched the Mars Global Surveyor, the first of three unmanned
spacecraft designed to probe the surface of the planet Mars. The launching of the probe, which
arrived at its destination on September 11, 1997, marked the beginning of a ten-year campaign to
collect information about the geological makeup of Mars and to determine whether or not any
lifeforms, no matter how primitive, existed, or continue to exist, on the planet.
The launch of the Global Surveyor was followed by the launching of another American craft,
the Mars Pathfinder, in early December 1996; unlike the earlier craft, the Pathfinder was
designed to land on the surface of Mars. A Russian craft, the Mars 96 probe, was launched ten
days after the Mars Global Surveyor but crashed shortly after takeoff. The Pathfinder mission
landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, the first unmanned probe to land on Mars since the 1976 Viking
space missions. The Pathfinder, which featured a six-wheeled robotic rover called Sojourner,
was initially scheduled to be operational for only 30 days, but continued to perform until
September 1997, when it sent back its last batch of information. Repeated attempts were made
to contact the probe; however, by March, 1998, NASA officials accepted that the probe was no
The Soviet Union launched a space shuttle, Buran (Blizzard), on an unmanned mission in
November 1988. It completed two orbits of the Earth and was remarkably similar to the United
States shuttle except for the design of the launch vehicle.
In January 1998, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to allow John
Glenn to return to space. Agency officials announced that the 76-year-old former astronaut will
be aboard the space shuttle Discovery for a mission scheduled to launch in early October 1998.
Glenn, who made history in 1962 as the first American to orbit the Earth, would earn another
place in the record books as the oldest person to travel into space. He was scheduled to serve as
a payload specialist aboard a flight of Discovery, conducting space-related research on the
effects of aging.
In announcing the news to the press, NASA administrator Daniel S. Goldin stressed the
combination of hard experience and old-fashioned heroics that Glenn would bring to the
Discovery mission. Citing the senator’s experience as a Marine test pilot and astronaut, Goldin
stated that Glenn “brings a unique blend of experience to NASA. He has flight, operational, and
policy experience. Unlike most astronauts, he never got the opportunity for a second flight. He is
part of the NASA family, an American hero, and he has the right stuff for this mission.”
At a NASA press conference, the senator explained that his desire to join the Discovery
mission stemmed not only from a love of space travel, but also from his interest in using space
flight to study certain aspects of aging. Space flight and the aging process share several
physiological responses such as bone and muscle loss, balance disorders, and sleep disturbances.
Because of these similarities, scientists believe that space flight itself can serve as a model
system for research into the processes of aging.
Senator Glenn was instrumental in promoting the use of space flight for the benefit of healthy
and productive aging. He studied the similarities between space travel and aging on his own, and
beginning in 1996 he persisted in trying to convince Goldin and other NASA officials to permit
him to travel in space to carry out firsthand studies. The senator reasoned that if he could pass
the physical, he would be well qualified for the mission. Dr. Robert Butler, a professor of
Geriatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center and director of the International Longevity Center,
stated that Senator Glenn would be “particularly well qualified since he has done this before, and
because of his work with NASA and the National Institute on Aging to develop research that will
lead to a better understanding of the effects of aging. His involvement makes a bold statement
about the capabilities of older people and will help us understand the effects of aging and space
flight. Senator Glenn’s courage and willingness to undertake this mission are notable.”
According to NASA flight surgeons, Glenn is in excellent physical condition. After passing a
battery of mandatory medical tests, he was pronounced medically qualified to fly. NASA
maintained medical records on Glenn for 42 years, and thus was able to perform an exhaustive
As a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, Glenn flew 149 missions, withstanding
11 hits by enemy fire. Following the Korean War, he served as a test pilot for several years,
working with Navy and Marine Corps jet fighters and attack aircraft. In 1957, Glenn set a
transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York. He still flies his own plane, and
he set a record for speed on a flight from Dayton Ohio to Washington D.C.