What Does NASA Do?
In one sense, it's very simple:
NASA seeks to understand.
To do that, thousands of people have been working around the world
-- and off of it -- for more than 45 years, trying to answer some
basic questions. What's out there in space? How do we get there?
What will we find? What can we learn there, or learn just by trying
to get there, that will make life better here on Earth?
A Little History
President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration in 1958, partially in response to the
Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial satellite. NASA
grew out of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, which
had been researching flight technology for more than 40 years.
President John F. Kennedy focused NASA and the nation on sending
astronauts to the moon by the end of the 1960s. Through the Mercury
and Gemini projects, NASA developed the technology and skills
it needed for the journey. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and
Buzz Aldrin became the first of 12 men to walk on the moon, meeting
In the meantime, NASA was continuing the aeronautics research
pioneered by NACA. It also conducted purely scientific research
and worked on developing applications for space technology, combining
both pursuits in developing the first weather and communications
After Apollo, NASA focused on developing America's ready access
to space: the space shuttle. First launched in 1981, the Space
Shuttle has had 112 successful flights, though two crews have
been lost. In 2000, the United States and Russia established permanent
human presence in space aboard the international space station,
a multinational project representing the work of 16 nations.
NASA has also continued its scientific research. In 1997, Mars
Pathfinder became the first in a fleet of spacecraft that will
explore Mars in the next decade, as we try to determine if life
ever existed there. The Terra and Aqua satellites are flagships
of a different fleet, this one in Earth orbit, which is designed
to help us understand how our home world changes. NASA's aeronautics
teams are focused on improved aircraft travel and making it safer
and less polluting.
Throughout its history, NASA has conducted or funded research
that has led to numerous improvements to life here on Earth.
NASA Headquarters, in Washington, provides overall guidance and
direction to the Agency, under the leadership of Administrator
Michael Griffin. Ten field centers and a variety of installations
conduct the day-to-day work, in laboratories, on air fields, in
wind tunnels and in control rooms. NASA Today
NASA conducts its work in four principle organizations, called
mission directorates: Aeronautics: pioneering and proving new
flight technologies that improve our ability to explore and which
have practical applications on Earth. Exploration Systems: creating
new capabilities for affordable, sustainable human and robotic
Science: exploring the Earth, moon, Mars and
beyond; charting the best route of discovery; and reaping the
benefits of Earth and space exploration for society.
Space Operations: providing critical enabling
technologies for much of the rest of NASA through the space shuttle,
the international space station and flight support.
In 2005, NASA's reach spans the universe. Spirit and Opportunity,
the Mars Exploration Rovers, are still going on Mars after more
than a year. Cassini is in orbit around Saturn. The Hubble Space
Telescope continues to explore the deepest reaches of the cosmos.
Closer to home, the latest crew of the international space station
is extending the permanent human presence in space. Earth Science
satellites are sending back unprecedented data on Earth's oceans,
climate and other features. NASA's aeronautics team is working
with other government organizations, universities, and industry
to fundamentally improve the air transportation experience and
retain our nation's leadership in global aviation. And, most importantly,
NASA has begun returning the space shuttle to flight. Led by Commander
Eileen Collins, the crew of Discovery tested new in-flight safety
procedures and carried supplies to the international space station.