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History of The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the Federal Government founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower it is responsible for aeronautics and aerospace research. This event means that they conduct missions and create modules/equipment used to explore outer space and have an understanding of it. Before NASA was created, another federal agency already existed and it was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which was founded on March 3, 1915, by Woodrow Wilson. This was the first agency to represent a serious exploration of space and sky exploration. After Sputnik was launched, NACA was shocked and it led to Dwight Eisenhower’s idea to improve the committee if they wanted to compete with the Soviet Union, in 1958 congress passed legislation to establish NASA which was created due to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik on October 4, 1957, which sparked the Space Race. NACA had only 12 employees and they were successful in aircraft but later successful in rocket aircraft and also had a lot of advancements after WWII, they became more serious with spacecraft. The Space Race began in 1955 when the US and the Soviet Union announced to launch of a satellite into orbit. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2 the US launched their very own called Explorer 1 which was successful. On Dec 18, 1958, the Air Force booster was sent into orbit, it was a communications satellite to keep in touch with earth the next day President Eisenhower’s Christmas message was sent and it was the first voice sent from space. In 1972-73 Pioneer 10 & 11 were launched and Pioneer 10 was the first to travel through the solar system’s asteroid belt it also captured amazing images of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. A year after that Pioneer 11 was launched and it flew by Jupiter and then moved to Saturn and that’s where we discovered many small moons around the planet.

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Today NASA has many departments and has continued with more missions that gave us what we have today, with 17,219 employees that focus on different aspects of space exploration to give the nation their new discoveries and a better understanding of the universe. The engineering department works on designing rockets that are meant for in-depth space exploration and also building instruments that help them analyze what they have found on a planet or in space. They also have a Space Bioscience Research branch that focuses on biological research and technology development to handle the extreme environments of space exploring. Since there is no air, food, and water and are high in radiation levels in space, this branch will find new and safer ways to do space exploring that won’t affect our body and health in a negative way. The Astrophysics branch of NASA focuses on discovering how the universe works. This is done by studying the physical and chemical properties of objects by observing their radiation infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. The Exobiology branch does research on the origin, evolution, and life in the universe. They work on instruments that are designed to measure whether something is habitable and that also detect biosignatures. The last branch I will mention is the Planetary Systems Branch in this branch a group of NASA workers comes together to observe, create theories, and experiment with research about the origin of planetary systems.

NASA has conducted many missions and created equipment and has learned from previous missions mentioned, I want to talk about the successful missions they have done. The first will be about an instrument that NASA created and it is called the Hubble Space Telescope this telescope was launched into Earth’s orbit and it reveals stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies this telescope really changed how people look at the cosmos. The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) is a spacecraft that measured the differences in temperatures in the cosmic microwave background, which is the radiation left over from the Big Bang. What this spacecraft revealed was that the universe was 13.7 billion years old and also confirmed that most of the universe about 95% is made of dark matter and dark energy. A very important mission I will mention is Apollo 11 which was a mission mentioned by John F Kennedy to achieve a goal. This was a mission to the moon and it was a major turning point for human history, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Micheal Collins were the three to go on this mission, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step in foot on the moon. In the return of the astronauts, they got rock samples that allowed us to get data and it was the first time we got to research samples from another planetary body. This mission changed space exploration it allowed us to have stations in earth’s orbit, for example, Skylab 4 was a man-made space station that was launched in May of 1973 by the United States its parts are from Saturn V launch vehicle. This mission and many others proved that humans could perform numerous experiments and also proved that humans can live and work in space for long periods. That also led to the creation of the ISS which took NASA about 10 years and 30 missions to assemble and have it be successful. The Soviet Union launches the first segment of the ISS on November 20, 1998, called the Zarya Module also known as the Functional Cargo Block which was funded by the US later on the US launched a shuttle on December 4 named Unity to start assembling the ISS this shuttle contains “50,000 mechanical items, 216 lines to carry fluids and gases, and 121 internal and external electrical cables using six miles of wire.” After that was set the first crew who got to go inside the ISS was launched on November 2, 2000, astronauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev and stayed several months exactly 136 days. Module Destiny was added in 2001 and it is a research laboratory that is still being used today as the years pass Europe and Japan joined the ISS Columbus and Kibo. In 2013 the ISS research laboratory found out that “Proteins can be grown as crystals in space with nearly perfect three-dimensional structures useful for the development of new drugs” this allows them to utilize the different environments of the ISS.

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The next creation of NASA is the Spirit and Opportunity which are the Mars rovers that were put on Mars and collected data, from that data we have discovered interesting data. Spirit lasted 20 times longer than the original design she lasted 2,226 earth days but sadly stopped communicating due to getting stuck in the sand. In her time spirit help us discover that Mars used to be moist and the conditions on Mars could have sustained microbial life. But before finding this out NASA sent the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) in 1996 to find out possible water sites, and also sent the Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner rover mission to Mars in 1997 these two found rocks that were most likely shaped by water. This is the reason as to why Spirit and Opportunity were launched and also carried a lot of equipment, they each had a panoramic camera, a microscopic imager, engineering cameras, three spectrometers, and a rock abrasion tool, and a magnet array. They also have an arm that allowed them to take close-up pictures and data. Continuing their mission of Mars rovers in 2020 this mission, the rover will he landed on Jezero Crater where it is believed that there was a lake once about 3.5 billion years ago. Carbonates were found on that site and carbonates on Earth help structures that are “hardy enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, coral and some stromatolites — rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were plentiful.” Since stromatolite is a possibility of being found that is the reason why there is a cluster of carbonates tracing the Jezero shoreline which makes that specific spot interesting to NASA. This mission will focus on astrobiology it will answer many of our questions, the main one being was there any life on Mars at any point? It will collect samples and be brought back to earth for it to be researched more in-depth. 

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