National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), civilian agency of the U.S. federal government with the mission of conducting research and developing operational programs in the areas of space exploration, artificial satellites (see satellite, artificial), rocketry, and space telescopes (see Hubble Space Telescope) and observatories. It is also responsible for international cooperation in space matters. NASA came into existence on Oct. 1, 1958, superseding the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), an agency that had been oriented primarily toward laboratory research. While the NACA budget never went higher than $5 million and its staff never exceeded 500, the NASA annual budget reached $14.2 billion in 1995, and its staff reached a maximum size of 34,000 in 1966 (21,000 in 1995), with some 400,000 contract employees working directly on agency programs.

The creation of NASA was spurred by American unpreparedness at the time the Soviet Union launched (Oct. 4, 1957) the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1). NASA took over the Langley (including the Wallops Island, Va., launch facility), Ames, and Lewis research centers from NACA. Soon after its creation, NASA acquired from the U.S. army the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (operated by the California Institute of Technology). Later, the Army Ballistic Missile Arsenal (now the Marshall Space Flight Center) at Huntsville, Ala., was placed under NASA control.

The best-known NASA field installations are the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center near Houston, Tex., where flights are coordinated, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where space shuttle and other space program launches have taken place. Other facilities include the Dryden, Glenn, Goddard, and Stennis centers and NASA headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Operationally, NASA is headed by a civilian appointed by the president and has four divisions: the offices of Space Flight, Space Science Programs, Aeronautics Exploration and Technology, and Tracking and Data Acquisition. Despite some highly publicized failures, NASA has in many cases successfully completed its missions within their projected budgets; the total cost of the Apollo project, for example, wound up very close to the original $20-billion estimate. Currently, NASA oversees all space science projects and launches approximately half of all military space missions.

See T. Crouch, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1989); H. Benedict, NASA: The Journey Continues (2d ed., 1992); R. D. Launius et al., NASA and the Exploration of Space (1998); W. E. Burrows and W. Cronkite, The Infinite Journey (2000); H. E. McCurdy, Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program (2000); R. E. Bilstein, Testing Aircraft, Exploring Space (2003); F. Sietzen, Jr., et al., New Moon Rising: The Making of America's New Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA (2004).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

NASA: Selected full-text books and articles

Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, 1965-1992 By Rick Houston; Milt Heflin University of Nebraska Press, 2015
Organizational Learning at NASA: The Challenger and Columbia Accidents By Julianne G. Mahler; Maureen Hogan Casamayou Georgetown University Press, 2009
Celebration Time on Earth as Curiosity Lands on Mars By Chang, Alicia; Borenstein, Seth Winnipeg Free Press, August 7, 2012
NASA Mission Gives Peek of Rover's Mars Journey By Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 8, 2012
Can Democracies Fly in Space? The Challenge of Revitalizing the U.S. Space Program By W. D. Kay Praeger Publishers, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "In Search of the Magic Bullet: Critiques of U.S. Space Policy" and Chap. 3 "NASA: The Eye of the Storm"
Confusion over Space By Hughes, James H The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2011
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Politics and Space: Image Making by NASA By Mark E. Byrnes Praeger Publishers, 1994
NASA and the Decision to Build the Space Shuttle, 1969-72 By Launius, Roger D The Historian, Vol. 57, No. 1, Autumn 1994
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Historical Guide to the U. S. Government By George Thomas Kurian Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "National Aeronautics and Space Administration" begins on p. 392
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