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© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

NASA: Selected full-text books and articles

Reinventing NASA: Human Spaceflight, Bureaucracy, and Politics
Roger Handberg.
Praeger, 2003
Organizational Learning at NASA: The Challenger and Columbia Accidents
Julianne G. Mahler; Maureen Hogan Casamayou.
Georgetown University Press, 2009
Rumors of NASA's Demise Greatly Exaggerated; Space Agency to Resume Exploration If Congress Provides Financial Fuel
Lampson, Nick.
The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 27, 2012
Celebration Time on Earth as Curiosity Lands on Mars
Chang, Alicia; Borenstein, Seth.
Winnipeg Free Press, August 7, 2012
NASA Mission Gives Peek of Rover's Mars Journey
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 8, 2012
Can Democracies Fly in Space? The Challenge of Revitalizing the U.S. Space Program
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"
Obama Shoots Down Mars Exploration; Space Community Outraged as Real Missions Are Replaced by Simulated Science
Zubrin, Robert.
The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 2, 2012
Confusion over Space
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).
Q & A: NASA Discusses Its Selection and Training of Future Astronauts
Techniques, Vol. 83, No. 1, January 2008
Down-to-Earth NASA: Taking Humans out of the Space Program May Reduce Costs, Risks
Docksai, Rick.
The Futurist, Vol. 44, No. 4, July-August 2010
Reaching for the High Frontier: The American Pro-Space Movement, 1972-84
Michael A. G. Michaud.
Praeger Publishers, 1986
Space, the Dormant Frontier: Changing the Paradigm for the 21st Century
Joan Johnson-Freese; Roger Handberg.
Praeger, 1997
Politics and Space: Image Making by NASA
Mark E. Byrnes.
Praeger Publishers, 1994
NASA and the Decision to Build the Space Shuttle, 1969-72
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
George Thomas Kurian.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "National Aeronautics and Space Administration" begins on p. 392
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