October 1, 1958, the official launch date of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was the beginning of a rich history of unique scientific and technological achievements in human space flight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications. Formed as a result of the Sputnik crisis of confidence, NASA inherited the earlier National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and other government organizations, and almost immediately began working on options for human space flight.

Advanced aeronautics research

Building on its NACA roots, NASA has continued to conduct numerous types of advanced aeronautics research on aerodynamics, wind shear, and other important topics, using wind tunnels, flight testing, and computer simulations.

NASA's highly successful X-15 program involved a rocket-powered airplane that flew above the atmosphere, then glided back to Earth non-powered, which provided shuttle designers with numerous useful data.

The watershed F-8 digital-fly-by-wire program laid the groundwork for such electronic flight in many other aircraft, including the space shuttle and high-performance aircraft that would have been otherwise uncontrollable. NASA also has conducted important research on such topics as "lifting bodies" (wingless airplanes) and "supercritical wings" to dampen the effect of shock waves on trans-sonic aircraft.

Humans in space

NASA's first high-profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn whether or not humans could survive in space, followed by Project Gemini, which built upon Mercury's successes and used spacecraft built for two astronauts. NASA's human space-flight efforts then extended to the moon with Project Apollo, culminating in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission first put humans on the lunar surface. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Projects of the early and mid-1970s, NASA's human space-flight efforts resumed in 1981, with the Space Shuttle program that continues today, to help build the International Space Station.

Probing the solar system

NASA has launched a number of such significant scientific probes as the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft, that have investigated the moon, the planets, and other phenomena of the solar system. NASA has sent several spacecraft to explore Mars, including the Viking and Mars Pathfinder spacecraft. The Hubble Space Telescope and other space-science craft have provided scientists with a number of significant astronomical discoveries.

Satellite technology

NASA also has conducted pioneering work in space-applications satellites. The agency has helped to develop such new generations of communications satellites as the Echo, Telstar, and Syncom. NASA's Earth science efforts also have literally changed the way humans view their home planet; the Landsat and Earth Observing System spacecraft have contributed numerous important scientific findings. NASA technology also has resulted from numerous "spin-offs" in wide-ranging scientific, technical, and commercial fields.

Overall, while the tremendous technical and scientific accomplishments of NASA demonstrate vividly that humans can achieve previously inconceivable feats, scientists and lay persons alike are humbled by the realization that the Earth is just a tiny "blue marble" in the cosmos.

See also Neil Armstrong .

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Historic Journeys Into Space by Lynn Homan, Thomas Reilly.
From the January 1958 launch of the first American satellite to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by President Eisenho...
Moffett Field by Nicholas A. Veronico.
The looming immensity of Moffett Field’s Hangar One, built in 1933 to house the world’s largest—and last—rigid-frame dirigible, is an unforgettable So...
San Francisco Bay Area Aviation by William T. Larkins, Ronald T. Reuther.
From hot-air balloons to jets, no other location has a more diverse aviation history than the San Francisco Bay Area. Aside from private and commercia...
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone.
What does it take to be an astronaut? Excellence at flying, courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, top physical shape — any checklist would incl...
Failure is not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz.
In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik and the ensuing space race. Three years later, Gene Kranz left his aircraft testing job to join NASA and champi...
Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane.
On February 1, 1978, the first group of space shuttle astronauts, twenty-nine men and six women, were introduced to the world. Among them would be his...
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.
Here is a rare perspective on a story we only thought we knew. For Apollo 11, the first moon landing, is a story that belongs to many, not just the f...
Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson.
A richly detailed and dramatic account of one of the greatest achievements of humankind. At 9:32 A.M. on July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 rocket launched ...