At this day, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is undoubtedly the leading civilian agency of the world in space exploration. The journey from its birth to today carries a series of incidents behind it. Through its robotic spacecraft, it has studied the various areas and aspects of earth, visited other planets, imaged the various wavelengths of the universe, etc. It has to lead the astronauts to reveal the cosmos of space, built International Space Station, set foot on the moon and much more. We know a lot about the various contributions NASA has made to space exploration, but many are unaware of how the agency came into being.
It will not be wrong to say that the establishment of NASA was the need of that time. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were still in the competition. Though the war had stopped, it was still there in the form of cold war between them. On October 4, 1957, Soviet Union launched their first satellite in space, Sputnik I, to orbit around the earth. The basketball sized satellite weighed 183 pounds and took 98 minutes to complete its orbit. The US who were at the front of technology were taken aback with shock at this launch. By launching the satellite, Soviet became a threat for them as with this technology; it might be able to send nuclear missiles to the US.
Just after one month, on November 3, 1957, they launched another satellite, Sputnik II, with a dog, Laika, into it. The America sped up their efforts and finally launched their first successful satellite in space, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. On July 29, 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, giving birth to the new agency and disestablishing the old National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. However, it started operating on October 1, 1958. It had to be the federal space agency to conduct non-military space activities.
Following were the objectives stated in section 102 of the Space Act:
- To expand human knowledge about the atmospheric and space phenomenon.
- To improve the performance, safety, usefulness, efficiency and speed of aeronautical and space aircraft.
- Developing and operate vehicles capable enough to carry equipment, instruments, supplies and living organisms in space.
- Establishing long-ranged studies to get benefit from aeronautical and space activities, for peaceful purposes.
- To preserve the role of US as the leader in aeronautics and space science and technology, and application of the knowledge to conduct experiments inside and outside the atmosphere for peaceful purposes.
During the first twenty years of its creation, NASA conducted the following important programs:
- Human space flight initiatives to explore whether a human can survive in space or not.
- Robotic missions to Moon, Venus, Mars and few outer planets.
- Astronautic researchers to improve the efficiency, reliability, speed and safety of air transport.
- Remote-sensing earth satellites.
- Application satellites to communicate and for weather monitoring.
- Establishment of Skylab, an orbital workshop for astronauts.
- Development of space shuttle, which a reusable spacecraft to travel to and from earth’s orbit.
The first high profile project of NASA to involve human spaceflight was projected mercury.it was to determine whether humans can survive in space or not. Alan B. Shephard Jr. gained the privilege to be the first American to fly in space on May 5, 1962. He was sent on a 15 minutes suborbital mission in his mercury capsule. On February 20, 1962, John H. Glenn Jr. orbit the earth, being the first US astronaut to do so. The project mercury went successfully with successful earth orbiting and then retrieving the astronauts back to earth safely.
Moon Landing Conspiracy
On May 25, 1961, the speech of President John F. Kennedy motivated the NASA astronauts to carry out the project Apollo to set foot on Earth’s moon. Among one of the many privileges NASA has, is to send a first human, Neil Armstrong, to set foot on the moon, on July 20, 1969, in Apollo 11. But his “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” gained the status of a big controversy for almost 40 years. It was claimed Apollo program, and the five other manned moon landing was faked by NASA. Various individuals have claimed that no astronauts have walked on the moon, rather it has been faked to mislead people to win the space war by the US and to get increased funds for NASA.
These conspiracies remained in hot debate for almost four decades, until 2012, when the high definition photos of Apollo sites taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) were released. The photos showed the erected American flag on five out of six sites, placed there by the astronauts of Apollo missions. The flag of Apollo 11 was accidentally blown over due to rocket take off and lay on the surface of the moon.