What is NASA?

   

NASA is the United State's official space agency. An acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA is charged with developing tactical aeronautic and space vehicles, space exploration, and monitoring global patterns such as climate change and land use. NASA also deploys orbital military vehicles such as satellites, while lending much of it's expertise in the field of satellite design and construction. Future tasks assigned to the agency include development of the next generation of reusable space vehicles, detailed exploration of the solar system's inner planets, completion of the International Space Station, and establishment of a permanent manned moon base.

NASA was conceived as the United State's answer to Soviet Space Program. Although the American government had declared it's intention of launching an artificial satellite before the Russians showed an interest in the subject, Russia's state-controlled and highly motivated space program successfully launched a vehicle well before the American design was finished. The Russian launch was interpreted as a technological challenge by the Americans, and NASA was founded to answer that challenge. For the first ten years of it's existence, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration played catch up with its Russian counterpart, with no major achievements that had not been previously accomplished by Russians. The 'Space Race', as the competition between the space agencies was called, was not so much of a race to the finish as it was an attempt for NASA to match the Russian technology. Important milestones, such as satellite launch, manned spaceflight, extra-vehicular activity, and remote planet exploration were on average one year behind Russian accomplishments. Only in 1969 did the American space agency achieve what the Russians had not: a manned lunar landing. Twelve NASA astronauts walked the surface of the moon from 1969 until the Apollo program was completed in 1972. No Russian astronauts have yet to land on the moon. NASA's second significant conquest without Russian precedent was the design, construction, and successful launch of the Space Shuttle fleet. The Space Shuttle is a mostly reusable system of launch vehicles, orbital craft, and lander. Although the Russian Space Agency have built their own reusable space vehicle, the craft was retired from service after only one flight.

NASA logo

Over the course of NASA's existence, the agency has been the subject of much controversy and debate. Although officially a non-military, public agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration works very closely with the United State's Department of Defence. Many NASA programs are classified, and the agency has one of the largest budgets of any government agency. Several propositions have been put forward for disbanding NASA, with it's launch and research responsibilities being spread out across different government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Spacecraft development and astronaut training could be privatized, proponents argue, much as airplane design and pilot training are currently privatized. In fact, several private American companies are already designing spacecraft, and at least one company has succeeded in piloting a vehicle to an altitude of 100 kilometers, considered by scientists to be the edge of space. Responsibility of these flights is already handled by the FAA, thus the foundations for privatization of the American space industry are already laid.



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