“NASA is an investment in America’s future.

As explorers, pioneers, and innovators, we boldly expand frontiers in air and space to inspire and serve America and to benefit the quality of life on Earth.”

This mission statement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accurately sums up what the organization is all about. The United States Federal Government is responsible for this civilian space program, which has its origins in the National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics that was founded all the way back in 1915. The focus of NASA was always meant to be peaceful and civilian in nature, from its independent inception in 1958. NASA is a scientifically minded, encouraging exploration and research to further both America’s interests and humanity’s interests.

Exploration for Expansion

While the intended mission of NASA was civilian in orientation, the role of the Cold War in its development and initial funding cannot be overestimated. 

Following World War II, the United States and the USSR were at odds with one another as they competed to be the dominant world superpower. This didn’t lead to active, declared military actions, but there were many proxy battles fought between the two countries. One was through the race to the Moon. 

NASA’s initial group of scientists and rocket developers were military minds from World War II. 

The first American in space was astronaut Alan Shepherd, who orbited the Earth on May 5, 1961. Following this success, other manned missions to space quickly followed. The USSR had made it into orbit first, but America was determined to win the Space Race. 

To the Moon

Though the first goal of NASA was to get Americans into space, getting to the Moon was always the victory that America wanted.

President John F. Kennedy and Congress authorized the largest scientific expenditure in American history in 1961 in an effort to get a man to the Moon. The result was the Apollo program, which successfully landed American astronauts on the Moon on July 1969. The victory was a moment not just for Americans, but for all mankind. 

Shuttle Program and Space Station

Following the success of the Moon landing, NASA set its sights on learning more about life in Earth’s orbit. To that end, it began the Shuttle Program, a series of reusable ships that could be launched into space repeatedly to do research and eventually build a space station.

The Shuttle Program ran from 1972-2011, and it was integral in the building of the International Space Station. Following the end of the Cold War, the United States and NASA sought to partner with previous rivals to focus on exploration and science in space. The result was the International Space Station, which was built in stages as modules were carried up aboard NASA’s Space Shuttles. 

Long-duration space occupancy has been a guiding force for NASA since the missions to the Moon. 

In addition to manned programs, NASA has sent robotic rovers to Mars to explore the surface of Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. There have also been numerous missions to the edge of the solar system and the Sun. Telescopes funded by NASA look out into deep space. 

Innovation and Private Partnership

NASA has been responsible not just for incredible scientific discoveries, but also for innovations that have spread out to technology that has impacted everything from computer technology to medicine.

Today’s NASA programs are partnered with private businesses. SpaceX and other private companies have been contracted to ferry crew and supplies to the International Space Station since the end of the Shuttle Program.

NASA continues to inspire people all over the world, including rival space agencies from countries like India and China. Though NASA took over as the leading space exploration agency after the fall of the Soviet Union, it’s worked with partner countries across the globe to expand scientific knowledge. 

Future missions for NASA are aimed at small space objects, further missions to the Moon, and an eventual colony on Mars.