What does NASA do????
NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.
To do that, thousands of people have been working around the world -- and off of it -- for more than 50 years, trying to answer some basic questions. What's out there in space? How do we get there? What will we find? What can we learn there, or learn just by trying to get there, that will make life better here on Earth?
A Little History
President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958, partially in response to the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial satellite. NASA grew out of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics which had been researching flight technology for more than 40 years.
President John F. Kennedy focused NASA and the nation on sending astronauts to the moon by the end of the 1960s. Through the Mercury and Gemini projects, NASA developed the technology and skills it needed for the journey. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first of 12 men to walk on the moon, meeting Kennedy's challenge.
In the meantime, NASA was continuing the aeronautics research pioneered by NACA. It also conducted purely scientific research and worked on developing applications for space technology, combining both pursuits in developing the first weather and communication satellites.
After Apollo, NASA focused on developing America's ready access to space: the space shuttle. The first launched in 1981, the Space Shuttle has had 112 successful flights, though two crews have been lost. In 2000, the United States and Russia established permanent human presence in space aboard the international space station, a multinational project representing the work of 16 nations.
NASA has also continued its scientific research. In 1997, Mars Pathfinder became the first in a fleet of spacecraft that will explore Mars in the next decade, as we try to determine if life ever existed there. The Terra and Aqua satellites are flagships of a different fleet, this one in Earth orbit, which is designed to help us understand how our home world changes. NASA's teams are focused on improved aircraft travel and making it safer and less polluting.
Throughout its history, NASA has conducted or funded research that has led to numerous improvements to life on earth
NASA Headquartersin Washington, provides overall guidance and direction to the Agency, under the leadership of Administrator Michael Griffin Ten field centers and a variety of installations conduct the day-to-day work, in laboratories, on air fields, in wind tunnels and in control rooms.
NASA conducts its work in four principle organizations, called mission directorates:
Aeronautics: pioneering and proving new flight technologies that improve our ability to explore and which have practical applications on Earth.
Exploration Systems: creating new capabilities for affordable, sustainable human and robotic exploration
Science: exploring the Earth, moon, Mars and beyond; charting the best route of discovery; and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society.
Space Operations: providing critical enabling technologies for much of the rest of NASA through the space shuttle, the international space station and flight support.
In 2005, NASA's reach spans the universe. Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars rovers as of this date, are still going on Mars after more than a year. Cassini is in orbit around Saturn. The Hubble Space telescope functioned for years until it came to a necessary end
Closer to home, the latest crew of the international space station is extending the permanent human presence in space. Earth Science satellites are sending back unprecedented data on Earth's oceans, climate and other features. NASA's aeronautics team is working with other government organizations, universities, and industry to fundamentally improve the air transportation experience and retain our nation's leadership in global aviation. And, most importantly, NASA has begun returning the space shuttle to flight. Led by Commander Eileen Collins, the crew of Discovery tested new in-flight safety procedures and carried supplies to the international space station.
The Vision for Space Exploration
NASA's future is the Vision for Space Exploration, set forth by our President . The key elements of the vision are:
safely return the Space Shuttle to flight
complete the International Space Station and retire the Space Shuttle by 2010
begin robotic missions to the moon by 2008 and return people there by 2020
continue robotic exploration of Mars and the Solar System
develop a Crew Exploration Vehicle and other technologies required to send people beyond low Earth orbit.
Administrator Michael Griffin unveiled NASA's plans for implementing the vision, returning to the moon by 2018. Included in the plan is the Crew Exploration Vehicle, NASA's next spaceship. Combining the best of Apollo and space shuttle technology, this new vehicle will replace the shuttle in flying to the international space station as well as take a crew of four to the surface of the moon.
Though over one-half century old, NASA is only beginning the most exciting part of its existence.
All photos used in this site are courtesy of NASA and its various facilities. A special Planetary Orchestra fanfare goes out to NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California and their efforts to make space science more "user" friendly. Director Pete Worden is the man.
Forecasting Weather on Distant Worlds
An artist's conception shows a gas-giant planet orbiting very close to its parent star, creating searingly hot conditions on the planet's surface. New research suggests that for three such planets lying from 50 to 150 light-years from Earth, strong winds thousands of miles per hour mix the atmosphere so that the temperature is relatively uniform from the permanently light side to the permanently dark side.
This illustration represents an infrared view of a planetary system, in which brightness indicates warmer temperatures. For example, the bright band around the equator of the planet denotes warmer temperatures on both the dark and sunlit sides. The planet's poles, shown in darker colors, would be cooler.
Star 55 Cancri with planet
40 light years away is 55 Cancri with five planets orbiting the star. The fifth was recently discover after years of study by astronomers from Lick Observatory in San Jose and Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii.
The newly-found fifth planet around 55 Cancri is also large - around half the size of Saturn, or at least 45 times the mass of Earth - and orbiting at about 0.785 AU in 260.8 days. Because the star 55 Cancri is older and dimmer than our sun, the habitable zone - the region in which planetary temperatures can be favorable for liquid water - is closer to the star than is our sun's habitable zone, and includes the new planet.
New Horizons at Pluto
Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. The craft's miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 7-foot (2.1-meter) dish antenna, through which it will communicate with Earth from as far as 4.7 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away.