Space Organizations Part 1: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

views updated

Space Organizations Part 1: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

It is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.

National Aeronautics and Space Agency Act of 1958

Once it became obvious that space exploration was an achievable reality, it became a national priority for rich and powerful countries. Following World War II (1939-1945), there were only two superpowers in the worldthe United States and the Soviet Unionand they considered each other enemies.

Both superpowers had military, scientific, and political reasons to pursue space travel. Outer space was a potential battlefield and provided an opportunity to spy on enemies on the other side of the world. Scientists, however, valued space travel for another reason. They wanted to gather data from space to help them unravel the mysteries of the universe. From a political standpoint, a successful space program was a source of national pride and a symbol of national superiority. This motivation above all others drove the earliest decades of space exploration.

The Soviet Unions space program was under the control of the military. In contrast, the United States split its space program into two parts. The U.S. military was given control over space projects related to national defense, and a new civilian agency called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed in 1958 to oversee peaceful space programs.

Throughout its history, NASA has been associated with spectacular feats and horrific disasters in space exploration. It has received great praise for its successes and harsh criticism for its failures. Space travel is an expensive enterprise. As a government agency, NASA is bound by federal budget constraints. This budget rises and falls according to the political climate. U.S. presidents set space goals, but Congress sets NASAs budget.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) charged NASA with the monumental task of putting a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Congress allocated billions of dollars to NASA, and this goal was accomplished. Later presidents also set grand goals for the agency, but none of these were realized. Every major endeavor went over budget and fell behind schedule, the public seemed to lose interest in space travel, and Congress lacked the political motivation to increase NASAs funding. In 1965 NASAs budget comprised nearly 4% of the federal budget. By 1974 this percentage was less than 1%. It has remained near this level for more than thirty years. (See Figure 2.1.)

Since the 1980s NASAs reputation has suffered. Between 1986 and 2003 the agency experienced a string of failures. Four spacecraft sent to Mars were lost. A space telescope was launched into space with a faulty mirror. Worst of all, two catastrophic disasters killed fourteen astronauts. Critics complained that NASA had become overconfident, too bureaucratic, and had lost its technological edge.

In 2004 and 2005 NASA received a huge boost in prestige with the success of its robotic (unmanned) missions to Mars and Saturn. This was accompanied by a declaration from President George W. Bush (1946-) that NASA should set bold new goals to send crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. It remains to be seen whether Congress will fund these enterprises and whether NASA will be able to overcome the many obstacles in its path to space.


NASA was founded on October 1, 1958, following enactment of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 ( The stated purpose of the act was to provide for research

into problems of flight within and outside the earths atmosphere, and for other purposes.

The act specifically mandated that NASA would be a civilian agency with control over all nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities within the United States. The research and development of weapons and national defense systems remained under the control of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). However, the act called for sharing of information between the two agencies. Cooperation by NASA in space ventures with other countries was allowed if the purpose was peaceful application of the results.

The act outlined eight objectives for NASA:

  • To expand human knowledge about atmospheric and space phenomena
  • To improve all aspects of aeronautical and space vehicles
  • To develop and operate vehicles capable of carrying supplies, equipment, scientific instruments, and living organisms into space
  • To conduct long-range studies into the potential benefits, opportunities, and problems associated with astronautical and space activities
  • To preserve the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and its application
  • To share discoveries of military value with agencies involved in national defense
  • To cooperate with other nations in peaceful ventures
  • To cooperate with other U.S. agencies in utilizing national scientific and engineering resources in the most effective and efficient means possible


In NACA90 Years Later (X-Press, vol. 47, no. 2, March 25, 2005), NASA notes that it consolidated the resources of several government organizations, chiefly the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was originally named the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics when it was formed in 1915 to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution. At the time, World War I (1914-1918) was raging in Europe. German zeppelins had dropped bombs on Britain earlier that year, ushering in a new means of waging war.

Even though the NACAs formation was driven by war, the agency also conducted aircraft research and set policy and regulations for commercial and civil aviation. In 1926 the Air Commerce Act was passed, which freed the NACA of regulatory responsibilities. The agency turned its full attention to aeronautical research and development at its Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia and later Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field, California, and a testing facility at Wallops Island, Virginia. NACA research and development benefited both military and civilian aviation.

On October 14, 1947, U.S. Air Force captain Charles (Chuck) Yeager (1923-) made the first supersonic flight in an X-1 aircraft, a rocket-powered research plane developed by the air force and the NACA. The NACA played an integral role in developing and testing the X-series of experimental aircraft. In 1952 the NACA began researching the challenges of space flight. Two years later the agency recommended that the U.S. Air Force develop a manned research vehicle to travel beyond Earths atmosphere.

In October 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the worlds first artificial satellite. Jerry Woodfill of NASA explains in Days of Air and Space (January 24, 2001, that a few months later the American Rocket Society, a private space organization, and the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel, which monitored all U.S. outer space research, urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) to establish a new agency to assume responsibility for all U.S. nonmilitary space projects. The agency was to pursue broad cultural, scientific, and commercial objectives and be independent of the DOD. The director of the NACA provided a counter-recommendation that the new agency operate under joint control of the NACA, the DOD, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation in support of military and nonmilitary projects.

Eugene M. Emme indicates in Aeronautics and Astronautics: An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space, 1915-1960 (1961) that in January 1958 President Eisenhower wrote Soviet premier Nikolay Bulganin (1885-1975) and proposed that the two countries agree that outer space should be used only for peaceful purposes. Bulganin refused to agree to the proposal unless the United States ceased all nuclear weapons testing and disbanded all its military bases on foreign soil. These conditions were unacceptable to the United States.

In July 1958 President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, turning over all nonmilitary space projects to NASA. The new agency absorbed the personnel and facilities of the NACA, which ceased to exist.

According to Steven J. Dick and Steve Garber of NASA, in Celebrating NASAs Fortieth Anniversary 19581998 ( February 8, 2005,, NASA began with approximately eight thousand employees and an annual budget of $100 million. About half of the agencys first employees were civilian personnel working on space projects at the U.S. Armys Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. They included a rocketry team headed by Wernher von Braun (19121977). Von Braun was a German rocket scientist who moved to the United States following World War II, and he played a major role in building the U.S. rocket program at NASA.

T. Keith Glennan (1905-1995) served as the agencys first administrator. Under his direction NASA took control of the DODs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and parts of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. NASA also took over several satellite and lunar probe programs being operated by the U.S. Air Force and the DODs Advanced Research Projects Agency. The military retained control over reconnaissance satellites, ballistic missiles, and a handful of other DOD space projects that were then in the research stage.

John A. Pitts of NASA explains in The Human Factor: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program to 1980 (1985) that President Eisenhower believed the civilian space program should be small in scale and limited in its objectives.


NASA did not stay small for long, because it had grand plans. In February 1960 NASA presented to Congress a ten-year plan for the nations space program. It included an array of scientific satellites; robotic probes to the Moon, Mars, and Venus; development of new and powerful rockets; and manned spaceflights to orbit Earth and the Moon. NASA estimated the program would cost around $12 billion.

Congress was politically motivated to support the program. The Soviet Union had already landed a probe on the Moon as part of its Luna Project. At the time NASA was continuing the Pioneer Project begun by the NACA to obtain data from probes sent to the Moon. The first three Pioneer rockets had launched during 1958 but failed to escape Earths gravity. In March 1959 Pioneer 4 was the first U.S. spacecraft to escape Earths gravity. It passed within 37,300 miles of the Moon. However, the Soviets Luna 1 probe had already passed much closer to the Moon. The United States was behind in the space race.

After Kennedy was elected president in November 1960, he charged Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) with finding a way for the United States to

TABLE 2.1 Project Mercury manned flights
Date of launchMercury flight no.Spacecraft nameFlight typeHighest altitudeTime in spaceAstronaut
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008
5/6/19613Freedom 7Sub orbital116 miles15 min 28 secAlan Shepard
7/21/19614Liberty Bell 7Sub orbital118 miles15 min 37 secGus Grissom
2/20/19626Friendship 73 orbits162 miles4 hr 55 minJohn Glenn
5/24/19627Aurora 73 orbits167 miles4 hr 56 minScott Carpenter
10/3/19628Sigma 76 orbits176 miles9 hr 13 minWalter Schirra
5/15/19639Faith 722.5 orbits166 miles1 day 10 hr 19 minGordon Cooper

beat the Soviets to a major space goal. NASA pushed for a manned lunar landing, and Johnson agreed. On May 25, 1961, in the speech Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs (, President Kennedy asked Congress to provide financial support to NASA to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Hugh L. Dryden (1898-1965), the deputy administrator of NASA, named the Moon effort the Apollo program. It was named after the mythical Greek god Apollo, who drove the chariot of the Sun across the sky.

Catching Up

NASA had a lot of work to do just to catch up with the Soviets in space. In April 1961 they had put the first human in Earth orbit. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) circled Earth one time in a flight that lasted 1 hour and 49 minutes. It would be nearly a year before NASA could even come close to this achievement, with the flight of John Glenn (1921-) in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.

When it was first created in 1958, NASA was concerned with finishing ongoing NACA projects. These included a weather satellite, a military spy satellite, and the Pioneer lunar space probes. These probes were intended to go into lunar orbit or impact the Moons surface while sending back photographs and scientific data. Pioneer 4 provided NASA with valuable new radiation data needed for the ongoing Mercury project.

The Mercury Project

The Mercury project actually began in 1958, only a week after NASA was created. The official announcement was made on December 17, 1958the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Wright brothers flight. The project was named after the mythical Roman god Mercury, the winged messenger.

The Mercury project had three specific objectives:

  • Put a manned spacecraft into Earth orbit
  • Investigate the effects of space travel on humans
  • Recover the spacecraft and humans safely

On May 5, 1961, the astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. (1923-1998) became the first American in space when he took a fifteen-minute suborbital flight. Shepard s flight was far shorter than Gagarins had been and included only five minutes of weightlessness. NASA desperately needed more data on the effects of weightlessness on humans. This was considered a key element to manned flights to the Moon. Between 1961 and 1963 six Mercury astronauts made six successful space flights and spent a total of 53.9 hours in space. (See Table 2.1.)

Is It Worth It?

The United States paid a high price for NASAs Moon program. It was conducted during one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. The 1960s were characterized by social unrest, protest, and national tragedies.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency. Johnson had always supported the space program and had been instrumental in passing the bill that created NASA. He assured NASA that the Apollo program would continue as planned. On November 29, 1963, Johnson announced that portions of the U.S. Air Force missile testing range on Merritt Island, Florida, would be designated the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

In 1964 the social scientist Amitai Etzioni (1929-) published The Moon-Doggie, a book that was extremely critical of NASA. The title was a play on the word boondoggle, which means a wasteful and impractical project. Etzioni criticized the agency for spending too much money on manned space flights when unmanned satellites could achieve more for less money. He also questioned the scientific value (and costs) of sending astronauts to the Moon. Etzioni was not alone in feeling this way. American society was increasingly concerned with pressing social and national issues, including the escalating war in Vietnam and civil rights. Arnold S. Levine of NASA indicates in Managing NASA in the Apollo Era (1982) that during this period NASAs budget increased from $964 million in 1961 to $3.7 billion in 1963. By 1964 it had risen to $5.1 billion and would remain at this level for two more years.

The Gemini Project

NASA scientists realized during the Mercury missions that they needed an intermediate step before the Apollo flights. They had to be sure that humans could survive and function in space for up to fourteen days. This was the amount of time estimated for a round trip to the Moon. The program that was designed to test human endurance in space was named the Gemini project, after the constellation represented by the twin stars Castor and Pollux. The name was chosen because the Gemini space capsule was designed to hold two astronauts, rather than one.

A major goal of the Gemini project was to successfully rendezvous orbiting vehicles into one unit and maneuver that unit with a propulsion system. This was a feat that would be necessary to achieve the Moon landings. The last Gemini goal was to perfect atmospheric reentry of the spacecraft and perform a ground landing, rather than a landing at sea. All the goals except a ground landing were achieved.

Between 1965 and 1966 NASA completed ten Gemini missions with seventeen astronauts, who spent a total of more than forty days in space. (See Table 2.2.) The Gemini IV mission featured the first extravehicular activity by an American. The astronaut Edward H. White (1930-1967) spent twenty-two minutes outside his spacecraft during a space walk. The longest duration Gemini flight (Gemini VII ) took place in December 1965, lasting fourteen days.

Moon Resources

By 1967 NASA scientists and engineers had been studying the details of a Moon landing for more than six years. According to Levine, NASAs budget at the time was $4.9 billion, with about 90% of that money going to outside contractors and university research programs. In 1967 more than 307,000 people at installations around the country worked in support of the Apollo program. NASAs employees numbered about 34,100.

Rangers and Surveyors

A series of nine Ranger probes had been launched between 1961 and 1965. They were designed to flight-test lunar spacecraft, take photographs of the Moon, and collect data on radiation, magnetic fields, and solar plasma (charged gases emitted from the Sun).

The first two probes in the series failed to escape Earth orbit. Ranger 3 was supposed to impact the Moon, but missed it by twenty-three thousand miles. On April 26, 1962, Ranger 4 crashed into the far side of the Moon. It was the first American object to reach another celestial body. However, its central computer had failed during the flight, so no data was transmitted. After two more failed attempts NASA finally achieved success. On July 31,

TABLE 2.2 Gemini program manned flights
DatesGemini flight no.AstronautsAchievements
Note: EVA is extravehicular activity.
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008
March 23, 1965IIIVirgil I. Grissom John W. Young3 orbits. Only Gemini spacecraft to be named (Molly Brown).
June 3-7, 1965IVJames A. McDivitt Edward H. WhiteFirst American EVAa 22 minute space walk by White
August 21-29, 1965VGordon Cooper Charles Conrad Jr.120 orbits. First use of fuel cells for electrical power.
December 4-18, 1965VIIFrank Borman James A. Lovell Jr.Longest mission at 14 days
December 15-16, 1965VI-AWalter M. Schirra Jr. Thomas StaffordFirst space rendezvous (with Gemini VII)
March 16, 1966VIIINeil A. Armstrong David R. ScottFirst space docking (with unmanned craft)
June 3-6, 1966IX-AThomas Stafford Eugene A. Cernan2 hours of EVA
July 18-21, 1966XJohn W. Young Michael CollinsRendezvous with Gemini VIII
September 12-15, 1966XICharles Conrad Jr. Richard F. Gordon Jr.Record altitude (739.2 miles)
November 11-15, 1966XIIJames A. Lovell Jr. Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr.Record EVA by Aldrin (5 hours 30 minutes)

1964, Ranger 7 crashed into the Moon after transmitting the first close-up photographs of the lunar surface.

During 1965 Ranger 8 and Ranger 9 took hundreds of vital photographs before their impact. Nearly two hundred photographs taken by Ranger 9 were broadcast live on television as the probe hurtled toward the lunar surface.

On June 2, 1966, NASA achieved another milestone when the Surveyor 1 spacecraft made a controlled soft landing on the Moon in the Ocean of Storms. The ability to do a soft landing was considered crucial to putting a human safely on the Moon. Surveyor 1 returned a host of high-quality photographs. However, NASA was still running behind the Soviet space program. The Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 had soft-landed in the Ocean of Storms four months before Surveyor 1 got there. Luna 9 also provided the first television transmission from the lunar surface.

In all, NASA sent seven Surveyor spacecraft to the Moon between 1966 and 1968. Two lost control and crashed, whereas the remaining five achieved soft landings. In 1967 Surveyor 6 was particularly successful. During its mission NASA controllers were able to lift the spacecraft about ten feet off the ground and set it softly back down again. NASA was ready to put humans aboard a lunar lander.

Apollo Spacecraft

The Apollo spacecraft had three parts:

  • Command module containing the crew quarters and flight control section
  • Service module for the propulsion and spacecraft support systems
  • Lunar module to take two of the crew to and from the lunar surface

Figure 2.2 shows the three modules stacked atop a rocket for launch. The massive Saturn V rocket developed by von Braun was the launch vehicle selected for the Apollo spacecraft.

The astronauts rode in the command module during launch and reentry. Food, water, and fuel were carried in the service module. While together, the command module and service module were called the CSM. When the three modules reached lunar orbit, the lunar module was detached for the journey to and from the Moons surface.

After the lunar module ascended from the lunar surface it docked with the CSM. Once the two astronauts had moved safely into the CSM, the lunar module was jettisoned away from the spacecraft. Only the CSM made the journey back toward Earth. The service module was jettisoned away just before reentry into Earths atmosphere. The command module with all three astronauts aboard was designed to splash down into the sea.

A Tragic Setback

NASA lost its first astronauts during the Apollo program. In 1966 three unmanned Apollo spacecraft were launched to test the structural integrity of the spacecraft and the flight systems. These were called the Apollo-Saturn missions and were numbered AS-201 through AS -203.

On January 27, 1967, NASA was preparing a spacecraft for mission AS-204, the first manned test flight. During a launch pad test of the spacecraft, a flash fire broke out and killed all three astronauts in the command module. NASA renamed the mission Apollo 1 in their honor.

The tragedy temporarily devastated morale at NASA. The agency was not treated kindly by the media. Many newspapers questioned whether a manned lunar mission was worth the risk. Rumors even circulated that the astronauts had been murdered by NASA for criticizing the agency or for other sinister reasons.

The exact cause of the spark that started the fire was never discovered. An extensive investigation conducted by NASA found that a variety of factors contributed to the astronauts deaths. Some were operational problems: a hatch that was difficult to open, the presence of 100% oxygen in the module, and the use of flammable materials inside the module. The investigation also revealed a number of management and contractor problems. NASA set about redesigning the Apollo modules and reorganized top management staff. The Moon landing that was scheduled for late 1968 was delayed until 1969 due to the Apollo 1 tragedy.

One Giant Leap

By late 1968 the Apollo program was making tremendous strides. The first manned flight, Apollo 7, was launched on October 11, 1968. Apollo 7 included the first live television broadcast from a manned spacecraft. Watching the astronauts on television helped rekindle a feeling of excitement about the space program. The American public grew more excited as one Apollo mission after another was successful. In May 1969 the Apollo 10 mission featured the first live color television pictures broadcast from outer space.

Two months later Apollo 11 was launched into space with three astronauts aboard. Their names were Neil A. Armstrong (1930-), Michael Collins (1930), and Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr. (1930). On July 20, 1969, at 4:18 p.m. eastern daylight time (EDT), the lunar module softly landed near the Sea of Tranquillity. Armstrong reported, Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.

At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong opened the door of the lunar module and climbed down a short ladder. As he put his left foot onto the surface of the Moon, he said, Thats one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. It was the first time in history that a human being had set foot on another celestial body.

The event was televised live to a worldwide audience estimated at 528 million people. They watched as Armstrong and Aldrin explored the lunar surface for two hours and thirty-one minutes. The astronauts planted an American flag in the dusty soil and collected forty-eight pounds of Moon rocks. They unveiled a plaque attached to the descent stage (the lower part) of the lunar module. The plaque read: Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind. The plaque bore the signatures of all three astronauts and President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994).

The two astronauts climbed back into the lunar module. On July 21, 1969, the ascent portion of the module lifted off the lunar surface, leaving the descent stage behind. Armstrong and Aldrin had spent twenty-one hours and thirty-six minutes on the surface of the Moon. They then docked with the CSM piloted by Collins. Once reunited, the three astronauts headed for Earth, leaving the lunar module ascent stage in orbit around the Moon (it eventually crashed into the Moon, but the impact site is not known). On July 24, 1969, their command module safely splash-landed in the Pacific Ocean.

The Can-Do Culture

NASA had achieved something that many people thought could not be done. The agency found itself heaped with praise and congratulations. Putting a man on the Moon was considered an enormous milestone in technological progress. In addition, it had been done before the end of the decade, just as President Kennedy had requested. The achievement fostered a tremendous sense of pride and confidence among NASA personnel. The agency was left with an optimistic conviction that it could do anything, an attitude that came to be known as NASAs can-do culture.

NASAs critics believe that the agencys can-do culture caused it to make many overly optimistic promises during the following decades. NASA continued to set bold goals for the nations space program and promise Congress that it could achieve them, just like it had accomplished the Moon landing. The problem was that these goals did not receive nearly as much financial support as the Apollo program received. The Moon landing was possible because NASA was given the necessary resources. Putting a man on the Moon within a decade had taken the talents of hundreds of thousands of people and nearly $24 billion of taxpayers money. Neither Congress nor the American people were ever inclined again to devote so many resources to a space venture.

Apollo Fizzles Out

NASA launched six more Apollo missions following Apollo 11. In November 1969 the Apollo 12 crew landed near the Ocean of Storms and found the Surveyor 3 lunar probe sent several years before.

Five months later Apollo 13 was launched. Two days into the flight an oxygen tank suddenly ruptured aboard the service module. The pressure in the cabin dropped quickly. Fearing the crew would otherwise be lost, NASA devised a way for the astronauts to rely on the limited resources in the lunar module to limp back to Earth. The spacecraft splashed down safely on April 17, 1970.

Once again NASA had achieved a near-miracle. Even though on the surface Apollo 13 appeared like a failure, NASA classified it as a success, because the agency learned so much about handling emergencies during space flight. The experience was later captured in the 1995 movie Apollo 13. The movie made famous a phrase uttered by the Apollo 13 commander James A. Lovell Jr. (1928-) following the oxygen tank rupture. Lovell calmly said, Houston, we have a problem.

The next Apollo launch was postponed, while NASA worked on problems brought to light by the Apollo 13 incident. In February 1971 Apollo 14 successfully reached the Moon for a lunar exploration mission at Fra Mauro. The astronauts took along a new cart that was specially designed to hold Moon rocks. Later that year the Apollo 15 crew took a lunar roverone of three that NASA had built at a cost of $40 millionthat resembled a dune buggy. The astronauts zoomed around the Hadley-Apennine region at a top speed of eight miles per hour. They collected nearly 170 pounds of Moon rocks. The lunar rover was so effective it was used on all the remaining Apollo missions.

In April 1972 Apollo 16 set down in the Descartes Highlands of the Moon. It was the first mission to explore the highlands and the southern-most landing site of all the Apollo missions. In December 1972 the Apollo 17 crew explored the highlands and a valley in the Taurus-Littrow

TABLE 2.3 Apollo program manned missions
NameDatesSpacecraft call signsCrewMission timeNote
Note: EVA is extravehicular activity. CM is command module. CSM is command and service module. LM is lunar module.
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008
Apollo 1January 27,1967Not usedVirgil I. Grissom (Commander), Edward H. White, Roger B. ChaffeeSpacecraft caught on fire on landing pad during practice drill. All astronauts killed.
Apollo 7October 11-22 1968Not usedWalter M. Schirra Jr. (commander), Donn F. Eisele (CM pilot), R. Walter Cunningham (LM pilot)10 days, 20 hoursCSM piloted flight demonstration in Earth orbit. First live TV from manned spacecraft.
Apollo 8December 21-27, 1968Not usedFrank Borman (commander), James A. Lovell Jr. (CM pilot), William A. Anders (LM pilot)6 days, 3 hoursFirst manned lunar orbital mission. Live TV broadcasts.
Apollo 9March 03-13, 1969CM: Gumdrop LM: SpiderJames A. McDivitt (commander), David R. Scott (CM pilot), Russell L. Schweickart (LM pilot)10 days, 1 hourFirst manned flight of all lunar hardware in Earth orbit. Schweickart performed 37 minutes EVA. First manned flight of lunar module.
Apollo 10May 18-26, 1969CM: Charlie Brown LM:SnoopyThomas P. Stafford (commander), John W. Young (CM pilot), Eugene A. Cernan (LM pilot)8 days, 3 minutesPractice for Moon landing. First manned CSM/LM operations in cislunar and unar environment; First live color TV from space.
Apollo 11July 16-24, 1969CM: Columbia LM: EagleNeil A. Armstrong (commander), Michael Collins (CM pilot), Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr. (LM pilot)8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutesFirst manned lunar landing mission and lunar surface EVA.
Apollo 12November 14-24, 1969CM: Yankee Clipper LM: IntrepidCharles Conrad Jr. (commander), Richard F. Gordon Jr. (CM pilot), Alan L. Bean (LM pilot)10 days, 4 hours, 36 minutesLunar landing and lunar exploration.
Apollo 13April 11-17, 1970CM: Odyssey LM: AquariusJames A. Lovell Jr. (commander), John L. Swigert Jr. (CM pilot), Fred W. Haise Jr. (LM pilot)5 days, 22.9 hoursMission aborted before spacecraft reached Moon.
Apollo 14January 31-February 09, 1971CM: Kitty Hawk LM: AntaresAlan B. Shepard Jr. (commander), Stuart A. Roosa (CM pilot), Edgar D. Mitchell (LM pilot)9 daysLunar landing and lunar exploration.
Apollo 15July 26-August 07, 1971CM: Endeavor LM: FalconDavid R. Scott (commander), Alfred M. Worden (CM pilot), James B. Irwin (LM pilot)12 days, 17 hours, 12 minutesLunar landing and lunar exploration.
Apollo 16April 16-27, 1972CM: Casper LM: OrionJohn W. Young (commander), Thomas K. Mattingly II (CM pilot), Charles M. Duke Jr. (LM pilot)11 days, 1 hour, 51 minutesLunar landing and lunar exploration.
Apollo 17December 07-1972CM: America LM: ChallengerEugene A. Cernan (commander), Ronald E. Evans (CM pilot), Harrison H. Schmitt (LM pilot)12 days, 13 hours, 52 minutesLast lunar landing mission.

area of the Moon. For the first time the mission crew included a scientist, the geologist Harrison H. Schmitt (1935-). The astronauts collected 243 pounds of Moon rocks, the most of any Apollo mission. On December 19, 1972, Apollo 17 splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. With the successful completion of the Apollo 17 mission, the Apollo program was over.

Table 2.3 summarizes information about all the Apollo missions. In all, NASA put twelve astronauts on the Moon: Armstrong, Aldrin, Charles Conrad Jr. (1930-1999), Alan L. Bean (1932-), Shepard, Edgar D. Mitchell (1930-), David R. Scott (1932-), James B. Irwin (1930-1991), John W. Young (1930-), Charles M. Duke Jr. (1935-), Eugene A. Ceman (1934-), and Schmitt. They collected 840 pounds of rocks, soil, and other geological samples from the Moon.

The missions that followed Apollo 11 never captured the publics imagination the same way that the first Moon landing did. The feeling was that the United States had already achieved its goal of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, and continued lunar exploration held little appeal for many people. Furthermore, the country was engaged in a costly and demoralizing war in Vietnam. Levine indicates that in 1970 NASAs budget was cut to $3.7 billion, down from $5 billion in the mid-1960s. NASA had to cancel its planned remaining Apollo missions: Apollo 18, Apollo 19, and Apollo 20.


Putting a man on the Moon was conducted mostly for political purposes. It bolstered national pride and prestige and was largely a symbolic endeavor. Many scientists thought the Apollo program achieved far less in scientific terms than unmanned probes could have accomplished. One reason the program was so expensive was that so many resources had to be devoted to keeping fragile humans alive and safe in the harsh environment of space. Critics said this money could have been invested in robotics research and development to produce a fleet of unmanned probes and sample collectors to explore the Moon and far beyond.

The debate over human exploration versus robotic exploration began in the 1950s and still goes on in the 2000s. NASAs Ranger and Surveyor probes of the early 1960s were originally designed to collect data to support many research goals within astronomy and space science. Once the Apollo program began, these probes were retooled to gather data important to the manned program. This was called human factors research and was a small part of the discipline called space biology. NASAs focus on human factors at the expense of broader research in space biology, space science, and astronomy brought harsh criticism from scientists.

In 1967 a committee appointed by President Johnson recommended that the nation establish a well-rounded space program following Apollo with more emphasis on science and less emphasis on human exploration. NASA did conduct unmanned space flights geared toward general space biology. In 1962 the Biosatellite program began with a series of three flights designed to test the rigors of space travel on subhuman beings. In 1969 Biosatellite III flew with a male pigtailed monkey named Bonnie aboard. The mission had to be ended early when Bonnie became sick. He died soon after returning to Earth.

During the early 1970s NASA wanted to build on its Apollo success with another ambitious manned space program. The agency angered many scientists when it lobbied Congress to allow it to transfer funds designated for the Biosatellite program to the manned program. Pitts notes that NASA pursued a plan of action that terminated a relatively inexpensive, science-oriented project in favor of a relatively expensive, exploration-oriented manned program. This type of criticism was to plague NASA for decades to come.


As early as the 1960s NASA made plans to put a manned space station in orbit around Earth. These plans took center stage at the agency when the Apollo program ended. For its next great project NASA envisioned an orbiting space station devoted to scientific research and a fleet of reusable space planes to carry humans to and from the station. In 1969 neither President Nixon nor Congress were interested in extending the Apollo program, let alone pursuing a new and costly endeavor. NASA found its budget cut year after year. Nevertheless, the agency devoted many of its resources to developing a new manned space program.

The first step was the temporary Skylab space station. This was a small scientific laboratory and solar observatory that could hold three crewmembers at a time. Three separate crews visited and lived in Skylab between May 1973 and February 1974. The first mission lasted twenty-eight days, the second fifty-nine days, and the third eighty-four days. Skylab saved money by using rockets and spacecraft components left over from the Apollo program. Skylab was considered key to gathering data on the effects of prolonged weightlessness and space flight on humans. As it had with its earlier space efforts, the United States lagged behind the Soviet Union in this area. Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station, was put into orbit two years before Skylab.


In 1972 development got under way at NASA on a reusable space plane called a shuttle. This program was supposed to produce a finished product within five years, but it eventually took twice that long. The first shuttle did not launch until 1981. By this time the Soviet space station Mir had been in orbit for several years. The Soviet space program had pursuedbut failed to developa reusable space plane. Transportation to and from Mir was accomplished using expendable rocket boosters.

NASA relied on a series of space shuttles to conduct most Earth orbit operations. Throughout the early 1980s shuttles carried satellites for government, military, and commercial clients.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded seventy-three seconds after liftoff, killing the seven astronauts aboard. The shuttle fleet was grounded for more than two years as a result. An investigation revealed that a faulty joint in a rocket booster had allowed hot gases to escape that ignited and destroyed the vehicle.

Government investigators also found fault with the entire shuttle program. They complained that NASA managers emphasized schedule over safety. Before the Challenger disaster, shuttles carried commercial and military satellites (called payloads) into space. To reduce the scheduling pressure, NASA decided to cease carrying commercial payloads. Military payloads were eventually phased out as well, leaving only scientific payloads. The shuttles commercial and military clients were forced to use expendable rockets to launch their satellites into orbit.

The loss of the Challenger shuttle forced NASA to scale back shuttle operations. The tragedy brought harsh criticism of NASA from scientists and politicians alike. NASAs can-do culture was blamed for making the agency overconfident and overly optimistic about its abilities to safely operate a major space program on a limited budget.

Between 1994 and 1998 NASA shuttles played a major role in a cooperative space venture between the United States and Russia. (When the Soviet Union dissolved into several individual republics in 1991, Russia, the largest and most powerful, carried on the old Soviet space program under the new Russian Space Agency.) U.S. shuttles docked with the Russian Mir station for joint scientific missions of astronauts and cosmonauts. A decade before, NASA had worked with its Soviet counterpart to develop mutual docking mechanisms on U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

In October 1998 NASA achieved a public relations boost when Senator John Glenn flew into space aboard the shuttle Discovery. The seventy-seven-year-old Glenn was already a hero for his participation in the Mercury program of the early 1960s. In February 1962 Glenn had been the third American in space and the first to complete an Earth orbit during a five-hour trip aboard Friendship 7. In 1998 his space flight lasted nine days. He became the oldest person ever to travel into space. NASA scientists conducted extensive medical tests before, during, and after his flight to monitor his well-being. They were particularly eager to learn about the effects of weightlessness on an older person. Prolonged weightlessness in space is known to weaken human bones, a condition also seen on Earth in older people suffering from osteoporosis.

NASAs shuttle program continued into the twenty-first century, and was again touched by tragedy when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart on February 1, 2003, during reentry over the western United States. Seven crewmembers were killed. Investigators found that a piece of foam had fallen off the shuttles external fuel tank during liftoff and smashed into Columbia s wing. The resulting damage allowed super-hot gases to enter the shuttle during reentry and tear it apart.

This second shuttle tragedy shook NASA to the core. The agency had made many promises to Congress and the American public about better shuttle safety and reliability following the 1986 disaster. NASAs capability to operate a manned space program again came under attack. A government investigation blamed NASA for continuing to perpetuate the can-do culture in the face of serious operational and budget problems within the shuttle program. The shuttle fleet was grounded for more than two years.

In July 2005 a shuttle successfully carried out the first of two planned return-to-flight (RTF) missions. Even though the shuttle returned safely to Earth, video images revealed that foam had again shed from the external tank during liftoff. However, it fell harmlessly to the ground and did not damage shuttle components. NASA and the public faced the sobering realization that fixing the shuttles safety problems had proved to be an elusive goal. The second RTF was postponed while engineers and scientists worked to ensure better safety in the shuttle program. The flight finally took place in July 2006. As of December 2007, five additional shuttle missions had been carried out.


In 1988 the United States and fifteen other nations embarked on a new space venture called the International Space Station (ISS). The United States and Russia collaborated throughout the 1990s to lead construction of an orbiting space station designed for prolonged inhabitation by scientists engaged in space research. They invited other countries to participate by contributing parts, components, and scientific facilities or sending researchers to the station.

The Russian Space Agency was determined to play a major role in the ISS, but it had even less funding than NASA. Both agencies struggled to put U.S. and Russian modules into place and keep them operational. The station was scaled back in size and capability many times due to budget restrictions in both countries. The bulk of the heavy lifting required to put ISS modules into space was performed by space shuttles. The 2003 grounding of the fleet halted ISS construction. NASA continued to send astronauts to the ISS, but they had to travel aboard Russian spacecraft to get there until the space shuttle resumed operating.


Besides conducting several crewed missions, NASA has also sent a number of robotic spacecraft into outer space. These machines have achieved some incredible milestones in space exploration. Satellites have been put into Earth orbit since the earliest days of NASAs space program to collect weather data or serve military purposes. During the 1960s and 1970s lunar probes were sent to the Moon to support the Apollo program. At the same time, NASA began launching robotic explorers that traveled to other planets. These were followed by sophisticated observatories and other robotic spacecraft placed in orbit around Earth or the Sun or sent to intercept asteroids. These projects are considered crucial to enhancing human understanding of Earth, the surrounding solar system, and the universe at large. All these missions are examined in detail in subsequent chapters.


Agency-level management takes place at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. People at this level interact with national leaders and NASA customers regarding overall agency concerns, such as budget, strategy, policies, and long-term investments. The headquarters is considered the centralized point of accountability and communication between NASA and people outside the agency. In December 2007, 1,955 personnel were employed at the Washington site. (See Table 2.4.)

During 2004 and 2005 NASA made major changes to its organizational structure to streamline the agency. The reorganization was designed to eliminate the so-called stove-pipe effect, in which individual facilities and enterprises within the agency operated too independently and did not communicate well with one another or with

TABLE 2.4 NASA workforce, December 2007
NASA locationFull-time civil servantsContractorsOtherTotals
SOURCE: Adapted from All FAIR Inventory FTE by Center, in Exploring the NASA Workforce, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Shared Services Center, December 8, 2007, (accessed January 2, 2008)
Ames Research Center1,2251,156872,468
Dryden Flight Research Center51550901,024
Glenn Research Center1,6351,493973,225
Goddard Space Flight Center3,1934,6302488,071
Johnson Space Center3,26512,8093216,106
Kennedy Space Center2,10011,287013,387
Langley Research Center1,9201,521443,485
Marshall Space Flight Center2,5814,0871376,805
Stennis Space Center2781,165321,475
Jet Propulsion Laboratory03314,9155,246
NASA Headquarters1,268637501,955
Office of the Inspector General213120225
NASA Shared Services Center1202410361

NASA headquarters. Many critics had blamed NASAs management structure for contributing to the Challenger and Columbia disasters. According to NASA, in FY 2005 Human Space Flight Transition Plan (2004,, the new system will ensure that all parts of the Agency act as One NASA team to make decisions for the common good, collaborate across traditional boundaries, and leverage the Agencys many unique capabilities in support of a single focus: exploration.

NASAs organizational structure is shown in Figure 2.3. It includes four major divisions called mission directorates:

  • Aeronautics Researchdevoted to research and development of new aeronautical technologies and aviation systems
  • Exploration Systemsresponsible for biological research and technological development to support human and robotic exploration
  • Sciencecharged with ensuring that missions are planned to reap scientific benefits, analyzing scientific data, and facilitating cross-transfer between earth and space science findings
  • Space Operationsdedicated to directing launches and flight operations and related communications systems

NASA Facilities

Figure 2.4 shows the locations of NASA headquarters and various field facilities, including the ten major facilities called centers.

Even though each center supports multiple projects, it is assigned a particular area of expertise for which it is supposed to build and maintain human resources, facilities, and other capabilities. NASA calls these centers of excellence.


The Ames Research Center (ARC) is located in Moffett Field, California. It was founded as an aeronautics research laboratory in 1939 next to a military base later named Moffett Field. The base was closed in 1994 and its facilities and runways were turned over to the ARC. The center conducts research in astrobiology (the origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny of life in the universe), air traffic management, supercomputing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other areas of importance to space exploration. It also performs wind tunnel testing and flight simulations. The ARC is a center of excellence for information technology. As of December 2007 it employed 2,468 people. (See Table 2.4.)


The Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) is located at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, California. During the late 1940s the NACA conducted military testing of high-speed experimental aircraft at the base. In 1959 the high-speed flight station at the base was designated a NASA flight research center. The DFRC is NASAs primary installation for flight research. It also serves as a backup landing site for the space shuttle. The DFRC is a center of excellence for atmospheric flight operations. As of December 2007, 1,024 people were employed there. (See Table 2.4.)


The Glenn Research Center (GRC) is located in Cleveland, Ohio, at Lewis Field next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. It began in 1941 as the NACAs Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. The GRC researches and develops technologies in aeropropulsion, aerospace power, microgravity science, electric propulsion, and communications technologies for aeronautics and space applications. Its facilities include the nearby Plum Brook Station at which large-scale testing is conducted. The GRC is a center of excellence for turbomachinery (turbine-based machines). As of December 2007 it employed 3,225 people. (See Table 2.4.)


The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is located in Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1959 as NASAs first space flight center. The GSFC is a major laboratory for developing robotic scientific spacecraft. The center also operates the Wallops Flight Facility near Chincoteague, Virginia, and the Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. Wallops is NASAs principal installation for managing and implementing suborbital research programs. The IV&V facility was formed following the space shuttle

Challenger accident to ensure that mission-critical software is safe and cost-effective.

In 1966 NASA established the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) at the GSFC. The NSSDC became the archive center for data from NASAs space science missions and continues to serve in this function. Space science data from NASA missions are made available to researchers and, in some cases, to the general public.

The GSFC is a center of excellence for earth science, physics, and astronomy. As of December 2007, 8,071 people were employed there. (See Table 2.4.)


The Johnson Space Center (JSC) is located in Houston, Texas. It was established in 1961 to be the focus of the manned space flight program. At that time, it was known simply as the Manned Spacecraft Center. In 1973 the center was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in honor of the late presidents support of NASA space programs during the 1950s and 1960s.

The JSC houses the program offices and mission control centers for the space shuttle and the ISS. JSC facilities are also used for astronaut training and spaceflight simulations for both of these programs. Aircraft used to train astronauts and to support the Space Shuttle Program are stationed at nearby Ellington Field, a joint civilian and military airport operated by the city of Houston. The JSC is a center of excellence for human operations in space. As of December 2007 it employed 16,106 people. (See Table 2.4.)


The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is located on Merritt Island, Florida, next to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The air force station was the site of the Mercury and Gemini launches of the early 1960s. The KSC was created specifically for the Apollo missions to the Moon. The center provides launch and landing facilities for the Space Shuttle Program and performs maintenance, assembly, and inspection services on the spacecraft. It is also responsible for packaging components of the laboratory experiments that are used on the space shuttle. The KSC is a center of excellence for launch and payload processing systems. As of December 2007, 13,387 people worked there. (See Table 2.4.


The Langley Research Center (LRC) is located in Hampton, Virginia. In 1917 it was established as the countrys first civilian aeronautics laboratory. The LRC designs and develops military and civilian aircraft, conducts atmospheric flight research, and tests structures and materials in wind tunnels and other testing facilities. It is a center of excellence for structures and materials. As of December 2007 the LRC employed 3,485 people. (See Table 2.4.)


The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is located near Huntsville, Alabama, on the Redstone Arsenal Site. During the 1950s a team of rocketry specialists led by von Braun worked at the arsenal site developing rockets for the U.S. military. In 1960 the sites space-related projects and personnel were transferred to the newly formed MSFC. The center developed the Saturn rockets used throughout the Apollo program. The MSFC manages the manufacturing contracts for the space shuttles main engine, external tank, and reusable solid rocket motor. The center also conducts research in microgravity (an environment in which there is minimal gravitational force) and space optics and develops programs for space shuttle payloads. It is a center of excellence for space propulsion. As of December 2007, 6,805 people were employed there. (See Table 2.4.)


The Stennis Space Center (SSC) is located in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It was founded in 1961 as the static test facility for launch vehicles to be used in the Apollo program. The SSC is home to the largest rocket propulsion test complex in the United States. It is NASAs primary installation for testing and flight-certifying rocket propulsion systems for the space shuttle and other space vehicles. The center also works with government and commercial partners to develop remote sensing technology. The SSC is a center of excellence for rocket propulsion testing systems. As of December 2007 it employed 1,475 people. (See Table 2.4.)

Other NASA Facilities

There are many facilities and installations that provide support to the field centers and are either operated by NASA or under contract to NASA. Administrative functions, such as payroll, human resources, procurement, and information technology coordination, are performed at the NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC). The NSSC was launched in 2006 and is located at the SSC. It is a public-private venture between the agency, the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, and a private company. As of December 2007 it employed 361 people. NASAs Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is actually a collection of offices at various field facilities. The OIG conducts audits and investigations designed to prevent fraud, crime, waste, and mismanagement and to promote efficient use of resources within the agency. As of December 2007, 225 workers were employed at OIG offices. (See Table 2.4.)


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is located in Pasadena, California. This facility is owned by NASA but operated under a contractual agreement by the California Institute of Technology. The JPL began informally during the 1930s as a group of student rocket enthusiasts under the direction of Professor Theodore von Kármán (18811963), the head of the universitys Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. These rocket scientists achieved funding for their projects from the U.S. Army, and by the 1940s they were investigating new technologies in aerodynamics and propellant chemistry under the name of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 1958 the JPL was transferred from army jurisdiction to NASA.

Jet propulsion is no longer the primary focus at the JPL. The facility now serves as NASAs primary operator of robotic exploration missions. It also manages and operates NASAs Deep Space Network. As of December 2007 the JPL employed 5,246 people. (See Table 2.4.)


The Deep Space Network (DSN) is an international network of antennas that enables NASA mission teams to communicate with distant spacecraft. The DSN communications complexes are situated at three locations around the world (roughly 120 degrees apart): Goldstone, California; Robledo near Madrid, Spain; and Tidbinbilla near Canberra, Australia. (See Figure 2.5.) This placement allows the JPL operations control center to maintain constant contact with spacecraft as Earth rotates.


The White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) is located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a remote desert location. The WSTF provides services to military and government clients. It is NASAs primary facility for testing and evaluating rocket propulsion systems, spacecraft components, and hazardous materials used in space travel. The WSTF supports the space shuttle and ISS programs.


People employed by federal agencies (excluding the military) are called civil servants. As of December 2007, NASA employed 18,313 full-time civil servants. (See Table 2.4.) Another 45,520 people supported NASA projects by working under contracts or grants handed out by the agency. The vast majority of these people work at or near NASA facilities.

The U.S. General Accounting Office (now the U.S. Government Accountability Office) explains in NASA Personnel: Challenges to Achieving Workforce Reductions (August 2, 1996, that at the height of Apollo development, the agency employed 35,900 civil servants in 1967. By the early 1990s this number had dropped to twenty-five thousand and continued to decrease over the next several years. NASA reduced

its workforce by offering employees cash bonuses to retire early and through normal attrition (not replacing workers who leave). During most of the 1990s the agency operated under a hiring freeze. One consequence of this was that few young people entered the NASA workforce during this period.

NASA divides its civil service workforce into four main categories:

  • Scientists and engineershighly educated professionals who conduct aerospace research and development or perform biological, life science, or medical research or services. This category includes space scientists, biologists, aerospace engineers, physicians, nurses, and psychologists.
  • Technicianstechnicians fall into two categories: some are specialists who provide services such as drafting or photographic development, whereas others are skilled at particular trades such as mechanics or electrical work.
  • Professional administratorsthese employees operate nontechnical functions such as management, legal affairs, public relations, and human resources.
  • Clerical workersthis includes secretarial, administrative, and clerical positions.

According to the NSSCs Workforce Information Cubes for NASA (WICN; September 21, 2007,, people engaged in technical work comprise approximately two-thirds of the agencys civil servant workforce.

The WICN notes that the vast majority of the agencys workforce is at least 40 years old, and the average NASA employee is 46.5 years old. Over two-thirds of the NASA employees are male. Most male employees work in science and engineering professions, whereas most of the female employees work in professional administrative positions. Approximately 75% of NASA employees are white.

TABLE 2.5 Innovative Partnerships Program network of participants
SOURCE: Adapted from Innovative Partnerships Program Network in Spinoff 2006, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, September 2006, (accessed December 31, 2007)
National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC)Expedites the commercialization of federally funded research and development. Located on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University, in Wheeling, West Virginia.
BizTechA small business incubator, offering participating companies access to services at Marshall Space Flight Center laboratories in Huntsville, Alabama.
Florida/NASA Business Incubation Center (FNBIC)A joint partnership of NASAs Kennedy Space Center, Brevard Community College, and the Technological Research and Development Authority. Offers support facilities and programs for developing ventures based on NASA technology.
Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MsET)Helps small businesses utilize the scientific knowledge and technical expertise at the Stennis Space Center.
NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) ProgramTransfers technology developed by universities and federal laboratories to the marketplace through the entrepreneurship of a small business.
Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for Technology TransferPromotes and facilitates the rapid movement of federal laboratory research results and technologies into the mainstream of the U.S. economy.
National Robotics Engineering Consortium (NREC)Cooperative venture among NASA, the city of Pittsburgh, the state of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellons Robotics Institute. Its mission is to move NASA-funded robotics technology to industry.
Research Triangle Institute (RTI)Provides a range of technology management services to NASA. Located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Montana State University TechLink CenterProvides ongoing support for adapting, integrating, and commercializing NASA technology. Located at Montana State University-Bozeman.

The WICN also indicates that most NASA workers have college degrees. Approximately a third of the workforce has advanced degrees beyond the bachelor level. The average salary for a NASA employee is about $98,000 per year. Scientists and engineers are the highest paid, whereas clerical employees are the lowest paid.

Contractors and Grantees

In December 2007, 45,520 people supported NASA services under contracts and grant arrangements. (See Table 2.4.) NASAs major contractors are manufacturing companies in the aerospace industry. The United Space Alliance (2008, is a joint venture between the Boeing and Lockheed Martin corporations. It performs the day-to-day operations of the Space Shuttle Program and employs over ten thousand people. Most of its employees work at the JSC and the KSC. The California Institute of Technology is another major contractor. It operates the JPL and employed 4,915 people as of December 2007. (See Table 2.4.)

NASA also funds research projects at private institutions, such as universities, and encourages commercial investment in space research. In 1985 Congress amended the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act to direct NASA to seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space. In response, NASA developed a Space Partnership Development (SPD) Office, an industry-university-government collaboration. Until the program was discontinued in 2006, the SPD managed twelve Research Partnership Centers at universities and nonprofit institutions engaged in space research and product development.

In 2004 President Bush urged NASA to expand its commercial partnerships to develop technology to support his new vision for the space agency for crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA incorporated existing partnership arrangements into the Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) under the direction of the Space Operations Mission Directorate. The IPP works with partners (called external agents) to develop technologies and products that will be useful to NASA and have commercial applications. Programs in the IPP network are described in Table 2.5.


Astronauts are the most famous NASA workers. In 1959 the first group of seven astronauts was chosen from five hundred candidates. All were military men with experience flying jets. At the time, spacecraft restrictions required that astronauts be less than five feet eleven inches tall. In the early days of the Apollo program, all astronauts were chosen from the military services. This soon changed, and NASA began including civilian pilots with extensive flight experience. During the mid-1960s NASA expanded the astronaut corps to include nonpilots with academic qualifications in science, engineering, or medicine.

In 1978 the first group of space shuttle astronauts was selected. For the first time the trainees included women and minorities. The unique environment aboard the space shuttle permitted even more opportunities for nonpilots to fly into space.

A typical shuttle crew includes a commander and a pilot. Both of these crewmembers are considered pilot astronauts. In addition, there can be three to five other crewmembers called mission specialists or payload specialists. Mission specialists are NASA astronauts (typically scientists) with specific onboard responsibilities during a mission. Payload specialists can be scientists, engineers, and ordinary citizens from the private or commercial sector or foreign astronauts invited by NASA to participate in a shuttle mission.

Space shuttle commanders, pilots, and mission specialists are career NASA astronauts, as are commanders and flight engineers who serve aboard the ISS.

The 1980s witnessed several firsts in NASAs astronaut corps. In June 1983 Sally Ride (1951-) became the first U.S. woman in space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger. It was the shuttles seventh mission. Two months later the mission specialist Guion Bluford (1942-) became the first African-American in space as part of the shuttles next mission.

During the early 1980s NASA was enthusiastic about including private citizens on space shuttle flights. This was viewed as a way to better interest the public, and particularly children, in space travel. One of the most famous participants was Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986), the first schoolteacher selected to go into space. On January 28, 1986, she died along with her crewmates when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch. This disaster ended NASAs policy of inviting private citizens on shuttle flights. Barbara Morgan (1951-), another teacher, trained with McAuliffe as her backup. Following the Challenger disaster, Jordan was named Teacher in Space Designee by NASA. She resumed her teaching career, but she also performed public relations duties for the agency. In 1998 Morgan was selected by NASA to be a mission specialist. She completed two years of astronaut training and flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in August 2007 on a mission to the ISS.

Astronaut Selection

NASA accepts applications from astronaut candidates on a regular basis. Civilian candidates submit their applications directly to NASA. Candidates in the armed forces are pre-screened by the military. Every two years NASA conducts a review process to select a new group of astronauts. This process begins in odd-numbered years and follows a specific format.

The latest selection process began in September 2007. (See Table 2.6.) The first day of July 2008 was the cutoff date for receipt of new applications. The applications are reviewed by the Astronaut Candidate Selection Rating Panel, which narrows the field to those applicants considered highly qualified and collects information about them. This information is used to select highly qualified applicants for extensive interviews and medical examinations. In early 2009 the selection process will be completed, and the names of the successful candidates will be released to the media. Those selected begin training soon afterward at the JSC. The training period lasts one to two years.

TABLE 2.6 Astronaut candidate selection process timeline, 2007-09
SOURCE: Astronaut Candidate Selection Process Timeline, in Astronaut Selection, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, June 29, 2007, (accessed December 31, 2007)
September 2007Vacancy announcement opens in USA JOBS
July 1, 2008Vacancy announcement closes
September-October 2008Qualified applications reviewed to determine highly qualified applicants
October-November 2008Highly qualified applications reviewed to determine interviewees
November 2008-January 2009Interviewees brought to JSC for preliminary interview, medical evaluation, and orientation
February 2009Finalists determined
February-March 2009Finalists brought to JSC for additional interview and complete medical evaluation
May 2009Astronaut candidate class of 2009 announced
August 2009Astronaut candidate class of 2009 reports to the Johnson Space Center (JSC)

Astronaut Pay Rates

In Astronaut Selection (June 29, 2007,, NASA explains that civilian astronauts employed by the agency are civil servants. They are paid salaries based on the federal governments pay scale called the General Schedule (GS). There are fifteen GS pay levels ranging from the lowest (GS-1) to the highest (GS-15). NASAs mission specialists fall within grades GS-11 through GS-14, depending on their education, experience, and qualifications. In 2008 these grade scales covered a salary range between $59,493 and $130,257 per year.

Active-duty military personnel selected to be NASA astronauts remain on the military payroll during their assignment to the JSC.


NASA is a federal government agency. For accounting purposes, the federal government operates on a fiscal year (FY) that begins in October and runs through the end of September. Thus, FY 2008 covered the time period October 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008. Each year by the first Monday in February the president must present a proposed budget to the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the amount of money that the president estimates will be required to operate the federal government during the next fiscal year.

It can take many months for the House to debate, negotiate, and approve a final budget. Then, the U.S. Senate also must approve the budget. This entire process can take longer than a year, which means that NASA can be well into a fiscal year (or even beyond it) before knowing the exact amount of money appropriated for that year.

TABLE 2.7 NASA budget request, fiscal year 2008 [In millions]
Note: Totals may not add due to rounding.
SOURCE: Adapted from Presidents FY 2008 Budget Request, in National Aeronautics and Space Administration: FY 2008 Budget Estimates, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, February 5, 2007, (accessed October 3, 2007)
By appropriation account
By mission directorate By themeFiscal year 2008
Science, aeronautics and exploration$10,483.1
Earth science1497.3
Planetary science1,395.8
Exploration systems3,923.8
Constellation systems3,068.0
Advanced capabilities855.8
Aeronautics research554.0
Aeronautics technology554.0
Cross-agency support programs489.2
Advanced business systems103.1
Innovative partnerships program198.1
Shared capability assets program34.3
Exploration capabilities6,791.7
Space operations6,791.7
Space shuttle4,007.5
International space station2,238.6
Space and flight support545.7
Inspector general34.6
Year to year change3.1%

In February 2007 the NASA administrator Michael D. Griffin (1949-) outlined NASAs FY 2008 budget estimate at a news conference. The agency requested $17.3 billion, a 3.1% increase above the FY 2007 budget request. (See Table 2.7.)

Table 2.7 shows the FY 2008 budget request broken down by mission directorate and theme. The Space Shuttle Program was the single most expensive undertaking. It was estimated to cost approximately $4 billion to operate for the year. Together, the space shuttle and ISS programs accounted for $6.2 billion (or 36% of the entire budget) for FY 2008. They are overseen by the Space Operations Mission Directorate.

The Science Mission Directorate was the next most expensive category in the budget. NASA requested $5.5 billion to support robotic investigations of the solar system. More than $3.9 billion was devoted to the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. This money supported research and development of new spacecraft and technologies to send human explorers to the Moon and Mars.

Table 2.8 shows NASAs expectations for future budgets through FY 2012. The long-term plan assumes that the Space Shuttle Program costs will decrease slowly until 2010 and disappear by 2012. The money saved by eliminating the shuttle program will give a funding boost to the new lunar and Martian exploration programs.


NASAs stated overall goal for the future is to improve life on Earth, while extending human life to outer space and searching for other life in the universe. NASA believes this goal will be achieved through three broad missions:

  • Understanding and protecting Earth
  • Exploring the universe and searching for life
  • Inspiring young people to appreciate the importance of space exploration

In February 2004 NASAs goals for the twenty-first century were redefined in The Vision for Space Exploration ( In this document, President Bush articulates his goals for the nations space program over the next few decades:

  • Implementing an affordable space exploration program that includes robotic spacecraft and human explorers
  • Putting astronauts on the Moon by 2020
  • Developing new technologies and equipment needed to acquire data about potential destinations for human astronauts
  • Promoting international and commercial participation in the exploration program

The president calls for the space shuttle fleet to be retired by 2010. NASAs participation in the ISS will end in 2016 with the completion of specific research objectives at the station.

NASAs plan for achieving the presidents mandate includes ongoing missions, such as the Mars Exploration and Phoenix Mars missions, which will be used as steppingstones to future exploration missions. NASA plans to use other robotic spacecraft to test new technologies and gather data about the Moon and Mars before sending humans to explore them.

Human travel to the Moon and Mars requires new launch and crew vehicles. A space shuttle cannot serve this purpose, because it was designed only for low Earth orbit. NASA no longer relies on the Saturn V rockets that lifted Apollo spacecraft into space. Under NASAs Constellation Program, new rockets called the Ares I and Ares V have been developed to propel crew and cargo

TABLE 2.8 NASA budget request, fiscal years 2009-12
Note: Totals may not add due to rounding.
SOURCE: Adapted from Presidents FY 2008 Budget Request, in National Aeronautics and Space Administration: FY 2008 Budget Estimates, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, February 5, 2007, (accessed October 3, 2007)
By appropriation account
By mission directorate By themeFY 2009FY 2010FY 2011FY 2012
Science, aeronautics and exploration$10,868.4$11,364.2$15,386.5$15,888.6
Earth science1,545.81,520.11,411.21,353.2
Planetary science1,676.91,720.31,738.31,748.2
Exploration systems4,312.84,757.88,725.29,076.8
Constellation systems3,451.23,784.97,666.07,993.0
Advanced capabilities861.6973.01,059.11,083.9
Aeronautics research546.7545.3549.8554.7
Aeronautics technology546.7545.3549.8554.7
Cross-agency support programs453.5460.4454.7454.4
Advanced business systems69.471.667.667.5
Innovative partnerships program197.2199.8200.0200.0
Shared capability assets program34.236.237.337.2
Exploration capabilities6,710.36,625.73,036.62,978.0
Space operations6,710.36,625.73,036.62,978.0
Space shuttle3,650.93,634.4116.20.0
International space station2,515.12,609.22,547.52,600.8
Space and flight support544.3382.0372.9377.2
Inspector general35.536.437.338.3
Year to year change1.8%2.3%2.4%2.4%

into space. (See Figure 2.6.) Ares was the god of war in Greek mythology and was called Mars by the ancient Romans. NASAs new crew exploration vehicle is called Orion after the heroic hunter in Greek mythology (and a constellation of stars).

For Moon missions, NASA plans to launch both the Ares I and Ares V. The latter heavy-cargo vehicle will launch first into low Earth orbit. It will carry the earth departure stage and the lunar module needed by the astronauts to complete their journey. The crew will launch in the Orion atop the Ares I rocket. (See Figure 2.7.) Orion will be capable of docking with the ISS, as needed. The Orion design is based on the Apollo crew capsule, but will be roomier, with space for up to six astronauts. During Moon missions the Orion will dock with the lunar module in low Earth orbit and both will be propelled toward the Moon by the earth departure stage. When in lunar orbit, the Orion can remain untended while all the astronauts use the lunar lander to travel to the Moons surface.

NASA expects the first manned Orion flight to the Moon to occur in 2020. This will be followed by the establishment of a lunar outpost and preparation for a crewed mission to Mars. NASAs ability to implement this long-range plan is dependent on congressional approval of projected budgets and on the successful implementation of new technologies.

About this article

Space Organizations Part 1: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Updated About content Print Article