NASA Celebrates 50th Anniversary

World | October 1, 2008, Wednesday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) celebrates Wednesday the 50th anniversary of its establishment in the midst of the raging "Cold War" as it continues to maintain its leadership role in space exploration.

NASA was created on October 1, 1958 as a direct response to the successful launch of the Soviet Union's first two Sputnik satellites in October and November 1957. The Soviet success prompted U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress to put aside their differences and create a lasting national space policy and the institution tasked with carrying it out.

On July 29, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, officially establishing NASA. NASA began operating Oct. 1, 1958, using the civilian National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics staff and research facilities as its backbone. Other space research facilities were integrated into the new space agency as well.

NASA's earliest programs involved research into human space flight and were conducted under the pressure of the competition between the U.S. and the USSR (the Space Race) that existed during the Cold War. On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space while John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11, landed the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, which killed the crew of six Americans and one Israeli, caused a 29-month hiatus in space shuttle flights and triggered a serious re-examination of NASA's priorities. The U.S. government, various scientists, and the public all reconsidered the future of the space program.

On January 14, 2004, US President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration. According to this plan, mankind will return to the Moon by 2018, the Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and Orion will replace it by 2015, capable of both docking with the International Space Station ISS and leaving the Earth's orbit. Although the plan initially met with scepticism from Congress, in late 2004 Congress agreed to provide start-up funds for the first year's worth of the new space vision.
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