National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA sure doesn’t need any sort of introduction. Being the world’s biggest and leading space agency, it has been exploring the universe for decades. NASA has successfully conducted unmanned and manned programs and send advanced probes to other planets in the solar system.
The agency focuses on understanding the dynamics of the Earth with the help of Earth observing system and investigating other planetary and non-planetary bodies. They have also made strides towards solving several astrophysical problems such as cosmic inflation, Dark matter/dark energy, etc.
Today, we have compiled some of the most interesting facts about NASA many of which you may not know.
26. NASA was established in 1958 by the U.S president Dwight D. Eisenhower to replace its predecessor the National Committee for Aeronautics or NACA.
25. Upon its creation, the agency inherited all the 8,000 former NACA employees, an annual budget of $100 million and three research centers, including Ames Aeronautical Laboratory along with two small test facilities. The agency began full scale operation on 1st October 1958.
24. NASA registered its first ever successful space mission in 1958 after guiding the Pioneer 4 spacecraft to orbit the moon. However, it was not the first American satellite in space. This feat was achieved by the Explorer 1 six months before the launch of Pioneer 4.
23. NASA has more than half a dozen operational space telescopes, including Swift Gamma ray Explorer, Chandra X-ray observatory and the Hubble Space telescope.
22. NASA’s Voyager 1 is the most distant man made object from the Earth. In 2013, NASA announced that the space probe had reached the interstellar medium and thus left the solar system. At that time, Voyager 1 was travelling away from the Sun at a speed of about 520 million kilometers/year.
21. On February 14, 1990, the Voyager 1 took the first ever image of the solar system known as the “family Portrait” from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. It features individual images of six planets (Mercury and Mars excluded). It is also the source of the most distant image of the Earth known as “Pale Blue Dot”.
The Pale Blue Dot (the blueish dot about halfway down the brown band in far right) is the Earth from 6 billion kilometers.
20. Geologist and astronaut Katherine Sullivan became the first American women to perform a space walk. In 1984, during STS-41G (6th flight of Space Shuttle Challenger) she and flight commander Dave Lesstma conducted a three and a half hour of successful EVA (Extravehicular activity), while demonstrating the feasibility of satellite refueling in orbit.
19. Each astronaut in a space shuttle is allotted with 3.8 pounds of food per day. These foods are separately packed and stored for better handling during the flight under zero gravity. They are precooked and specially process so that there is no need for refrigeration and its ready to eat.
18. Do you know that a minimum of 1000 hours of flying experience in a jet aircraft is needed for a pilot to apply for the job of an astronaut?
17. In the midst of the Cold War in 1972, the US president Richard Nixon and his Soviet counterpart Alexei Kosygin signed an agreement between the two nations. The agreement of a joint mission between the two space agencies. This allowed the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which took place in July 1975.
Soviet and American crews with spacecraft model, 1975. Image Courtesy: NASA
16. Following the infamous Apollo 1 accident in 1967, in which three astronauts were killed in a cabin fire during a test flight, NASA established an advisory panel known as ASAP or Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel to guide mission administrator on hazards and safety issues in its space programs.
Then after the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, ASAP was required to submit annual reports to NASA and the United States Congress. In 1971, NASA created several other support committees to assist the agency. Two of them are Space Program Advisory Council and the Research and Technology Advisory Council, both of which combined and created the NAC or NASA Advisory Council.
15. American inventor Lonnie Johnson, the person who created the popular Super Soaker water gun was a NASA scientist at JPL, where he worked on the nuclear power source of the Galileo spacecraft. He also contributed towards the development of the Stealth Bomber during his time in the U.S. Air Force.
14. Skylab was the only space station launched and operated solely by the NASA, which was operational from 1973 to 1979. For those who are not aware, the International Space Station is actually a joint collaboration between NASA, European Space Agency, ROSCOSMOS, Japanese Space agency JAXA and the Canadian CSA.
13. And a fun fact, in 1979 when Skylab crashed at a location, 482 kilometers east from the Australian city of Perth, the Australian government fined NASA $400 million for littering.
12. Back in 1991, NASA lost a Mars Orbiter, due to mix-up between measurement units. Apparently, one system monitoring spacecraft thrusters’ power was running on metric while the other was using imperial unit. As a result, NASA lost control of what supposed to be the first ever environment monitoring satellite on an another planet.
11. According to a poll conducted in 1997, the American public believes that a large portion of U.S Federal budget goes to NASA. The poll revealed that on an average, Americans estimate that as much as 20% of the federal budget is assigned to NASA for its exploratory mission each year, which is far off the actual 0.5% to 1% budget.
10. NASA’s annual budget surpassed 4% of federal spending for one time only in 1966-67 during the famous Apollo program. In 1967, about 70% of NASA’s total budget was allocated to the mission alone.
9. Despite of NASA’s low share in the U.S federal budget, its annual budget of around $20 billion is way more than the next 10 big space agencies combined, including Europe’s ESA and Russia’s ROSCOSMOS.
8. The Challenger explosion of 1986 is perhaps one of the deadliest disasters in the spaceflight history. The shuttle orbiter broke apart in mid air just after 1 minute 13 seconds into the flight, killing all its seven occupants including five astronauts and two payload specialists. It disintegrated over the coast of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.
Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion
7. Following the events of the Challenger accident, the then president of the United States, Ronald Reagan established the Rogers Commission, a special investigating committee to probe the accident closely. The commission discovered that the decision-making and the organizational culture at the agency largely contributed to this disaster.
On board the Rogers Commission was the famous theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who played an important role in the findings. During a public television hearing regarding the case, he demonstrated how the material used in shuttle’s O-rings, became vulnerable in cold weather. Their final report pointed out that the catastrophe was caused by the failure of O-ring in cold weather over the Cape Canaveral.
6. Along with the interplanetary missions, NASA also publishes real time data and research articles on climate issues, including the global warming. In recent years, the premier space agency has also raised concerns over rising global temperatures.
However, the current White House administration has threatened to cut off funding for many core facilities for climate research. Furthermore, the Trump administration has vowed to end NASA funding for the International Space Station by 2025.
5. There are about 16 new missions in line for NASA including NISAR, Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and Mars 2020. With a budget of more than $2 billion, the Mars 2020 rover will study the red planet’s geological process and ultimately the possibility of life on Mars.
4. The North American X-15 hypersonic experimental aircraft was developed by the NACA (former NASA) and was used by United States Air Force and NASA until 1968.
X-15 in powered flight from the B-52 mothership
3. The space race played a major role in earlier successes of NASA. One such success was the Project Mercury. Although the project was initially started by the U.S Air Force with the aim to send man into space first, NASA role in driving it to the success was undeniably greater.
2. Project Mercury was followed by project Gemini in 1961. The project focused on the advancement of space travel technologies like docking and EVA and to assist Apollo missions. Ten successful Gemini missions into the low Earth orbit in one year, placed the United States into the driving seat against the Soviet Union.
1. After successfully sending numerous orbiters and rovers over the years, NASA has finally unveiled their plan to send humans to Mars by 2030. According to the agency, the human exploration of the red planet is threefold, from Earth reliant to proving ground and finally going Earth independent.