Our Spaceflight Heritage: NASA turns 58
In 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a new civilian agency. NASA was a reorganization of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), formed on March 3, 1915, in response to European superiority in aircraft technology. NACA officially turned its operations over to NASA on Oct. 1, 1958, and the Space Race was born.
After the Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik 1, making it the first human-made object launched into space, the Western World went into a virtual panic over the Soviet’s newfound capability to launch objects into orbit.
Project Mercury was approved a few days after NASA’s creation on Oct. 7, 1958, intending to put Americans into space. The Mercury flights gave way to Project Gemini, which paved the way for the Apollo Program.
Over a decade of work later, in December 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first human beings to orbit the Moon. Seven months after that, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon’s surface. There were six successful Moon landings before Congressional cutbacks forced the cancellation of the Apollo Program.
As the Moon landings were winding down, NASA had already begun working on ways to use leftover Apollo hardware to create a space station called Skylab. By 1975, they were working together with the Soviet Union, and an Apollo capsule and Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked together in the first joint U.S.-Soviet mission. This paved the way for future cooperative projects to occur, culminating in the creation of the International Space Station (ISS).
After Apollo, NASA’s human spaceflight missions mainly revolved around the Space Shuttle. Over 30 years and 135 missions, this spacecraft fleet – which had launched the Hubble Space Telescope and the Galileo probe to Jupiter – became the first foreign spacecraft to dock with the Russian Mir space station and were instrumental in building the ISS, to name only a few of their numerous accomplishments.
Since the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has been dependent on Russia to launch crews to the ISS. They are currently collaborating on commercial-crewed spacecraft, including SpaceX‘s Crew Dragon and Boeing‘s CST-100, in order to send U.S. astronauts into space again soon.
For the first time in nearly 50 years, NASA is getting back into the business of sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit. The first flight of the Space Launch System is scheduled to occur in 2018 without crew and in 2023 with astronauts on board.
Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.